Fire

Fire square off against high-flying FC Dallas

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Fire square off against high-flying FC Dallas

Costly errors and soft goals. For a refurbished Chicago Fire outfit marred by injuries to key players during key stretches of the current MLS campaign, individual and collective blunders in recent times have left bitter tastes in the mouths of many – from fans and players alike – and it’s left the coaching staff in utter disbelief.

“Individual mistakes have cost us a lot of points so far this year,” assistant coach Marc Bircham said Saturday. “We’ve looked at games where blatant individual mistakes have probably cost us 10 points.”

After surmounting a 1-0 deficit to the New England Revolution to assume a 2-1 lead with a quarter of an hour to play, a mix-up between Adaílton and Sean Johnson gifted the visitors a share of the points at Toyota Park last Saturday. For a team that, slowly but surely, is welcoming back Shaun Maloney, David Accam and Patrick Nyarko from injury – with the impending arrival of newly acquired Designated Player Gilberto to boot – the Fire (5-11-4, 19 points) enter Sunday’s match with an assembly of attacking options, lessons learned and a point to prove against high-flying Western Conference leader FC Dallas (11-5-5, 38 points).

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Another vital piece of the puzzle is center back and captain Jeff Larentowicz, who, after being sidelined with a herniated disc in his neck since June 24, looks bound to make his long-awaited return to the heart of the defense.

“It’s looking like our starting 11 that we’ve wanted since the start of the season,” Bircham said.

With all but Chris Ritter (groin) and Mike Magee (knee) available, the Men in Red will have their hands full. Riding a five-match winning streak in regular season play, Dallas’ quartet of Fabián Castillo, Mauro Díaz, Michael Barrios and David Texeira has accounted for 10 of the 13 goals scored in victories over Houston, New England, Orlando City SC, D.C. United and the Portland Timbers – the Fire’s next opponent – to erase a previous six-game winless skid.

At the other end, Óscar Pareja’s men only conceded two goals during that stretch – an own goal and penalty kick – that has seen them leave Seattle Sounders FC and others in their wake to catapult to the top of the Western Conference standings.

[RELATED: Fire await Gilberto's arrival, admit more dealings in the works]

Planted to the base of the Eastern Conference table, the Men in Red’s proneness to sporadically submit to slow starts and allow the opposition to dictate play has provoked Bircham and head coach Frank Yallop to implement a transformed tactical approach, one that would force Dallas to play on the Fire’s terms, and one that would demand an unwavering effort for 90 minutes at that.

“We’ve got to turn their strength into their weakness,” Bircham added. “They’re very good at going forward; their attackers are very good. We’ve got to stay strong defensively and exploit that with our attacking talent.

“We’re going to work on something different where we’re going to look to exploit areas that they vacate with their attacking play. Hopefully it’ll work, and hopefully there are a couple of things that we’ve changed that will prompt them to change their game plan if we’re on top. If you’re going for a different style or game plan, it’s important that you’re in control of the game because then the opposition has to change for you. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to what we do. We just feel like we need to do something a little bit different.”

NOTE: Sunday's match will mark the debut of fan-centric MLS jersey numbers, a league-wide initiative that will feature the faces of 2015 Fire season ticket holders on players' jersey numbers in all home and away fixtures in August. 

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

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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

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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.