Fire

How Michael de Leeuw almost joined the Fire in April

How Michael de Leeuw almost joined the Fire in April

At the beginning of the season the Chicago Fire’s revamped defense received much of the attention.

After the Fire lost 4-3 to New York City FC, that didn’t change. However, general manager Nelson Rodriguez saw it differently.

“The very first game of the year, the story was the defense,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody wanted to blame the defense. Honestly, for me, it was the offense that failed us in the first game of the year. We should have scored six or seven. It wasn’t about the four we gave up. It’s about the four we didn’t score that we should have scored.”

With that in mind, Rodriguez searched for additions he could make up front. Eventually he targeted Dutch forward Michael de Leeuw, who recently signed with the Fire and is set to debut in July.

However, Rodriguez wanted de Leeuw sooner than that and it almost happened.

“We had made a significant transfer offer back in April, perhaps even late March, I’d have to check the date, for his services,” Rodriguez said. “His club, FC Groningen, believed he was too key of a player for them. They had just lost Johan (Kappelhof) to us and didn’t want to lose a key player both from the backline and the frontline.”

Once Groningen turned down the transfer offer the Fire had to wait until the end of the season, when de Leeuw’s contract expired. Groningen’s season was set to end on May 8 while the Major League Soccer transfer window closed on May 11.

A potential snag was that Groningen was still in the race for the Europa League playoffs, contested by the fifth-eighth place teams in the Eredivisie. Those matches were scheduled after the MLS transfer window would close and Groningen wasn’t willing to part with its leading scorer with key matches still ahead.

At the time of the Fire’s rejected transfer offer Groningen was in 10th place in the Eredivisie. Groningen then went 5-0-1 from April to the end of the season. de Leeuw started four of those matches and scored a goal. Groningen moved into seventh place, but didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last match of the season.

The MLS transfer window came and went and de Leeuw was still a Groningen player.

“We targeted to have Michael… May 10 because the season ended May 8 and we were going to let him have a day to salute the fans and come here,” Rodriguez said. “We gave him the path and it didn’t happen.”

In the playoffs, de Leeuw sat out Groningen’s 2-1 home win against Heracles due to injury, but came off the bench in the second leg. Amazingly, Groningen was up 3-1 on aggregate goals before Heracles scored in the 83rd and 92nd minutes to force extra time, where Heracles scored three more times to advance.

When Rodriguez explained the club’s pursuit of de Leeuw to owner Andrew Hauptman, Hauptman asked if there were alternatives to de Leeuw that the team could bring in sooner.

“We think Michael’s complete mix as a person and as a player were the right ones for us and so rather than try to fix something we want to build something,” Rodriguez said. “So we remained patient with Michael and he remained patient with us.”

The Fire announced the signing of de Leeuw on May 17. His contract is signed and the visa process is already underway so as of now he is expected to debut July 9 in Toronto. In the meantime he is expected to join the Fire for training in early June.

“We’ve already been in touch with him, we’ve already been discussing a recovery plan for him as well as the beginnings of a new fitness plan so that when he does join us and begins training with the club, he’ll be ready to step on the field in early July,” Rodriguez said. “We expect and are looking for him to provide goals.”

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.