Fire shifting focus, gunning for fourth consecutive home win


Fire shifting focus, gunning for fourth consecutive home win

Since a 1-0 defeat to Sporting Kansas City, the lingering narrative girdling the Chicago Fire has been that of a lack in clinical finishing and concerns over the inability to get off to a flying start in most of their four away matches this season, all of which have proven to be unsuccessful in the points column thus far.

“For us, now, you’ve seen two different teams; one at home and one on the road,” said midfielder Harry Shipp after training Wednesday. “At home, we had confidence and a little bit of a swagger going forward. We played one-two touch, we moved the ball quickly and made it hard to defend. Then we went on the road and played a totally different way. We’ve got to figure out why that is and how to fix that."
In search of their first result against a Western Conference opponent, the Fire (3-4-0, nine points) return to Toyota Park on Saturday with hopes of stretching their home win streak to four games against a visiting Real Salt Lake.

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In his second year at the helm, head coach Jeff Cassar follows in the footsteps of Jason Kreis, who departed for New York City FC after the 2013 campaign. With the strenuous task of safeguarding Kreis' philosophy that led the Claret and Cobalt to a MLS Cup trophy in 2009 and a runners-up finish in 2013, Cassar is feeling the weight of injury and scoring woes that currently sees his side sitting in seventh place in the Western Conference standings.

Having gone 496 minutes since netting a goal from one of their own -- a Javier Morales free kick against the San Jose Earthquakes on April 5 -- and only scoring one goal from open play since March 29, RSL is still finding a way to grind out results, as evidenced by the five draws they've accumulated in 2015, tied for second-most in Major League Soccer.

On the back of a weather-delayed, scoreless draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night, it'll be a fifth road test in two months for Cassar's side, which faces a motivated Fire team eager to continue the winning trend at Toyota Park and put their recent loss to Sporting KC behind them for the time being.

“It didn’t damper the spirit of the team because the guys have been training hard," said former RSL and current Fire defender Lovel Palmer. "If you watched the session today, it was very intense. We’re really gunning and looking forward to our game against Real Salt Lake."       

“We’ve won three straight at home and we’re really starting to establish our identity at home," right back Eric Gehrig added. "It’s our fortress and we’re letting teams know that they’re not going to come in here and boss us around. We’re going to continue building on what we’ve been doing and hopefully get another result at home on Saturday.”

[RELATED: Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes]

The Men in Red are 3-2-4 against RSL at Toyota Park and from 2011 to 2013, enjoyed a four-match unbeaten streak before suffering a heart-breaking 3-2 defeat in their most recent meeting on May 3, 2014. After assuming a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to play, last-gasp stoppage time goals by Alvaro Saborio and Joao Plata allowed RSL to steal all three points, a match that featured eight of the current Fire players.

On Saturday, RSL will have to make do without Plata, who's recovering from a fractured fifth metatarsal sustained in training at the end of January. Chris Schuler -- a former Fire PDL product -- and Morales are out with a torn medial meniscus and concussion, respectively, while forward Sebastian Jaime is questionable with a right tibia fracture.

For a depleted side struggling to find the back of the net (one goal in four away matches), another gritty performance from a team reliant on its high-pressure system -- behind veterans Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman, and youngsters Luis Gil and Jordan Allen -- will be required if they have any chance of stifling the Fire.   

“Teams that win championships protect their home turf," Palmer said. "That’s what we definitely want to do and come Saturday against Real Salt Lake, we don’t want to make it any different. We want to win at home, we want to play good for ourselves and we want to entertain the fans because that’s what soccer is about: filling the stadium, playing well and getting three points." 

Check out the video above to hear what else Palmer, Gehrig and Shipp had to say. For complete coverage of Fire vs. Real Salt Lake, tune in to Pregame Live beginning at 1:30 p.m. on CSN before kickoff at 2 p.m. The game will start on CSN before switching over to CSN+ at halftime.     

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.