Fire stress mental approach ahead of season finale


Fire stress mental approach ahead of season finale

Undoubtedly the most patent source of frustration that left Fire interim coach Brian Bliss bewildered upon return from the nation's capital last week was his side's flimsy mentality.

Content with the resolve showed during a two-game road stint in Canada toward the end of September and a come-from-behind victory over the New England Revolution, the exact opposite was on display in a listless 4-0 defeat at the hands of playoff-destined D.C. United.

With the Fire (8-19-6, 30 points) hosting MLS Supporters' Shield challenger New York Red Bulls (17-10-6, 57 points) at Toyota Park on Sunday (6 p.m. CT; CSN), Bliss will take a stab at wrapping up the regular season on a winning note. And, perhaps most importantly, mending the mentality against a technically savvy and diligent Red Bulls outfit.        

“That’s been pretty much what I’ve been preaching since I took over here a month ago, that we have to change the way we think about the game but we also have to change the way we mentally approach the game," Bliss said after training Saturday, shaking his head. "Being half-in and half-out mentally is not good enough, and it’s very difficult to get wins as it is in this league. So you’ve got to be mentally there, and that’s the challenge that I have every week with these guys. Again, they apply it in training, but you have to apply it on a Saturday or Sunday."

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What stands in front of Bliss and the Men in Red on Sunday is a match that holds little to no statistical matter. The Fire will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, and try to avoid becoming the lone team to finish the regular season with 20 losses in 2015. A handful of personnel changes are expected, of which hardly any will include younger players, as was previously broached.

Combating the midfield trio of Dax McCarty, Felipe and Sacha Kljestan will be critical. Of the five goals the Fire have conceded against Jesse Marsch's group this year, Kljestan has been directly involved in four, scoring two penalty kicks and assisting on two others.  

"Dax and Felipe are good in the middle, so they’re comfortable bringing guys in the middle and getting numbers in there," Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp said. "For us, it’s about starting early and hopefully getting them off their game in the first 30 minutes or so. Hopefully we can nick a goal, and if not, don’t panic, don’t force things and try not to give up any unfortunate goals going into halftime.” 

[RELATED: Bliss talks 2016 roster outlook; CHIvNY start time pushed back]

From the neutral's perspective, the counterattacking verve put forth in the teams' previous meeting at Red Bull Arena was a joy to watch. From Shipp's standpoint, a commitment to balancing offensive and defensive assignments - which went missing in a 3-2 setback on Sept. 11 - will be even more paramount this time around.

“We’ve got some pretty good team speed all around, so it’s something we want to use, but it’s something that we want to balance," the 23-year-old added. "You saw it in other games this year where we kind of get into track meets with teams, we score some goals but we end up conceding as many, if not more goals than we score in those games. It’s about picking our chances when they turn the ball over, especially in their own half, and those mini-transition moments where you’re going 40-45 yards instead of 80-90 yards. If we’re able to keep the ball in their defensive half and transition when they turn it over there, I think we’ll be a little more successful.”

[MORE FIRE: By the numbers: Gauging Fire defender Adailton's effectiveness]

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

Kickoff time: 6 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill. 

Broadcast: CSN 

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.