Fire

Fire 'primed and ready' for 'massive' USOC semifinal vs. Union

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Fire 'primed and ready' for 'massive' USOC semifinal vs. Union

In the moments after being dealt a 1-0 defeat by the Portland Timbers last Friday, a contingent of Chicago Fire members were left to take a dim view of a sixth loss against a Western Conference opponent.

Head coach Frank Yallop, as well as goalkeeper Sean Johnson and defender Eric Gehrig, each hailed the defensive shape of the team despite being undone by a fortuitous bounce that led to an opportunistic goal, dispatched by Portland’s Fanendo Adi. But after addressing a stinging 12th defeat on the year, the tenor of the conversation changed course as the three were then instantaneously showered with questions surrounding their next match.

“[Wednesday] can’t come soon enough,” Gehrig said.

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Well, it’s here, and it’s the small matter of a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the Philadelphia Union. With a berth in the final and the auspicious opportunity to host it at stake, the future is now for a club that has punched below its weight for the majority of the season.

The way things have shaped up thus far, fluctuating performances in league play have seen playoff hopes ebb and flow, with the club’s Open Cup fortunes giving the Fire more than enough hope to believe a first trophy since 2006 is within reach.

“First things first. We’ve got to get a result in Philadelphia,” Yallop said Monday via teleconference. “We’re primed and ready for that, but I think it’s massive for the club especially when the season hasn’t gone well in the league play. We’ve started to get our team looking like the team I envisioned and hopefully it’s enough to get past this game and go on and host [the Final] and do well. But I’m not getting ahead of myself. We have a tough, tough game in Philly that we’re getting ready for. We want to win that one and then look forward to the next one once that gets done.”

Since edging USL’s Louisville City FC, 1-0, in the fourth round on June 16, the Fire have gone from strength to strength in the competition. 3-1 victories over Charlotte Independence and Orlando City SC in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals, respectively, see the Men in Red on the cusp of surmounting the penultimate hurdle in hopes of challenging for a fifth Open Cup championship. That task, however, will present unique challenges against a Union team sitting one point above the Fire in the Eastern Conference table and with just as much to play for in hopes of salvaging a less-than-ideal year.

[RELATED: With win vs. Union, Fire would host U.S. Open Cup final]

The Men in Red will square off against Jim Curtin’s side at PPL Park on Wednesday and again four days later in regular season play, capping off two matches that, by Sunday night, could reasonably be categorized as defining moments in determining what the Fire are truly made of.

Having not won away from Toyota Park in 19 attempts across all competitions, Wednesday’s 11th semifinal appearance in club history and Sunday’s third and final meeting between the two sides will both be given equal attention.

“I feel we’ve still got a chance of making the playoffs,” Yallop added. “We’ve got games in hand, [including on] Philadelphia. They’re obviously right down where we are. We’ve got to go on a run, but at some point, teams do. I feel that we’re still capable of doing that. It’s not just, ‘Let’s get to the Open Cup final and blow the league off.’ That’s not the game plan. We’re hoping to win on Wednesday and win on Sunday. I would think that Philadelphia are probably thinking, hoping the same.”

Viewing information:

Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 6:30 p.m. CT

Where: PPL Park; Chester, Pa.

Broadcast: Chicago-Fire.com, U.S. Soccer YouTube  

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.