Fire wary of 'big, big' hill to climb to keep playoff hopes alive


Fire wary of 'big, big' hill to climb to keep playoff hopes alive

In the buildup to the Fire's midweek fixture against the New York Red Bulls, head coach Frank Yallop reminded reporters via teleconference of the team's struggles throughout much of the 2015 term, some of which materialized during the disappointing 1-0 home defeat to the Colorado Rapids last week.

"It seems like we're not quite getting the right combination of creating our chances and scoring them, and the percentage of chances that go in against us," he said.  

What a difference a few days can make.

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Barring the conceding of a first-half penalty kick and a contentious goal four minutes into the second stanza, the Men in Red showed integrity and purpose in an inspired performance Wednesday night, handing Jesse Marsch's side their seventh loss of the season behind a two-goal showing from Kennedy Igboananike.

“Any time you score two goals is good," Yallop said of the Nigerian. "I always say this, and we’ve talked about it a little bit: it takes a while for guys to settle and get their feel. It’s a tough league to come into from the outside. ... Big thing for me is, he works hard, he wants to do well, he tries his best, and he scores two goals to win us the game. So, very happy for him. He’s a good kid that works hard, and the guys really like him and back him up, and I thought he did great tonight.”

Through two-thirds of the campaign, the Fire's inefficiency in front of goal has been a worrying sign. Just four days prior, the Fire were left licking their wounds after 90 minutes had transpired at Toyota Park after falling to the Rapids. Dillon Serna's first-minute strike - Colorado's first of only two efforts on target on the night - was all that mattered despite the 20 shots (four on target) the Fire peppered at Clint Irwin's goal, three of which flew from the boot of Igboananike.

[MORE: Fire midfielder Shaun Maloney seals move to Hull City]

Fast forward to Wednesday night, and some of those issues - at least momentarily - were put to bed. While both of New York's only shots on target resulted in goals, two tallies from Igboananike either side of halftime stole the show. He brought his regular season total to six goals, enough to pull level with David Accam as the Fire's joint top scorer. The Nigerian's six shots accounted for a third of the Men in Red's total count (17) by night's end, many of them forcing exceptional saves from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.

"We're never going to keep our head down," he said. "All that matters most is three points. We have been losing and making a lot of mistakes, but tonight we beat New York, not an easy game. It's our hard work that pays off (tonight)."   

The endeavor on display on many an occasion throughout the season was there for all to see Wednesday night, and it'll have to be come Saturday night. The Fire begin their three-game road stint against Orlando City SC at the Citrus Bowl, where Adrian Heath's side has dropped five regular season contests.  

“It’s difficult," Yallop added. "It’s not been a great season, obviously. We’re bottom of the league, but I feel we’ve performed better than the points have shown. That’s always a building block for me. I think that the circumstances in the season that have cost us points - individual errors, guys not being healthy - all those things come into it. I think you saw a team tonight that was pretty good. Whoever's on the field, I was excited when we got the ball going forward, it was good to see. I’m forever optimistic. We've got a big, big hill to climb to make the playoffs, but we have to keep going, keep moving on."

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.