Fire

How the Fire found David Arshakyan from a small club in Lithuania

How the Fire found David Arshakyan from a small club in Lithuania

It’s been an eventful past few weeks for new Chicago Fire forward David Arshakyan.

The 22-year-old Armenian signed with the Fire from FK Trakai in Lithuania just before Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window closed in early August. Upon receiving his visa and coming stateside, Arshakyan made his Fire debut off the bench Aug. 27 at D.C. United.

Just eight days after debuting for his new club, Arshakyan debuted for his country. He started in Armenia’s 1-0 loss at Denmark to kick off World Cup qualifying, which was his first senior national team cap after previously playing for the youth sides.

“First I’m happy to make a debut, but unfortunately we lost this game against Denmark,” Arshakyan said. “That’s a good experience for me.”

By leaving to play for the national team so soon after joining the Fire, Arshakyan still has not had much of a chance to settle in off the field. He’s with a new club in a new league in a country he had never been in before. That does not make for a quick transition.

“To be honest it’s not easy because it’s my first time in America so I have to get used to it,” he said. “For this weather, for these people. I think I need just more time and maybe after one, two weeks it will be easier.”

One thing he won’t have to worry about is a language barrier. Arshakyan, who was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is fluent and seemingly comfortable in English.

As for his knowledge of the league, Arshakyan said he had been hearing about MLS the past couple of years.

“In Russia everybody knows it’s developing very fast,” Arshakyan said. “I know that many famous players are playing here from famous teams like Drogba, Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo. So for me this league is a big opportunity to grow as a football player, to grow up and show that I am ready to play in big football.”

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Arshakyan’s background is not common for MLS players. Real Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan is the only other Armenian playing in MLS. On top of that Arshakyan was playing in Lithuania, which is not typically on the radar for MLS clubs.

However, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was able to spot Arshakyan. Paunovic noticed the 6-foot-4 forward through, as he put it, “the daily work that you have to do” of checking other leagues and other players.

“I saw a couple of games that he played,” Paunovic said. “I found him very interesting in terms of his soccer qualities. Of course the profile he has, a big guy who can keep the ball, who can score goals, which is most important for a striker. The profile is something what we need.”

Paunovic said Arshakyan’s skillset and his numbers for FK Trakai, 34 goals in 52 Lithuanian A Lyga matches, made him worth pursuing.

“We started to follow him,” Paunovic said. “He played very good and (later) we contacted him and contacted the club and the agent so everything went well.”

After Arshakyan’s acquisition was made official, general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave Paunovic “100 percent of the credit” on finding Arshakyan.

“I don’t even know how to quantify the number of games and the number of countries that Pauno watches over the course of a week, less over the course of a month or the course of a year,” Rodriguez said on Aug. 4. “He started to look in other leagues that he thought players could easily adapt from and towards our league. In doing that he found David. He started to watch video, he made calls to connections of people that he has in that part of the world. We had David scouted in person in his last game where he scored a hat trick.”

It makes sense for a coach to watch other leagues in search of talent to bring into the team, but Lithuania? Lithuania has the 48th-highest UEFA coefficient out of 54 counties. The UEFA coefficient is used to allocate spots in European club competitions and is the closest thing to a league ranking system. In other words, it’s not the first place most would look.

“Honestly, we are checking everything,” Paunovic said. “It always comes from you have to look for international level players. He has been playing for the national team, under-21 before that, now with the national team with the senior team.”

Now, Fire fans will have to see what Arshakyan can do in MLS. He rejoined the Fire in training this week after his stint with Armenia.

“I have to score goals,” Arshakyan said. “I have to create chances. That’s my role.”

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.