Fire

Fire take on Timbers with Gilberto 'in very good shape'

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Fire take on Timbers with Gilberto 'in very good shape'

Not long ago, beating a Western Conference opponent quickly became a millstone for the Chicago Fire. After succumbing to five consecutive defeats, a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo revitalized Frank Yallop’s men, propelling them to their first-ever win over Seattle Sounders FC on July 11, and, most recently, a spirited 2-0 triumph over then-Western Conference leaders FC Dallas at Toyota Park.

The Fire (6-11-4, 22 points) will find themselves entangled in their second-to-last cross-conference clash of 2015 on Friday night, squaring off against the Portland Timbers (9-8-6, 33 points) with momentum in their favor and a new addition to possibly call on to deliver the goods within the raucous confines of Providence Park.

Speaking to reporters through a translator Thursday afternoon, the club’s newest Designated Player Gilberto – fresh off his loan stint with Brazilian outfit Vasco de Gama – is raring to go and ready to be called upon. After successfully acquiring his P1 visa and meeting up with the team late Wednesday, he passed a physical Thursday morning, rendering himself available for selection against Caleb Porter’s side.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]

“I’m in very good shape,” he said. “I’ve been practicing, I’ve been training. I’ve only been away from training for a couple weeks, but I feel I’m good to go for the next game already. Hopefully I can get in and contribute and help the team get a win.

“This is a very qualified group from my first couple days here. I hope to use my experience that I had in Brazil for the last year to help the group and hopefully contribute with my strengths to help the group win games.”

The task won’t be insurmountable, as the Fire demonstrated in their first win against Seattle in 10 attempts. But the challenges presented by one of the league’s more ear-splitting atmospheres, along with a winless record against the Timbers in five previous meetings and without a win on their travels in league fixtures since last July, will warrant another dutiful and wholehearted effort from the Men in Red if they have any hopes of continuing their ascent up the Eastern Conference table.

[MORE FIRE: Defender Daneil Cyrus joins Fire on loan from W Connection]

A more manageable schedule between Friday and next Sunday’s visit to Philadelphia to face the Union, however, leaves Yallop more at ease considering the recent stretch of five matches in two weeks in which the Fire emerged with a 2-2-1 record.

Quick turnarounds and midweek games – one of which saw the Men in Red secure their passage to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals – made for difficult transitions from match to match. This time around, more breathing room means more room to focus on maximizing production in MLS play, while bearing in mind next Wednesday’s momentous Open Cup bout.

“What I like about the schedule is that we play Friday night, Wednesday, Sunday, so it’s a big spread between the games," Yallop said earlier this week. "It’s better than Saturday or Sunday with a Wednesday, Saturday sort of schedule. We’ll be rested and ready to go in all three of those games. Focus-wise it doesn’t change. Three points Friday, a final to get to Wednesday, and another three points on Sunday. That’s the only focus we have is getting points in those two leagues games and trying to get to a final in another game. Not an easy week but it could be a good week if it all works out.” 

Viewing information:

Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 10 p.m. CT

Where: Providence Park; Portland, Ore.

TV information: UniMás 

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.