Fire prepare for 'game of the season' in Tuesday's Open Cup semifinal

Fire prepare for 'game of the season' in Tuesday's Open Cup semifinal

The Chicago Fire are falling out of reach in the Eastern Conference playoff race and haven’t been firmly in the race for a while.

That is why Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal in New England has taken on so much importance for the Fire.

The Fire’s season more or less rides on this game. A win means the Fire get to host the U.S. Open Cup final, which would be the biggest game the club has played in years. A loss means 2016 is likely going to go down as another lost year.

“Tomorrow’s game I see as a great opportunity for us, not only to advance to the final and have a possibility later to win it,” coach Veljko Paunovic said on Monday. “With that I believe it will in some way save our season so far. I also see it as a great catalyst for boosting our mood and our performance in the league. Of course we are far from the playoffs, but I think it can boost our mood and our performance if we win tomorrow.”

The Fire have already lost twice in New England this season. On May 14 the Revolution came out 2-0 winners and a recent clash on July 23 resulted in a 1-0 New England victory.

The Fire will have to change that trend, as well as the team’s winless road record, in order to advance to the final.

“It is very helpful that we played the last game against New England soon in the past,” Paunovic said. “The only thing we learned from that game is we have to be consistent until the end of the game.”

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The team practiced in Utah the morning after Saturday's 3-1 loss at Real Salt Lake, a match in which Paunovic rested key players. They also had an afternoon practice on Monday at Harvard's Ohiri Field after arriving in the area.

While the Fire may have been looking ahead to New England in the lead up to the RSL match, the focus can now fully shift to the Revolution and the cup. The players know the boost that extending this cup run and hosting a final could mean to the Fire’s rebuild.

“It’s a good way for the team to get used to winning ways, to winning cups,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “It’s always a good feeling so we’re looking forward to doing that here.”

Paunovic also emphasized the importance of Tuesday’s game.

“This game is the game of the season so far and we are very excited,” Paunovic said. “After the loss in Salt Lake I could see and feel the team is relieved and focused on the Open Cup semifinal game against New England and that’s what makes me feel good about the game tomorrow and also for me it’s a great excitement. I can’t wait for the game tomorrow.”

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

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


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, 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.