Fire showed progress in Orlando, but still have to improve


Fire showed progress in Orlando, but still have to improve

Friday night's 1-1 draw at Orlando was a sign of much-needed improvement for the Chicago Fire, but even as coach Veljko Paunovic said, the team still has a ways to go in a number of areas.

Paunovic spoke to the media for his weekly conference call on Monday afternoon and while he spoke highly of the result and performance in Orlando, he addressed some things the team still needs to improve on.

The Fire played down a man for an hour and earned a point on the road. Holding onto the draw gave Paunovic his first result as Fire coach.

“I was very excited after the game," Paunovic said. "I celebrated, to be honest, as a victory because it’s very important for us to get that confidence scoring points and again, especially in a game like that. I think the tie is a good result, but I had hoped that we could even win that game and that’s what I said to the players in the locker room at halftime."

[RELATED: Fire hold on for draw in Orlando after first half red card]

On the downside, it was the second straight match the Fire were dominated in possession. After the Fire held the ball for just under 40 percent of the match against New York City FC, Orlando had 65 percent of the possession on Friday. Granted, the Lions had an extra man for most of that game, but Orlando had a stranglehold on possession in the first half hour of the match as well.

Paunovic has talked about high pressure and building out of the back as his tactical priorities, but is possession play something he is willing to sacrifice?

“For me, possession is a very important part of the game," Paunovic said. "Always when it’s possible we like to have the possession. In this game it was very difficult as you know being one man down, it’s never easy to take over the possession, but I would say that we have that mindset that it’s important for us and we have to work on that to improve. This is what we were doing today in the session and in the days to come.”

A big reason for the lack of possession is a low passing percentage from the Fire. In the opener, the Fire completed 66 percent of their passes. Against Orlando that number went up to 71 percent, but that's still not good enough. For comparison, NYCFC completed 78 percent of their passes and Orlando completed passes at an 87 percent rate.

A possible explanation could be the lack of cohesion within the team. The Fire had eight players make their club debuts in the season opener. Midfielder John Goossens debuted in Orlando after not having his visa in time to play against New York City. Playing down a man for so long against Orlando made it difficult to evaluate certain aspects of the team's performance, possession play being chief among them, but Saturday's home match against Columbus (4 p.m. CSN+) will mark another opportunity to see if the Fire have improved in this regard.

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Possession play isn't the only aspect he wants to see the Fire improve. Overall defense and offensive efficiency remain priorities for the Fire coach.

“I still think we have to improve defensively," Paunovic said. "We were better against Orlando, but we still have to improve. Also we have to improve in scoring our chances because we still created a lot of chances, which is great, but still now we have to score those goals."

As for who will play in place of the suspended Michael Harrington at right back, Paunovic named Rodrigo Ramos as a possibility, but also added the staff is still deciding. He mentioned Michael Stephens and Johan Kappelhof as players who can play right back, but wanted to see how they do in training.

On the injury front, Eric Gehrig is also expected to be out against Columbus. Gilberto, who sat out against Orlando, is back in training, but is doing some side work with the trainer instead of joining with the team for the full session.


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.