Fire: Yallop stresses fitness during 20-day break from MLS play


Fire: Yallop stresses fitness during 20-day break from MLS play

Two weeks have elapsed since the Chicago Fire's last competitive fixture. A thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Easter weekend against Toronto FC earned the Men in Red their second consecutive victory over an Eastern Conference opponent, leaving them five points adrift of league-leading New York Red Bulls.

Since April 4, Frank Yallop's side has been limited to training sessions and two intrasquad scrimmages after the deferral of the April 15 and April 18 league matches against the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact.

During Monday's weekly media conference call, Yallop revealed his thoughts on the 20-day hiatus, how his team is ramping up fitness levels and more ahead of Friday's encounter with New York City FC at Toyota Park.

Intrasquad Game (April 18)  

Despite tinkering with the notion of scheduling a friendly against an opposing side, the Fire were forced to settle with an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend, which was closed to the public at the request of Yallop.

"It was 11 on 11," he said. "We did some coaching in the middle of it, stopped it. It's just like a normal training session, I wouldn't call it a proper game.

"We played about 80 minutes. We've worked very hard the last two weeks, so I didn't want to push them too much for a 90-minute game. The guys have really looked sharp, focused and they can't wait to play against a team other than themselves.

"It helps, but it's not the real game."

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Dealing with consecutive bye weeks

Yallop continued to stress the fitness component and preparation prior to the intrasquad game, which was designed to mirror the typical cycle of the team's training regimen before MLS regular season matches.

"The guys are calling it a 'mini preseason,'" Yallop said. "We really pushed the guys fitness-wise.

"A lot of guys missed a lot of preseason: Jeff Larentowicz, [Shaun] Maloney, [David] Accam. You can go on and on. Kennedy [Igboananike] was injured, [Matt] Polster. It was good for us to get our fitness really, really amped up and we did. Just playing together has helped all our guys.

"Shaun's looked really sharp in training, and so has David. They're really coming along and in the end, you're going to see those guys really shine in the games real soon."

Injury updates

Quincy Amarikwa and Michael Stephens, both nurturing ankle injuries, are still recovering from the physical game against Toronto, which saw more than one Fire player emerge with a knock.  

"Both have been working with Adrian Lamb, our fitness coach," Yallop said. "Both did not participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. We expect Quincy to be back in training pretty soon and to be available for Friday, but he's been out 12 days so we'll see how he gets on.

"Mike Stephens is still a little bit tender. I expect him to not be available for the game."

Meanwhile, Razvan Cocis is working his way back into the squad and adds to a long list of midfielders for Yallop to consider for upcoming team selections.

"He's another one that's been out for a long time, but he's looked sharp when he came back. I thought he did well on the weekend in the game we had. He'll be pushing for a spot too.

"It's always good. It's never good for the players, but it's good for a coach to have options and pick the ones that you think are going to get it done in training and games when they get a chance.

"It's a good dilemma to have. Hopefully I'll pick the right guys that are going to get us a win."

[MORE FIRE: Fire swap Alex for Houston Dynamo forward Jason Johnson]

Vying for spots

As noted above, it's been no secret that with this year's offseason acquisitions, the new blood is paving the way for competition for roster places, a missing component in Fire teams of late.

With Jason Johnson's smooth transition bearing fruit and Víctor Perez steadily acclimating to the speed of MLS, the emergence of Yallop's midfield is drawing deserved attention and supplying the second-year head coach with some much-needed optimism.   

The praise is similarly being heaped onto defenders Patrick Doody, on loan to St. Louis, and Eric Gehrig. 

"[Patrick] Doody's done well," Yallop said. "We liked him a lot in preseason. It's great for him to go full-time to St. Louis to get a lot of playing time down there, and he's done well. He's one for the future for us.

"Eric Gehrig's slotted in nicely at right back. I played him a lot at center back in preseason because of the injuries we had.

"We're pretty healthy in those outside areas right now with JJ [Joevin Jones], Greg Cochrane, Doody, Lovel [Palmer] and Eric. It's pretty solid."

[MORE: Fire vs. Impact match moved from April 18 to Sept. 23]

The Men in Red return to action against expansion side New York City FC on Friday at Toyota Park. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

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.