Full-strength Fire visit short-handed Toronto

Full-strength Fire visit short-handed Toronto

The Chicago Fire have back-to-back wins for the first time this season and will try for another first on Saturday: a road victory.

The Fire head to the renovated BMO Field to take on Toronto FC at 6:30 p.m. on CSN (Fire Pregame Live airs at 6 p.m.).

The last time the Fire won a road game was July 12, 2014, in New England. A loss or draw in Canada would mean the Fire will have gone more than two years without a road victory.

However, unlike recent road defeats at Philadelphia and Colorado, where the Fire entered as significant underdogs against teams that were leading their respective conferences, there is reason to think the Fire (3-7-5, 14 points) have a chance in Toronto (5-6-5, 20 points).

The Reds will be without Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Will Johnson and goalkeeper Clint Irwin. All four are notable or better names in Major League Soccer and will drastically alter what Toronto will try to do on Saturday.

“We are focused only on our team,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said when asked about Toronto’s injuries. “Now on the road again it’s another opportunity to break down that negative record that we have in the last couple of years. We will focus on our team. We will do our best, we will prepare and we really wish the next game to be successful for us.”

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In the Fire’s two straight wins they have hosted teams dealing with significant injury lists in Columbus and San Jose. Toronto keeps that streak going.

This one also could be one of the more interesting tactical matchups for the Fire. With all those key names missing, Toronto will have to get creative tactically. There’s always the threat with reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco, but beyond that there’s a lot of questions.

As for the Fire, how Paunovic inserts new forward Michael de Leeuw into a fully-healthy squad will be intriguing. Both the Fire’s formation and how long de Leeuw plays will be worth watching for. Paunovic said earlier this week that de Leeuw will be in the matchday roster, but gave no further details.

[MORE FIRE: Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut]

No matter how de Leeuw ends up fitting in, he is joining a team that is arguably playing as well as it has all season.

“I noticed that the confidence is building,” de Leeuw said. “The last two games we won. We played good, we created chances and that’s the most important thing. Of course to score the chances because then you can win. I feel a lot of confidence. We have a good group.”

Chicago Fire at Toronto FC

When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday (coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: CSN Chicago

Where: BMO Field, Toronto

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.