Fire

Fire: Polster, Yallop point up midfield depth ahead of clash vs. D.C.

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Fire: Polster, Yallop point up midfield depth ahead of clash vs. D.C.

Since signing on as Head Coach and Director of Soccer for the Chicago Fire on October 31, 2013, Frank Yallop's task of welding together a harmonious side - from back to front - has proved onerous. Between the incongruous collection of players left over from Frank Klopas' tenure and futile attempts to rake in enriching signings of his own in his first season, the end of 2014 precipitated Yallop's recourse to clean house, declining 2015 contract options on 11 players. 

Glowing from their 3-0 victory over the Montreal Impact - fueled by a lights-out performance from Kennedy Igboananike and the bright midfield pairing of Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis - the Men in Red are beginning to feel the effects of the booming depth in the center of the park, a refreshing constituent of Yallop's reconditioned team.

“It’s huge, especially since we have this stretch of game after game," Polster said. "If somebody does go down for an injury, I think we have the players to come in and perform at the same level.

“Honestly, I think anybody who comes into the midfield will perform as best as they can. We have the players to do it: like [Matt] Watson, [Michael] Stephens and Raz [Cocis], and [Chris] Ritter as well. We have a lot of midfielders and I think each one of them can do the job that’s needed.” 

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The Fire (4-5-2, 14 points) will have to rely on that depth as they face a quick turnaround Wednesday night for their first midweek fixture of the season against conference rival D.C. United (7-3-4, 25 points) at 6 p.m. CT on CSN+. 

One player the second-year head coach has regularly heaped praise on is Polster, a Southern Illinois-Edwardsville standout and the Fire's seventh overall selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft.

Having grown accustomed to the playing style in Chicago and starting in all but one match this season, the soon-to-be 22-year-old has become the surprise package for the Men in Red and a bulwark in Yallop's midfield, which will be put to the test in the first of six matches in the month of June.

“Credit to him, he’s really settled in, listened to meself and the coaching staff, and we give him every confidence to be a very good player," Yallop added. "Whoever he plays with or whoever he’s around, it doesn’t really matter for Matt, he’s just doing that job very, very well. He’s settled in and his confidence is growing. I think he’s got a chance to go on all the way. He’s a really good kid, and I want him to do well."

[RELATED: Gameday on CSN+: Fire visit the nation's capital]

Following a series of matches that saw Ben Olsen's side scramble for points, the Eastern Conference leaders will play their sixth match in less than three weeks, while the Men in Red seek their first away win of the season and look to keep their unbeaten record against conference opponents alive in their first visit to RFK Stadium since last October.

A fixture with the club since 1997, Olsen has forged an effective playing style since superseding Curt Onalfo in 2010, imparting the tireless work ethic that served him well in his playing days to his current batch of talent. Yallop - chary of the attacking prowess of a side that will be without former Fire forward and D.C.'s leading scorer Chris Rolfe due to suspension - will stick to the blueprint that has helped his side to a three-match unbeaten run.

"They're a good side," Yallop said. "I know Benny [Olsen] well, he's a good coach. They're one of those gritty teams that just seem to - even if they're not playing particularly well - they get results. That's always a sign of a good team.

"It's going to be tough, but we've done okay this year against everybody. We're not afraid to go in there and play our game. Hopefully it's enough to get something out of the match."

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”


Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of MLSsoccer.com, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.