Fire

Fire sign three-time MLS All-Star midfielder Juninho on loan

juninho-1223.jpg
USA TODAY

Fire sign three-time MLS All-Star midfielder Juninho on loan

There is still a long way to go, but the pieces are beginning to come together for the 2017 Chicago Fire.

Just days after acquiring striker Nemanja Nikolic, the Fire added another accomplished player to the roster in the form of Brazilian midfielder Juninho. The Fire acquired the former LA Galaxy midfielder on a one-year loan from Mexican club Tijuana with an option to buy.

Juninho, a three-time MLS All-Star, was subject to the league's allocation order. Atlanta has the top spot in that list, but passed and is reportedly holding out to get goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The Fire had to trade up to the No. 2 spot, which Minnesota had, in order to nab Juninho. The Fire sent a second round pick in the upcoming draft in January (No. 23 overall) and general allocation money to Minnesota to move up in the allocation order. The Fire swapped spots in the allocation order, meaning Minnesota moves back to No. 2 while the Fire head to the back of the line after using the allocation spot to acquire Juninho.

Juninho, who turns 28 in January, is a six-year MLS veteran. He won three MLS Cups with the Galaxy in 2011, 2012 and 2014 and was an All-Star in 2011, 2013 and 2015. 

“Going into this offseason, we set our intentions on identifying game-changing players with championship experience along the spine of our line-up,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said in the club's press release. “Including the signing of Nemanja Nikolic, we’ve acquired two players whom attracted significant interest from other clubs worldwide."

Juninho left the Galaxy after the 2015 season to join Tijuana in Liga MX. He scored two goals and had two assists in 24 appearances with Tijuana.

Rodriguez spoke about getting "a boss" in the midfield after the club signed Nikolic. Juninho fits that profile as a player who could line up next to Matt Polster in coach Veljko Paunovic's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. The Fire likely still need more creative ability in midfield, but Juninho should help a team that was last in the league in possession in 2016.

Juninho's salary will be above MLS' Designated Player threshold, but his cap hit can be bought down with Targeted Allocation Money. That means the Fire still have an available DP slot if they are able to land another big money signing. Nikolic and David Accam are the Fire's two DPs currently.

Juninho has a green card which means he will not take up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire currently have six of the available eight international spots filled.

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

katai.jpg
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

kap.jpg
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.