Fire seek to quell Crew SC's home form with three points


Fire seek to quell Crew SC's home form with three points

With nearly a quarter of the regular season gone, there's little separating last year's Chicago Fire team to this year's squad. Through nine matches in 2014, the Men in Red held a 1-2-6 record. Heading into Friday night's Eastern Conference skirmish with Columbus Crew SC (4-4-2, 14 points), Frank Yallop's side (3-5-1, 10 points) sits just below the red line in seventh spot.

Barring a handful of matches in which they were on the end of unsalvageable scorelines in Yallop's first year at the helm, the Fire's 2014 and 2015 campaigns are two of a kind. Aside from a 2-0 defeat at the hands of defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, the following eight matches have been evenly contested and settled by a goal or less.

The jarring disparity, despite accumulating virtually selfsame records at the same juncture only a year apart, still reflects itself in the goal department. With 17 in their pocket after nine games in 2014, the Men in Red are finding goals to be at a premium in 2015, having only netted nine, good for second-fewest in Major League Soccer.

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After addressing last week's anticlimactic 2-2 draw against New York City FC — in which the Fire stormed out to a 2-0 lead before the half-hour mark in a superlative first half performance — Yallop will be on high alert come Friday as his side braces itself to overcome a high-octane and potent attacking force in Crew SC.

"They're a good side and they're good at home, so it's obviously a hard game for us," Yallop said. "We've got to go in there with a good attitude. We'll have the same sort of game plan as we did (at NYCFC) but obviously cut out our mistakes that cost us goals."

A group profoundly relying on its possession-oriented style of play, Gregg Berhalter's outfit have underachieved thus far, showing how well it can perform at times without necessarily getting the equivalent results. Much like the Fire, Crew SC's woes away from home have overshadowed their otherwise near impeccable home record — winning four of five at MAPFRE Stadium — the exception being a narrow 2-1 loss to an eye-catching New York Red Bulls team.

Leading the league in passing accuracy (82.4 percent), home goals scored (13), chances created per match (11.6), shots per game (15.2) and, not to mention forward Kei Kamara peering down from his perch atop the goal-scoring leaderboard with seven to his name, the Black & Gold boast an arsenal of attacking threats.

Expect a clever, mercurial and tireless Federico Higuain to put his stamp on the action with his playmaking and goal-scoring know-how, while threading the ball to the likes of Kamara and Ethan Finlay, who — time and again — will impose their lateral and vertical flexibility against the Fire defense, drifting and adjusting their movements to link up with the Argentinian.

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Despite the obvious goal threat, the leadership within Berhalter's delegation has yet to fully develop. Since losing vice captain Wil Trapp to a concussion, a depleted Crew SC — on the heels of a 2-0 defeat to the San Jose Earthquakes — will have to find an extra gear to subdue the blistering pace provided by David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, who've pulled together in front of Shaun Maloney to wreak havoc for opposing defenders.

On Friday, the same might be said when Michael Parkhurst and Emanuel Pogatetz face the Men in Red's Designated Player trio, who'll be integral components as Yallop's side enters its second in a span of seven successive matches against Eastern Conference foes, while looking to pounce at the opportunity to gain three valuable away points.

"We've played well enough to get more points than we have," Yallop said. "Just have to prove it now."

The Fire are 24-14-14 all-time in regular season matches against Crew SC, while clutching a slight 10-9-6 advantage in matches played in Columbus. Last season, the teams finished 1-1-1 in three meetings, with the Fire claiming a 4-2 win in a fifth-round U.S. Open Cup match.

Friday's match, scheduled for a 7 p.m. CT kickoff, is the first of three regular-season bouts between the two sides in 2015. The Men in Red host the return leg at Toyota Park on Wednesday, July 15 before returning to MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday, July 19.

Hear what else Yallop had to say in the video above.

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.