Fire travel to face Dynamo in the Houston heat


Fire travel to face Dynamo in the Houston heat

What was once an established fixture and recurrent feature on the Chicago Fire's Eastern Conference schedule is now on the cusp of becoming an inter-conference clash.

Come Friday, Frank Yallop's side will enter the Lone Star State and BBVA Compass Stadium - a venue that's yielded few results for the Fire - to face the Houston Dynamo for the clubs' 21st regular-season encounter. Newly installed in the Western Conference, the Dynamo sit on 20 points and three places adrift of FC Dallas below the red line, while the Men in Red occupy last place in the East, a seven-point gap separating them from the sixth playoff spot.

Since its 2012 unveiling, the 22,000-seater has left the Men in Red winless in four attempts. It is also notoriously and unfavorably known to the opposition for being situated in a locale where sizzling temperatures and humidity sink in during the summer months, a particular point of reference as Yallop psychologically readies his team for a shift in habitat.          

"It's never easy going there," he said Thursday. "But we've got to pick ourselves up. We had a good result on Tuesday. We've got to build on that, and go into this game with confidence that we can get a result and win."

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Indeed, an uplifting 3-1 victory over USL's Charlotte Independence in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 - courtesy of admirable displays from Mike Magee, Patrick Nyarko and Lovel Palmer, among others - helped cast antecedent issues surrounding final third play aside, at least for the time being.

Granted, having only plucked two wins from the Open Cup amid a barren run of form that left his side winless in MLS play in June, Yallop alluded to Tuesday's result - regardless of the opponent - as a viable "turning point" in the season, and the hint of momentum that the Fire could do well to capitalize on as the second half of the season looms. 

"I don't look at what division any team is in," Yallop added. "We're not inferior to anybody in the league, we've just got to look at who we're playing against and be ready for them. We're desperate to get a good result and a win. It's pretty frustrating for all of us involved. We know we have a team that can win in this league, it's just getting it all together and making sure we stick together."

[MORE: Fire to host Orlando City SC in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals] 

As the Men in Red begin a month chock-full of league fixtures, Yallop understands he will have to play his cards close to his chest. Friday night's visit to Houston comes on the heels of another midweek match, which gave rise to some personnel concerns.

On the defensive front, Lovel Palmer, who notched his first goal since Sept. 13, 2014 against Toronto FC and first assist since turning provider on Aug. 23, 2014 at Toronto, was withdrawn nine minutes from the final whistle Tuesday with what Yallop described as a "tight groin," but the Jamaican defender "felt pretty good" and is expected to be ready to face his former side, according to Yallop.

Jeff Larentowicz, who'd been left out of the fourth-round Open Cup victory over Louisville City FC on June 16, returned to the fold with a 90-minute outing in the 1-0 defeat to D.C. United last week, but was again left off the team sheet with a recurring groin injury. "He trained today," Yallop said of his veteran captain. "Don't want to take any risks, so we'll make a decision on him tomorrow."

Apart from back and hamstring injuries that've plagued Designated Players Shaun Maloney and David Accam in recent weeks, Joevin Jones' departure for Gold Cup duty with Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday will leave another considerable void to fill in the midfield. Harry Shipp made way for Nyarko in the 77th minute Tuesday, and, after logging 1475 minutes between MLS and Open Cup play in his second year, Yallop said the decision to take the Homegrown midfielder off was "twofold: to give someone else a chance and try to keep Harry as fresh as we can for the weekend."

[RELATED: Five things from Fire vs. D.C.: One chance is all it takes 

Meanwhile, Magee and Nyarko, linking up for the insurance goal to send the Fire through to their 12th Open Cup quarterfinal appearance, "got through the game no problem," Yallop added. "They're available and we'll definitely be using them at some point, but for them to start the game will be tough."

The Men in Red, seeking to avoid a fifth consecutive league defeat, find themselves living precariously midway through the regular season. As is Houston, which is still in the process of molding to head coach Owen Coyle's style of play during his first year at the helm.    

"Owen's a very, very good coach that's come into a new league and done well," Yallop said. "For us, we know the guys that are going to be out there and they have a few absentees, as we do. It'll be interesting to see what lineup comes up, but coaching-wise, it's always a tough game away from home as we know."

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.