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Fire, Union settle for point in dramatic draw in Philadelphia

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Fire, Union settle for point in dramatic draw in Philadelphia

Whether Sunday night's match will be slammed as a spurned chance or an impressive resurgence come late October - when the playoff picture is cemented - may be up for debate.

What is certain, though, is that after recording a 3-3 draw away to a Philadelphia Union team that had secured their passage to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final four days prior, the Fire would've certainly preferred to walk away with all three points from PPL Park.

"Three points are vital at this point in the season, but you take what you get and to be honest, a point was good for us to get with the chances that Philadelphia had," Fire head coach Frank Yallop said. "It's a tough place to come after a disappointing game Wednesday night. That was very tough and our guys dug deep and got something out of the match in the end."

The Men in Red faced adversity once more: showing the pluck and mettle that was nonexistent in recent matches; seeing their second-half lead quelled and ultimately settling for a road point against Jim Curtin's side. A Patrick Nyarko strike, supplemented by Kennedy Igboananike's two goals and backed by Sean Johnson's heroic performance helped the Fire salvage a result from an absorbing, back-and-forth and end-to-end encounter that left Yallop's group rooted to the foot of the Eastern Conference table on 23 points, five back of a playoff spot heading into the final third of the MLS regular season.  

[RELATED: Fire look to offset USOC loss with league result vs. Union]

Yallop made four changes from the side that fell to the Union midweek, giving Matt Polster, Harry Shipp and David Accam a rest, with Michael Stephens, Nyarko and Igboananike taking their place, respectively. Shaun Maloney reverted to a wider role, while Igboananike partnered Jason Johnson - who replaced the injured Gilberto - up front.    

The Fire (6-12-5, 23 points) were hoping to rebound following their exit at the semifinal stage of the Open Cup midweek and procure anything and everything they could from their second straight bout with the Union (6-13-6, 24 points). Despite conceding an early goal in the first half, the Union forced Johnson into making eight spectacular saves - many of them late on - and were perhaps unfortunate to see just three goals ripple the back of the net on the night.

First half proceedings saw both sides struggle to grasp a firm foothold before Jason Johnson released Patrick Nyarko down the right flank. The Ghanaian whipped in a ball to an onrushing Igboananike in the six-yard box for the redirect, which skipped past Union 'keeper John McCarthy in the 10th minute.

Despite gathering some steam and retaining possession, the Fire fell victim to another set piece, their seventh of the season. Cristian Maidana's corner-kick delivery in the 21st minute found Fernando Aristeguieta, who got in front of Lovel Palmer and poked past Johnson to level the score at 1-1.

Ten minutes later, Maidana, who had tormented the Fire defense frequently during the Open Cup semifinal, pounced on a loose ball in the Union's defensive half and was sent on the counter attack, eventually picking out a streaking Fabinho on the left side. After cutting in on Palmer to his right foot, the Brazilian unleashed a sizzling shot that deflected off the Jamaican's foot and past a helpless Johnson to give the hosts a 2-1 lead heading into the halftime interval.

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After latching onto Nyarko's service for the opening goal, Igboananike turned provider in the 54th minute, taking Union defender Ray Gaddis to the end line before sliding the ball across the face of goal to an unmarked Nyarko at the back post, who notched his second goal of the year to level the match at 2-2.

The frenetic pace of the match reared its head late on, with Johnson earning full marks. A double save to deny Maidana and C.J. Sapong in the 81st minute, and again four minutes from time, batting away efforts from Brian Carroll and Sébastien Le Toux.

Le Toux's persistency paid dividends, rolling a shot past the outstretch arms of Johnson in the 90th minute with what was sure to be the game-winner, but Igboananike scored deep into stoppage time to help the Fire emerge with a point. Next up for the Fire is their final cross-conference clash of the campaign, which pits them against the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park on Saturday.

"That was big time from Kennedy," Johnson said. "I'm happy for him. I think the confidence that that pumps into those guys, especially going forward in this last stretch, we really need to press. We have two home games coming up that are big for us and we'll need those guys to step up. And not just them, but across the pitch. Everybody has another gear, including myself, and we can really push ourselves to get to that point and really make these last 11 games meaningful for our club." 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Mike Magee, 84'), Razvan Cocis (Matt Polster, 74'), Michael Stephens, Shaun Maloney (Harry Shipp, 68'); Kennedy Igboananike, Jason Johnson.

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.