Fire

Fire remain hopeful after disappointing opener

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Fire remain hopeful after disappointing opener

The debut of the Veljko Paunovic-led Fire wasn't exactly what the team had in mind.

However, after Sunday's 4-3 loss to New York City FC, Paunovic and his players were staying positive.

After all, the Fire scored three goals and were still being asked about being more efficient with their chances. The attack did its job with David Accam playing a starring role.

However, the brand new defense struggled. Goalkeeper Matt Lampson owned up to some of the problems early, but the defense in front of him wasn't sharp either.

"The first half was definitely not good," Lampson said. "That third goal is on me and it's something that I need to learn from and get better. It's tough to learn from a loss. Obviously you want to learn from a win, but the pieces are there. I think we had the opportunity to score a lot of goals today and I think that's good going forward. I think it's going to take time for us to jell. I thought the second half was a lot better. With the wind it was a lot easier to play out of the back and it's a work in progress."

[RELATED: Fire drop goal fest 4-3 to New York City FC]

The back four of Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Michael Harrington made their Fire debuts. The first three from that group made their MLS debuts.

Still, Paunovic refused to criticize the defenders, rather saying the whole team is responsible.

"I would say defensively, I'm not saying defense four guys or five guys, I'm talking about the whole team," Paunovic said. "Defensively we have to work all together. The teamwork is what it takes to defend well so I think that the guys in the first half had issues, especially with [David] Villa and other guys, but I think they adapted and they adjusted.

"It's the first game and we will improve."

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Lampson got caught in possession by NYCFC's pressure early on, which affected the Fire's ability to build out of the back. There was an adjustment and improvement throughout the match from Lampson, but damage had already been done with three goals in the first 36 minutes, which forced the Fire to chase.

"I think the wind gave us the most trouble early on, honestly," Lampson said. "The same thing happened to New York in the second half because they tried to play out of the back, too. It was really difficult. Villa is very good at pressing. Obviously it took me three or four balls back to really realize that and that's on me, but their pressing was organized, their pressing was good and with the wind it was difficult to play behind them because of that."

Lampson said he found out earlier on Sunday that he would be starting and will continue to prepare as if he will be the starter. The debut didn't go as planned, but seeing how Paunovic responds to the performance in terms of his selections will be a telling moment early in his tenure.

The Fire now head to Orlando, which had a crowd of over 60,000 for a 2-2 draw against Real Salt Lake, on Friday with a home loss on the record. That will not be an easy game, especially considering the Fire didn't win a game on the road in all of 2015.

However, they say they believe in what Paunovic is doing and saw enough to believe things will get better.

"I'm encouraged by what I've seen today," Accam said. "We created a lot of chances. On another day we will finish four of five goals."

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.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.