Fire survive in U.S. Open Cup via penalty shootout

Fire survive in U.S. Open Cup via penalty shootout

In the lead up to the Chicago Fire's U.S. Open Cup opener, both coach Veljko Paunovic and general manager Nelson Rodriguez talked about how important the tournament was for the club.

Paunovic backed that up by selecting a nearly full strength lineup Wednesday against Indy Eleven. Johan Kappelhof, who has played every minute of Major League Soccer play this season, was the only healthy regular that did not start and even he came off the bench to play right back from the 74th minute on.

Despite fielding a near full strength lineup at home against a second tier side, the Fire needed penalties to get the win after it was tied 1-1 after 120 minutes of play.

David Accam, who leveled the match in extra time, had the clinching penalty kick to send the Fire to the final 16 of the tournament after winning 4-3 in the shootout.

"I believe that for us having this tough test was actually a test of our mentality," Paunovic said. "We knew from the very first start that it was going to be the most important skill to have today, was mental toughness. I think in the end we did well, especially when we were down."

Kennedy Igboananike opened the penalty shootout ominously for the Fire by skying his attempt over the bar, but Matt Lampson stopped Indy Eleven’s third and fourth attempts to give the Fire the lead.

“As a goalkeeper you want to make one save out of five," Lampson said. "That’s your goal when you go into penalty kick shootouts. With us missing the first one I knew that we needed more than one save. Luckily I had the opportunity to do it and help our team win.

"To go down a goal in extra time and actually get another one, that does not happen a lot and that shows the character of this team so I’m really proud of these guys.”

In addition to Accam, Khaly Thiam, Brandon Vincent and Nick LaBrocca converted penalty kicks for the Fire.

Accam also played the hero in extra time by cancelling out Justin Braun’s 105th minute go-ahead goal. Accam was able to weave through a pair of defenders and score on a deflected shot in the 111th minute.

"We need this win for our confidence, to have the fans behind us," Accam said. "I think going down one in extra time is difficult, but I think we have a strong mentality. To come back and win on PKs is huge for us.”

The Fire got off to a slow start, looking like a team that hadn't played in two-and-a-half weeks. After about 20 minutes, the Fire started to create more chances and finished with 26 shots, eight on target. The closest chance was when Thiam played a low cross to Accam, which Accam hit off the crossbar with his first touch.

Indy's output towards goal was about half the Fire's, with 14 shots and four on target.

“I think just poor finishing from us in the 90 minutes we played," Accam said. "For us, we need to do better on our finishing. There’s no excuse today. We have to finish our chances."

Matt Polster, who was subbed off at halftime, suffered a concussion according to Paunovic. Paunovic said the team still needs to determine how severe it is to give his availability going forward.

The draw for the next round of the U.S. Open Cup will take place Thursday at approximately 11 a.m.

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.