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.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

city-trophy-epl.jpg
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

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.