Fire

GM Nelson Rodriguez says Fire is "not good enough yet"

GM Nelson Rodriguez says Fire is "not good enough yet"

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez has been quotable since he took over the role in October.

That's why when he hosted media in person at Toyota Park and over the phone via conference call on Friday it was an event worth following for fans of the club.

Friday's event didn't come at a good juncture for the club. The Fire are in the middle of a three-match losing streak and are dead last in Major League Soccer with one win in 10 matches.

Before taking questions for what was just over an hour, Rodriguez opened with a statement that was nearly 10 minutes long and touched on the recent struggles.

“I think it would be disingenuous for me to begin today in any other place other than acknowledging our record," Rodriguez said. " The results are obviously not as we expected. Simply, it’s not good enough, yet. For me, that’s the key word (yet).

"Winning and losing is the ultimate measure of sports, but it’s not the only way to gauge progress. It’s my job to see beyond the results, to see beyond wins and losses, to ensure that the foundation that we are building and the process that we are following is on track. And I can’t stress that enough because sometimes you can be on a winning streak and believe that everything is fine when it really isn’t, when the foundation is actually faulty. I need to ensure that we’re disciplined in our approach. I didn’t expect to be here, although we knew that there would be a point in time during the course of the year where results would not go our way. It’s one of the things I spoke to (coach Veljko Paunovic) about before the season even started, that how we handle those moments are going to be the real indicators of the type of team that we will become."

In addition to addressing the poor start, Rodriguez expanded upon what the team has done well in addition to what it hasn't.

"I believe we are learning how to compete on a daily basis," Rodriguez said. "We have not made other teams suffer during the course of games, but we have not been an easy out. There’s only been 22 minutes the entire season that we’ve been down by two goals... so that also tells me that we’re right there. We need to learn how to make a play."

Fans who have suffered through just one playoff appearance and no playoff victories in the past six seasons likely don't want to hear things about the team being close. Rodriguez acknowledged that, but did not shy away from the fact that he is balancing winning now while trying to build the team in a longer-term view.

“We owe our fans and we owe ourselves to try to win now," Rodriguez said. "We define competitiveness as relentless in the pursuit of victory, at all times, but not at all costs. So that balance is my job. It’s not Pauno’s job. Pauno’s job is three points on Saturday. He’s very clear about that and he understands that. It’s my job to ensure that what we build is sustainable and that’s the part of the future that I try to keep in mind. It's not to construct something for a fleeting moment of success."

One of the moves that Rodriguez said will help in both of those areas is the recent signing of Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw. de Leeuw is 29 and scored 56 goals in the past five seasons in the Dutch Eredivisie. That makes him both young enough to be in his prime for at least three more years and accomplished enough to, at least on paper, step in right away and be a key contributor.

de Leeuw has already signed his contract and Rodriguez said they've already begun the visa process, which delayed the debuts of John Goossens and Khaly Thiam this season. He is expected to join the Fire in early June for training and can debut after the MLS' second transfer window opens on July 4.

With de Leeuw coming and Thiam having just joined the team, Rodriguez expects to be quiet in the summer window. Instead, he said the club is already formulating a plan for next January. One of Rodriguez's stated goals has been to improve the team's scouting. He said that is still in progress, but they are using the extra time to plan for January and be properly prepared.

“First it’s with identifying targets," Rodriguez said. "Who are the players that we see or that are recommended to us that as players seem to suggest the characteristics that we’re looking for. Once we have that list, now it’s about going and seeing them in their environment... That’s the type of work that we’re trying to do so that when the leagues around the world resume in August and September, we’re in their backyard studying the players as players and learning them as people first hand.”

Despite already looking past this season in his plan for the club, Rodriguez said his goals for this season have not changed, even as a playoff spot seems to be falling out of reach early in the season.

“My expectations remain the same," he said. "My expectations are that when we hit October, we are competing for a playoff spot. That we are playing meaningful games in October."

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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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

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USA TODAY

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 MLSsoccer.com, 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.