Fire snap streak of home draws, put away Union

Fire snap streak of home draws, put away Union

The noise from the crowd said it all when Michael de Leeuw headed in a loose ball in the second half on Saturday night.

His goal gave the Fire a two-goal lead in the 72nd minute and seemingly put the game away. It was the first time the Chicago Fire had a two-goal lead in an MLS match at home this season.

For a team that has struggled to hold onto second-half leads at home, especially lately, it was a welcome change for the home fans. The loud cheer that accompanied the goal, one of the loudest of the season, seemed to say ‘finally.’

"In that moment we were able to break the opponent and finally score that second goal, which was very important and part of our gameplan at halftime," coach Veljko Paunovic said.

Arturo Alvarez added a third goal in the 90th minute after Roland Alberg’s own goal gave the Fire the lead in the first half. The 3-0 win broke a streak of three straight home draws for the Fire (6-12-8, 26 points), all of which the Fire held leads in.

A number of times at home this season, the Fire have had chances on the counter while leading and had never added that exclamation point to seal a game. When Luis Solignac broke free on a counter and saw his shot saved, it seemed another chance would be wasted. Instead, de Leeuw, who has quickly built a reputation as a forward who positions himself well to clean up the scraps, was there to head in the rebound and make it 2-0.

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The win could prove to be a needed confidence boost for the Fire after the most lopsided loss of the season last weekend, a 6-2 defeat at D.C.

"The most important thing is we create a lot of chances and can score a lot of goals," de Leeuw said. "You can see it in the last four or five games. We created a lot of chances. You can’t score all your chances, but it’s good to create chances. The confidence is big because of that.

"At this point I think everybody’s confidence is high.”

Alberg scored a hat trick for Philadelphia (11-10-7, 40 points) when the Union beat the Fire 4-3 on June 22, but he scored in the wrong net this time around. Matt Polster dribbled into the box and tried to slide a ball through to de Leeuw. Alberg slid to break up the play and in doing so wrong-footed goalkeeper John McCarthy, who had to watch the ball slowly trickle into the goal.

Sean Johnson had a standout game in goal for the Fire, including a highlight-reel full extension save on a curling Chris Pontius shot in the first half and a couple reaction saves later on to preserve the shutout. He was credited with five saves.

Johnson said the team did a good job of putting the ugly D.C. loss behind it.

"We finally have a foundation," Johnson said. "I think we’ve done an impressive job over the past few weeks of really building on the first result we had away at Montreal and using that momentum to get better and better. On the night, a fantastic job all the way around the pitch and just doing what I can to contribute."

The Fire remain at home next Saturday against Toronto FC.

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.