Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington


Free agency was something new for MLS veteran Harrington

For the first time in his nine-year Major League Soccer career, Michael Harrington had some control over where he wanted to play.

Negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement a year ago led to the first intraleague free agents in MLS this offseason. The 30-year-old defender was a part of the first MLS free agency class.

After going through that process for the first time and talking to multiple teams, Harrington landed with the Chicago Fire, which is his fourth MLS club. His first journey through free agency left a good impression.

“It was awesome,” Harrington said. “I’ve moved around a little bit here, but it was nice to be able to choose, to talk to different teams, listen to different things and make my own choice.”

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General manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic were part of the draw to Chicago, but Harrington said he talked to “quite a few teams.”

“Just trying to get as much information as you can to make the best decision possible,” Harrington said. “There’s a ton of different factors that go into making that kind of decision. One of the bigger reasons was just the conversations that I had with Nelson as well as Pauno. It seemed like I’d be a good fit for what they’re trying to do. My versatility and things like that. They like that I can play in multiple spots.”

Versatility has definitely been something that both Rodriguez and Paunovic have repeated as one of the things they have looked for in players this offseason. Players who can comfortably play in multiple spots on the field create extra depth and allow for tactical flexibility during a match, which is another thing Paunovic has vocally prioritized.

“You want to go somewhere where people value you for the good things that you possess, the good qualities that you have,” Harrington said. “It seemed like they had done the research and done their homework on me. They knew what they were getting and that makes you feel good, it makes you feel comfortable.”

The Fire’s draw to Harrington was a need for experience at outside back. the four other outside backs currently in camp with the Fire have a combined seven MLS appearances. In addition to his experience, Harrington brings some versatility having played at both left and right back.

[MORE: Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line]

As someone who has moved from club to club a few times in his career, Harrington has a sharper view of the business side of the game. After sticking with Kansas City for six years, Harrington admitted to developing a skewed perspective. Two shorter stints with Portland and Colorado followed and gave Harrington a different view.

“I was in Kansas City for six years to start my career so I maybe had an almost false sense of how things are a little bit,” Harrington said. “Obviously I was in Portland for two good years and I thought I was going to be there for much longer and it ended up not working out. Then Colorado just for one season. It’s been a lot lately. A lot more moving than I anticipated, but I intend to make it stick here.”

He’s a veteran of the league, but was a rookie to being a free agent. Still, when he entered into free agency, nothing caught him off guard.

“No big surprises,” Harrington said. “General managers have their job that they’re trying to do and us as players we’re trying to do the best that we can for ourselves so it’s a bit of a battle there. It’s a business. That’s the business side of the game.”

As the Fire continue their preseason, Harrington appears to be in line to get plenty of playing time this season and could be the first choice right back. His MLS experience will also be important considering that even the experienced professionals at center back that just joined the club, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof, are new to the league.

“At the end of the day, Chicago was the clear option,” Harrington said. “Chicago is a good soccer town, a good city and I just thought it was the best fit.”

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.