Fire

Heedful of NYCFC's high-press system, Fire hope to wrest first road win

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Heedful of NYCFC's high-press system, Fire hope to wrest first road win

After subsisting on a less than favorable start to their respective seasons, the Chicago Fire (3-5-0, nine points) and New York City FC (1-6-3, six points) have yet to leave a sizable imprint on Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.

Winless in the league since a 1-0 victory over the expansion side in the reverse fixture, the Men in Red travel to the Bronx Friday night for their first-ever visit to Yankee Stadium, marking the duo's second and final encounter this season.  

Nearly a week after characterizing the Fire's start to the 2015 MLS campaign as "topsy-turvy," head coach Frank Yallop is drumming up a plan to curtail Jason Kreis' high-pressure system within the established tight field dimensions, which, by MLS and FIFA standards, only just meet the 70-by-110 yard requirement.

“It’s tight. We’ve condensed the field and we’ve made the players who are going to start the game aware of their [NYCFC’s] pressing," said Yallop at Fire training on Wednesday. “They’re going to press us and it’s a tight field; there’s not a lot of room out there. You don’t have time on the ball.”

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Time on the ball - difficult as it may be to come by for the Fire - could conceivably be a luxury that may not be too much cause for concern provided Yallop's outfit put in a shrewd defensive performance on Friday.

"As a defender, you need to know you're going to have to defend the box," said captain Jeff Larentowicz. "Balls are going to be served in, they're going to be on top of you." 

Through the first 10 matches, NYCFC own the second highest possession percentage in MLS, yet, like the Fire, it has only afforded them seven goals. Since topping the New England Revolution in their home opener on March 15, Kreis' side has collected two points from 24 available. In an all-out attempt to convert possession into goals, Kreis' mission to bestow the dogged, attacking philosophy that won him ample praise at Real Salt Lake has yet to amount to a finished product.

On the back of a crushing defeat to newfound rival New York Red Bulls on Sunday, NYCFC will likely impart its brio right from the start, with Joliet native Ned Grabavoy and Mix Diskerud patrolling the midfield. With Matt Watson likely to miss out on the trip and Michael Stephens still on the mend, Matt Polster and his undetermined collaborator in the pith of Yallop's midfield will be put to the test in a game of pinball on a patchy Yankee Stadium outfield.          

[RELATED: Fire prepares for seven-match stretch vs. Eastern Conference]

"It's going to be a little bit more chaotic than you would see on a bigger field where there's more space to operate," Stephens said. "The ball is going to be bouncing a lot and there's going to be a lot of 50-50 balls."

Stephens, who missed the last three matches with an ankle injury, completed his second full week of training and disclosed he is nearing his peak fitness level. Should he be available, the dynamism and creativity the 26-year-old Chicago native exhibited before being sidelined could be the stroke of luck Yallop and the Men in Red need to come away with their first three points on their travels.

“We've got to press them as well," Yallop said. "It is what it is. We’re just looking forward to getting out there and getting ourselves back on track.”

Hear what Yallop, Stephens and Larentowicz had to say in the video above. Be sure to follow @CSNChicagoFire for live, in-game updates during the match, which is slated for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff. 

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.