Fire taking shape after preseason win against Vancouver


Fire taking shape after preseason win against Vancouver

After an offseason that has resulted in wholesale changes for the Chicago Fire, Sunday's preseason match against the Vancouver Whitecaps finally gave a glimpse of what the 2016 season could look like.

The Fire kicked off the Simple Invitational in Portland's Providence Park with a 3-2 win. Unlike in the club's two preseason matches in Florida, coach Veljko Paunovic had almost all of the first team at his disposal. The starting lineup he chose could closely resemble the starting lineup for March 6's season opener against New York City FC.

Only David Accam, who was out with an illness and missed training on Saturday, and Rodrigo Ramos, who just joined the club on Saturday, were not available. Eric Gehrig also is still rehabbing and returning to full fitness after surgery late last season. Accam and Ramos could end up starting on March 6, but other than that don't be surprised if the team looks similar.

John Goossens continued his standout preseason trial with the Fire with an early goal. The Fire's high pressure caused problems for Vancouver throughout the early going and Matt Polster forced a turnover just outside the box. Goossens ran onto the ball and finished in the fifth minute.

Goossens later setup Gilberto for an open chance with a killer through ball that bent around the defenders and hit Gilberto in stride. Gilberto's hard shot was saved for a corner. Goossens showed technical ability, strength and defensive instincts. Him and Polster were arguably the Fire's two best players on Sunday.

[MORE: Must-see: Goossens' volley goal]

Much has been made of Harry Shipp's departure and what that means for the central attacking midfield spot. At least in a meaningless preseason game, Goossens showed he is more than capable of playing that role. For that matter, a central midfield trio of Goossens, who brings possibly the best technical ability on the team, Polster, who showed good technical skills of his own to go with his usual strong physical play, and Razvan Cocis, who is a steady veteran presence, could end up being a strength of the team. Who knows how things play out during the season, but at least on Sunday this group stood out.

It wasn't all rosy though. Vancouver tied things up in the 24th minute when a cross from Fraser Aird on the right side landed at the feet of Christian Bolanos. Bolanos could only flick it with his heel and the ball went backwards directly into the stride of Fire defender Johan Kappelhof, who knocked the ball into his own net.

The Whitecaps definitely struggled with the Fire's high pressure early, but controlled the later part of the first half and eventually took the lead. Sam Adekugbe's low cross from the left wing was tapped in by Cristian Techera in the 38th minute.

The Fire's defense didn't inspire much confidence. That said, the starting back line of Michael Harrington, Joao Meira, Kappelhof and Brandon Vincent are all new to the team. Learning how to play with each other will take time.

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The Fire maintained better control in the second half and converted two penalty kicks. The first came in the early minutes of the second half when an Arturo Alvarez through ball found Gilberto in the box. He was taken down and then converted the penalty himself.

Later, Collin Fernandez was tripped in the box and Kennedy Igboananike converted the penalty in the 81st minute. Both players had subbed on shortly beforehand.

The Fire return to action on Wednesday against NASL side Minnesota United FC with a 7 p.m. kickoff.

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.