Fire

Fire try to play spoiler against Crew

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Fire try to play spoiler against Crew

It’s been nearly four weeks since the Chicago Fire played a home game. Now the Fire will finish the home schedule with two matches at Toyota Park in the next four days.

The first of the final two home games of 2016 will be Thursday against the Columbus Crew. The match will be televised on CSN Chicago with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. Kickoff is set for just after 7:30 p.m.

These two teams played on Oct. 1 before taking a break for international games. The Crew won 3-0 in Ohio.

“What I expect is a reaction, a reaction from the last game,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I think the last game, losing against one of our rivals that are very, very important for our supporters, the performance wasn’t good, especially in the second half.”

This is the fourth meeting between the two teams this season. The first was a scoreless draw on March 19 at Toyota Park. The Fire (6-16-9, 27 points) knocked the Crew (8-12-11, 35 points) out of the U.S. Open Cup with a 2-1 win also at Toyota Park on June 28.

The familiarity plus the most recent meeting being the last game for both teams means there shouldn’t be many surprises at this point.

“We’re pretty much expecting what they threw at us in that last game,” Fire defender Jonathan Campbell said. “It worked well for them. Obviously you don’t want to do the exact same thing, you’ll maybe change a few things, probably see a few different people, but I imagine the tactics would be about the same. I wouldn’t expect too much of a change from them.”

[MORE FIRE: Young midfielder Collin Fernandez in search of playing time]

The Fire have no names on the injury report, but could be without David Accam. The Ghanaian is returning from national team duty. He came off the bench and played the second half in a 1-1 draw at South Africa in a friendly. Traveling over an ocean the day before a game to return means Accam will likely be limited, if at all available, for Thursday against the Crew.

Harrison Afful, Columbus’ right back and Accam’s teammate with Ghana, scored the opening goal against the Fire on Oct. 1 and could also miss out.

Columbus is still alive in the playoff race, although anything other than a win at Toyota Park would end those chances. In addition to being able to eliminate their rival, the Fire are pushing to avoid becoming the first team to finish last place in MLS in back-to-back seasons. Paunovic said he expects his team to play with pride in an effort to finish the season “on a positive side.”

“I know it’s tough, we’re not going to make the playoffs, but I think we’re just trying to build something for next year,” Campbell said. “You never know who’s going to return, but if you have a core group of guys returning we can build something in these last three games. When we come back for next season that’s what we’re looking to build upon.”

Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew

TV: CSN

When: 7:30 p.m. (coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

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.