Fire

Fire seek to display improvement against Atlanta after lopsided loss in March

Fire seek to display improvement against Atlanta after lopsided loss in March

On paper it appears the Chicago Fire have improved over the course of the season. Saturday’s match against Atlanta is a chance to prove it.

Back in March the Fire were smoked 4-0 in Atlanta. It was the third game of the year and an early red card to Johan Kappelhof doomed the Fire in a sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Fire were overwhelmed even before the red card and that result appeared to be a warning sign that the Fire weren’t as improved as the team hoped.

Things have changed since then. The biggest change is the addition of Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German signed during the team’s off week after the loss in Atlanta and debuted in the next match against Montreal.

The Fire are 6-2-3 since Schweinsteiger’s arrival, unbeaten in the last six games and sit second place in the Eastern Conference.

Schweinsteiger said he hasn’t heard much about that game in Atlanta from his teammates, but he has watched some of their games since.

“They are a very good team in my eyes,” Schweinsteiger said. “They have players who can decide a game with one-against-one situations, one-against-two situations. They are aggressive, but they also lost some games.”

Atlanta (5-5-3, 18 points) has scored the most goals in MLS (28 in 13 games) despite having played two fewer games than half the league. The Fire (7-3-4, 25 points) are coming off a scoreless draw in Orlando, which was the first time the Fire did not score since the game in Atlanta.

“We have to find our game,” Schweinsteiger said. “We have to improve our last pass, maybe, or the build up to get easier chances. But we have to be very careful about their players as well. They have quality in the squad so it’s going to be, in a way, tricky for us.”

One of the key figures from Atlanta’s 4-0 win against the Fire in March was Josef Martinez. The Venezuelan forward scored two goals in that match, but hasn’t played for Atlanta since. He got injured playing for Venezuela, but is nearing a return.

Martinez, who received some praise from Brandon Vincent on Fire Weekly on Tuesday, scored five goals in the three games he played for Atlanta before getting hurt.

National team absences will play a big role in the game as well. The Fire will still be without Dax McCarty, but expect to have Juninho back after his wife gave birth last weekend.

Atlanta could be without leading scoring Miguel Almiron, who played 77 minutes in a friendly Thursday for Paraguay. Forward Kenwyne Jones, who played against the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday, will also be out.

Regardless of who is there, coach Veljko Paunovic views Saturday’s game against Atlanta at Toyota Park as a good measuring stick for the Fire.

“This is a great opportunity, a more than an opportunity it’s a great test for us,” Paunovic said. “A maturity test, a test to see how we improved since the game against them and in that game actually the maturity was the main problem.

“Now we are playing against a team that actually was the team that hurt us a lot. We did recover after that loss, but there is still the sense of the payback that we have to implement in our motivation for this game.”

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.