Fire's defensive issues compounded by loss to Impact


Fire's defensive issues compounded by loss to Impact

After losing three vital starters to international duty, the looming uncertainty surrounding the Chicago Fire ahead of a road trip to Montreal turned the spotlight on the depth at head coach Frank Yallop's disposal.

Offensively, goals weren't in short supply. Defensively, a back four comprised of the previously steady Eric Gehrig-Jeff Larentowicz centerback pairing, flanked by Lovel Palmer and Greg Cochrane on either side, were found wanting, much like nearly one year to the day in 2014.

On Sept. 7 of last year, Jermaine Jones - whose rights the Fire lost out on during last summer's transfer dealings - and the New England Revolution exposed a Palmer-Larentowicz-Bakary Soumaré-Gonzalo Segares back line, and put a massive dent in the Men in Red's playoff aspirations, keeping the Fire - sitting on 29 points in ninth place at the time - seven points adrift of the Philadelphia Union for the fifth and final playoff spot with eight games remaining on their regular season schedule.

Of those eight, one was won, three were lost and four were drawn.

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On Saturday night, the Fire (7-14-6, 27 points) crumbled in a similar, yet perhaps more devastating fashion. Didier Drogba, in his first MLS start, masterly carved open the Fire defense and lit up Stade Saputo with a hat trick on the way to the Impact's (9-11-4, 31 points) 4-3 victory over Yallop's group.

The Ivorian opened his MLS account in the 27th minute, before Larentowicz replied with a penalty kick in the 37th. Montreal defender Wandrille Lefèvre and Fire striker Gilberto added a pair of goals in quick succession in the 42nd and 44th minutes to close out a wild first half. Kennedy Igboananike fired the Men in Red toward a 3-2 lead in the 59th minute before Drogba wrapped up all three points for the hosts with two tallies, four minutes apart just past the hour mark.

With the Union beating the San Jose Earthquakes, a 14th loss on the season leaves the Fire dead last in the Eastern Conference table and four points back of sixth-placed Montreal, which is also two points ahead of Orlando City SC after the Lions slipped to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Revolution at Gillette Stadium. 

The Men in Red showed three changes from the side that drew Orlando City, 1-1, at the Citrus Bowl last time out. Palmer made his return to right back in place of Matt Polster, while Cochrane replaced Joevin Jones at left back, earning his first start since July 3. Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp rounded out the alterations, stepping in for David Accam on the left flank.

[RELATED: Fire continue road slate against Impact]

A cagey opening 26 minutes saw both sides exchange few, but harmless opportunities before the hosts struck first. 

Nigel Reo-Coker swung a cross in from his right back position, delivering for Drogba to use his strength to outmuscle Gehrig. The Ivorian brushed off and spun the 27-year-old centerback in the box, and coolly slotted past a helpless Sean Johnson to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Nine minutes later, the Fire found their response. Shipp, after appearing to let a long touch get away from him, was clumsily hacked down by Impact left back Maxim Tissot in the penalty area, leaving referee Silviu Petrescu with no doubt but to point to the spot. Larentowicz calmly approached the kick and sent 'keeper Evan Bush the wrong way to level the match at one-all.

The hosts reclaimed their lead not too long after. Johnson misjudged the flight of Marco Donadel's corner kick in the 42nd minute, which fell to an unmarked Lefèvre at the back post to prod it home. Moments later, Igboananike fired a low, driven delivery toward Gilberto, who got on the end of the cross and redirected past Bush for his first goal in a Fire jersey and the visitors' second equalizer on the night.

[MORE: Fire notes: Johnson back to his best; Adaílton surgery update]

In the second stanza, it was the Men in Red who charged out to their first lead. Igboananike leaped up and over Tissot to meet a Shipp corner kick, powerfully heading past Bush for his team-leading seventh goal of the campaign.

As was the case with Gilberto's quick response to end the first half, the Fire fell asleep and saw their advantage quickly evaporate. Ignacio Piatti caught Yallop's team napping, capitalizing on a swift restart. The ball was sent straight into the path of Drogba on the edge of the box, who expertly tucked home his effort to help pull Mauro Biello's outfit level in the 61st minute.

The Ivorian was at it again, volleying toward Johnson four minutes later. Johnson, who was forced into seven saves on the night, could only look on as his initial save on Drogba was eventually headed into an unguarded net, enough for the Impact to see out the final 25 minutes.

The Fire will have six days to regroup before a visit to Red Bull Arena to face New York Red Bulls on Sept. 11. As with last year's loss to New England, which saw the Men in Red take seven from 24 points available, Saturday's defeat mounts more and more pressure onto a team desperate to obtain results, and running out of time to do so. 

Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)

(4-4-2) - Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Greg Cochrane; Patrick Nyarko (Jason Johnson, 83'), Razvan Cocis (Matt Watson, 75'), Michael Stephens, Harry Shipp; Kennedy Igboananike, Gilberto (Mike Magee, 75').

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.