Fire

How will the Fire respond after first setback in nearly two months?

How will the Fire respond after first setback in nearly two months?

The dejection was all over the faces of the Chicago Fire players and coaches after Wednesday’s loss in penalty kicks to FC Cincinnati.

Dejection is something many of them could be used to after how last year went. The Fire suffered many defeats last year en route to a second consecutive last place finish in MLS, but there was something different about this defeat.

This time there was disappointment because this team had gotten used to not losing. The Fire hadn’t lost in almost two months, a stretch of 10 games.

Coach Veljko Paunovic has talked ad nauseum about how he wants the team to forge a winning mentality. While that sounds like coach speak, perhaps in defeat the Fire showed that the mentality is here. A team that hadn’t lost in nearly two months was still crushed to see a defeat as well as losing out on one of the trophies available to win this season.

“Of course now what we have to do is adjust our goals,” Paunovic said after the match. “Now we have to move forward and we have to think about playoffs.”

The Fire had so many chances to score against FC Cincinnati, but couldn’t do so against wizard/goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt. That, plus 120 minutes of play added up to why the team was so physically and emotionally drained after the defeat.

“We all learn from this kind of loss,” midfielder Juninho said. “It’s tough to come here and say something, but our boys, I’m very proud of them. They did everything they could to get a result and tonight was not our night. Let’s focus on the next one.”

Paunovic was asked after the match what he learned about the team from that match. Initially he didn’t have much of an answer and said, “I’ll think about it and let you know.”

Thursday over the phone he did.

“We learned that the importance of that one play that we needed in the game, just one pass, one cross, one shot to be accurate in order to win the game,” Paunovic said. “Later it was just that. I can tell, yes, we lack of this, but if you think about the game, then you see that we had the opportunity here, we had the opportunity there. We missed just one play to be done from the start until the end with no interruption or mistakes.”

Paunovic said at halftime in Cincinnati, he and the team compared the match to the 0-0 tie at Orlando in early June when the Fire had a two-man advantage by the end of the match, but couldn’t break down a team focused on defending as its only objective.

“More and more teams will play the way Cincinnati played and the way Orlando played and we will have to learn together to break them down,” Paunovic said. “It all again goes to that one play.

“If we score that goal it would have been a completely different game. The crowd would shut down, we would shut down their defense, they would have to respond and then that’s the case that we were looking for.”

While the Fire will look for answers on how to break down teams that decide to bunker in defensively, the real interesting part will be how a team which was so hot can recover in just a few days. The Fire will get to return home and take on Vancouver on Saturday. The short rest after going to penalty kicks, coupled with the continued absences of David Accam and Dax McCarty, will test the Fire both physically and emotionally again.

Former Fire coach Bob Bradley was recently interviewed on the Beyond the Pitch podcast and had complimentary things to say about the Fire this year, but said this team needs tough tests.

“I do think they need to be tested more in more competitive games,” Bradley said. “I think that’s where you really find out how good they are.”

The Fire are on course to make the playoffs and have a good chance to make a deep run once there. Wednesday’s game was still fairly early in the U.S. Open Cup, but because of how big the game was to the hosts, it felt like a big game regardless.

The Fire’s next big game may not be played in front of more than 30,000 fans, but when it comes, maybe this loss in Cincinnati will be looked back at as one of those tests Bradley was referring to.

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.