Fire remain hopeful after disappointing opener


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."

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.