Fire

Fire prepares for seven-match stretch vs. Eastern Conference

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Fire prepares for seven-match stretch vs. Eastern Conference

As the Chicago Fire prepares for its first trip to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC for the second time in three weeks, Frank Yallop and his technical staff are still in the process of mending the team's offensive struggles, which materialized in the 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake.

Friday night's match in the Big Apple, however, will commence a run of seven matches - all against Eastern Conference opponents - spanning a 41-day period that will serve as the barometer in determining where the Men in Red stand come July.

Yallop addressed the media in his weekly conference call Monday morning following the team's training session, underscoring the importance of amending the away form while providing additional updates on other news tidbits surfacing inside the Fire camp.

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Mike Magee nearing return

"Mike trained today," Yallop said. "It was his first day with the team. He's worked very hard to get to this point, so the progression is getting through this week with probably non-contact stuff, but obviously with the group and then get him into full practice, I would think by next week and see how he goes.

"It's good to have him out there. He's not moving around like a spring chicken right now, but he was involved in the play and joined in and wasn't any worse for wear after the session."

The 2013 MLS MVP underwent season-ending hip surgery last September and has been favored for a return in June, but extra precautions are still being taken to ensure a sound recovery.  

"We have to tread carefully," Yallop added. "We don't want to push and then all of a sudden we're going backwards again. The medical staff's done a good job with Mike, from the surgeon to Adrian Lamb - our fitness guy - to get him to this point. We don't want to ruin that. He's ahead of schedule and he's feeling pretty good."

Midfielder Matt Watson, who departed in the 53rd minute of Saturday's match after sustaining a concussion, will not be available for the Fire's trip to NYCFC. Meanwhile, Michael Stephens could be available after training for nearly a week following an ankle injury that left him out of the last three games.

[MORE: Larentowicz: 'The belief is there, the result and the product isn't']

Defensive form and offensive output

Behind the Montreal Impact, the Fire are currently tied with NYCFC for the second-least amount of goals scored in MLS. It's certainly not the most flattering of statistics for a team that has still seen its designated forwards' scoreless drought persist, but Yallop is perceptive as to what those problems can be attributed to.  

"It's been frustrating all around," he said. "We had a meeting this morning. We've played pretty well enough to win maybe another game and we haven't done it. We're getting punished for our mistakes and not taking our chances when they come. That's soccer; it's won and lost in two boxes. Group-wise and playing-wise, it's been okay. We feel we're playing some decent stuff, but we've got to win and we know that.

"We've played well enough and created enough chances to score more goals, but we haven't and that's our issue at the moment, through confidence, through lack of technique. It's just that little bit of edge, that mental toughness and being ruthless around goal, and not being nice. In both boxes, we've just got to be a bit more ruthless and tough."

By the same token, Yallop credited the Men in Red's opponents when discussing the performances from his back four, citing the clinical finishing that has eluded the Fire for the better part of the previous nine matches.  

"I've been pleased," Yallop said. "The amount of chances we've given up is not that many, but the execution of the chances from the other team has been good. If you look at the goals on Saturday, they were two very good goals; they could be avoided by us in certain areas. Two very good finishes and two good plays.

"You don't want to concede any goals, but realistically, we've got some good attackers in this league and it's a pretty wide open league. Every team you play is not sitting back trying to get a result, they're trying to win."

[MORE: Larentowicz: 'The belief is there, the result and the product isn't']

Upcoming schedule vs. NYCFC, Eastern Conference opponents

“We’ve just got to go in here knowing they’re desperate to win,” Yallop said. “We’re desperate to win, too. We’ve lost two in a row. We’re desperate to get on the mark in our away form.

"There's pressure to win every game, so games against conference opponents are very important. We're still sitting in sixth spot ... we've lost five matches already, that's not good. These games coming up are very important. The next seven don't define your season, but it makes up a big part of it. We want to be ready and try and get wins in those games coming up.

Following a disappointing 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls in the first-ever New York derby on Sunday, NYCFC will return to play on its home turf at Yankee Stadium, which, measured out to be approximately 70 yards by 110 yards, has drawn some criticism for its upkeep and narrow dimensions.  

"You've just got to deal with it. Obviously it's a tight pitch and one that they're more used to than us," Yallop said. "We've got to have some sharp feet on the field because there's not a lot of room; it's very condensed with a lot of players in the central areas.

"It comes into my thoughts, so we're just trying to pick a team that we feel is going to get after it and, for me, have a good performance and get a win."

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.