Fire return to reality and Toyota Park for Saturday's match against New England


Fire return to reality and Toyota Park for Saturday's match against New England

Back to reality for the Chicago Fire.

The team’s coaching staff, office staff and a handful of players focused on the All-Star Game as it took place in Chicago this week. Now, it’s back to regular season games in Major League Soccer.

The Fire get to stay at home when they take on New England on Saturday. The game will be on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

The Fire’s coaching staff was pulling double duty, training the MLS All-Stars and what players remained with the Fire. Five players were not in training with the team with the team’s four all-stars, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Johan Kappelhof, and Djordje Mihailovic, who played and scored in the homegrown game on Tuesday, unavailable.

“I think this week the guys worked very well, the training was with a small group, but very committed,” Paunovic said after the All-Star Game on Wednesday. “The next game is the most important game from now on. I was working still with Chicago Fire all these days. I was working the same way and putting all my energy in that also.”

The Fire (11-5-5, 38 points) already have a pair of wins against the Revolution (7-9-5, 26 points) this season, but there is a possibility that the Fire enter a bit distracted or less prepared than normal. On top of having a number of key players out of training, and the coaching staff’s attention divided, the people involved had extra duties as hosts, so to speak, of the event.

That may not be clearly visible on Saturday, but it could be a small factor.

“I’m very happy how we did, but now we can focus on only Chicago,” Paunovic said.

The match does represent a needed return home for the Fire. After going winless on a three-match road trip, including losing the last two, the Fire can try to extend the eight-match home winning streak the team has enjoyed. Only two of those eight wins were decided by one goal.

The Eastern Conference has tightened up while the Fire struggled on the road. New York City FC is just one point behind the second-place Fire, a surging New York Red Bulls sit three points back and Atlanta is four points behind the Fire. With 13 matches left in the regular season, the race for playoff positions appears to be worth keeping an eye of the rest of the way.

The Fire will be without Brandon Vincent for the third straight game. Arturo Alvarez, who missed last week’s loss in Kansas City, is listed as questionable with a calf injury.

New England, which has won two straight, enters Toyota Park with a mostly clean bill of health.

The match will also be the Fire's first with MLS' new video review system.

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (11-5-5, 38 points), New England (7-9-5, 26 points)

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.