As Fire's defense has solidified, offensive woes surface

As Fire's defense has solidified, offensive woes surface

Entering the season arguably the biggest perceived weakness of the Chicago Fire was the team’s defense.

Coming off a 2015 campaign in which the team allowed the most goals in the league and entering 2016 with an all new defense, the Fire weren’t expected to get three shutouts in a row and certainly not so early in the season. Either the new faces weren’t going to be significant enough upgrades or they would take time to build the cohesion needed for a good defense.

Even after the first match of the season the defense didn’t look improved and coach Veljko Paunovic said as much. However, following Sunday’s 0-0 draw in Yankee Stadium (the first ever scoreless draw in Yankee Stadium for New York City FC), the Fire now have three shutouts in a row and a shutout streak (356 minutes) that is the second longest in the team’s history (the record is 395 minutes).

So of course now that the defense appears to have gone from weakness to strength, the offense has gone from what looked threatening after scoring three in the opener to listless. The Fire didn’t put any shots on goal on Sunday and have scored just two goals in the past four matches.

“We have to understand that this is going to be a long season and streaks like this may happen again,” Paunovic said when asked about the offensive struggles in his weekly conference call with media on Tuesday. “We’ve improved very well (in defense) and we can see in the data we didn’t concede any goals in the last three games, which is very important for us. Still we have to know that we have to convert opportunities and create more opportunities than we are doing so far, but it’s not frustrating. That’s part of building the team, part of the long season and we can also understand that every time the team has that solid defense it helps during the season to build a successful year and reach all objectives and goals.”

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The absence of David Accam has certainly loomed large. Accam had two goals and an assist in the first two matches. The Fire have scored one goal, which came while the Fire were playing up a man after a red card, in the three matches without him.

It also sounds like Accam may miss another week. Paunovic has repeatedly said how important Accam is to the team and mentioned that again when explaining how he is progressing from injury.

“It’s tricky because we want him as soon as possible, but we also don’t want to push him in order to not make the injury worse,” Paunovic said of Accam. “So far he is improving well, but still we are not sure he is going to be ready.”

The Fire’s recent stretch of low-scoring matches raises the question if this is what the Paunovic era will look like. Is he actually a very defensive, pragmatic coach?

“Every team has some strengths and some weaknesses,” Paunovic said. “I believe that in order to sell your strengths you have to work on your weakness. I think that in the first game we saw what our weaknesses are and so far we are working to fix those and I think we are improving very well.

“You have to score, for that you have to control the game, but sometimes that control starts from a good defensive system and from that building up to progress to be very, very offensive.”

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.