Fire score two early goals to win home opener

Fire score two early goals to win home opener

Last season the Chicago Fire didn't have a two-goal lead in an MLS match until Aug. 20. This year it took the Fire just 15 minutes into the home opener.

Nemanja Nikolic and Arturo Alvarez scored the early goals and the Fire beat Real Salt Lake 2-0 at Toyota Park on Saturday.

Nikolic took advantage of a gift for the first goal of his Fire career. Michael de Leeuw was trying to play in Nikolic, who appeared to be well offside. The linesman had his flag up, but the referee waved off the offside because Salt Lake midfielder Sunny Stephen got the last touch of the ball, negating the offside. Nikolic played on, all alone in front of goal, and converted for the 1-0 lead in the 11th minute.

"First game in Toyota Park and my first goal," Nikolic said. "My first victory for Chicago. It's wonderful. I expect this. Of course after the 1-1 in first game, I saw after the game that very important point if we won today at home. We start this season with four points. It put confidence for us and we need to stay focused."

Arturo Alvarez doubled the lead with another fortunate break. He cut in on his left foot, his preferred move, and the shot took a deflection off David Horst to wrong-foot goalkeeper Nick Rimando for a 2-0 Fire lead 15 minutes into the match.

"It took a small deflection and sometimes that's how it goes," Alvarez said. "You kind of do all the hard work and you need a little bit of luck sometimes."

The Fire (1-0-1, 4 points) held RSL (0-1-1, 1 point) to just one shot on target, but had to endure some pressure in the second half. RSL had 61 percent possession in the second half, 58 percent for the match, and managed 12 shots.

After coming away with a draw at Columbus last weekend, the Fire have four points in two matches, which qualifies for the good start to the season the players and coach Veljko Paunovic had talked about in the preseason.

"It was very important to start the season, especially the home opener, to win the game," Paunovic. "Very important for our confidence, very important for everything."

RSL was without center backs Justen Glad and Chris Schuler and rookie Justin Schmidt started at the position. Joao Plata, who led RSL in goals and assists last season, was also out.

The Fire's starting lineup was the same as last week at Columbus except for Juninho, coming off suspension, replacing the injured John Goossens in the lineup. Rookie Brandt Bronico, the Fire's third round pick in the draft, replaced Nikolic in the 85th minute for his debut. Homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihailovic also made his MLS debut in the final minute.

Juninho and Dax McCarty played next to each other in midfield for the first time since the two were acquired this offseason.

"Our midfielders did a fantastic effort," Paunovic said. "I think their leadership, their commitment, consistency in hard work and winning all these duels and battles we had in midfield were very important. Juninho and Dax are contagious for the rest of the team and that mentality, you can see that it's getting all over the team. It's very important for us. As I said, everyone else I think understood how important it was after 2-0, how we have to play what we have to do. I love that determination that we had, after 2-0 we said we are not going to concede more goals. We are not going to concede chances and the team worked very hard and very well."

McCarty had more of his simple, but precise passing that helped lead to Fire chances. Juninho nearly scored on a free kick in the 81st minute if not for a diving save by Nick Rimando.

"I felt very good, to be my first game of the season," Juninho said. "Also, the partnership between us. Getting to know a lot more each other.

"I think we did good of the middle of the field playing against Luke and Beckerman. I think it was a big challenge for us and a big test. Trying to push those guys forward."

The match earned some history as having the coldest kickoff temperature, 28 degrees, for a home opener in club history.

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.