Fire

Improving time of possession is next target for Fire

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Improving time of possession is next target for Fire

Throughout the offseason, Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke about how important revamping the defense was.

That defensive unit has shown improvement within the first three matches and even picked up a shutout in the Fire’s most recent match, a scoreless draw with Columbus at Toyota Park.

Now, a new problem seems to have shown itself. The Fire are struggling to keep possession of the ball and it has drawn the attention of coach Veljko Paunovic.

“You have to build your team with a good defense and then improve from that point,” Paunovic said after the Columbus game. “Our team in the last two games has improved defensively. If you remember my answers after the first game and I said we had to improve defensively. Now we are improving defensively. We improved defensively. Now the next step: possession and realization, scoring.”

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Though the Fire have sat back and tried to play on the counter at times, Paunovic has emphasized how important possession is to him.

“I personally value very much the possession and I think that every team that doesn’t control that is missing something very important so we will work on that,” Paunovic said. “It’s a process.”

Considering Paunovic talks about building out of the back as one of the focal points of his tactical strategy, it is a bit unexpected to see the Fire rank last in MLS in terms of possession so far. The Fire have had an average of 38.7 percent of the possession in the first three matches, according to the stats on MLSsoccer.com.

Team Average time of possession (percent)
New York City FC 61.93
Columbus 59.33
Sporting Kansas City 59.03
New York Red Bulls 57.13
Colorado 55.63
LA Galaxy 54.80
Seattle 51.07
Portland 50.77
Orlando 50.53
Dallas 50.50
New England 50.28
Montreal 48.87
Houston 48.30
D.C. United 46.00
Philadelphia 45.20
San Jose 43.77
Real Salt Lake 42.90
Toronto 42.87
Vancouver 42.53
Fire 38.73

 

There are a few things worth mentioning before making too much of how low that number is. First, it’s only been three matches and for 60 minutes of one of those matches the Fire had to play with 10 men on the road. It was natural in that match at Orlando for the Fire to concede possession and defend, which they did to hold on to a 1-1 draw.

Also, the team has a lot of new pieces which could be contributing to more turnovers while the team jells.

“I think one thing we do need to work on a little bit more is when we get into their half we need to possess and pin them in for longer stretches of possession,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “I think as the season goes on and as we get to know each other, that will happen. It’s only the third game in.”

[MORE: Polster starts, but U.S. misses out on Olympic berth]

The value of possession is debatable, but it’s hard to regularly win matches while losing the possession battle by a wide margin. So what do the Fire have to do to improve in this area?

“What we have to take advantage of is the width we create with this width of the field,” Paunovic said. “Then our fullbacks have to go a little bit higher. Then when we are in the opponent’s end we have to be more patient with the ball. That will be tactically what we have to improve in the game, but this is what we are working on.”

Being patient with the ball is something the Fire do need to do more of, but the most telling thing from Paunovic’s quote is what he says about width and the fullbacks. Since Paunovic has inserted Jonathan Campbell as a third center back, the role of the outside backs has changed.

The outside backs are playing like defenders, which isn’t surprising given their background, and it sounds like Paunovic wants them to play like true wide midfielders. Against Columbus, to most observers it appeared the Fire played with a five-man back line, and Polster even said so after the game. When Paunovic talked to media on the Monday following the match he called the formation a 3-5-2. Clearly he views the fullbacks as midfielders in that setup, even if they are natural defenders.

As the Fire continues to learn how Paunovic wants to play and he reacts to how the team is performing, this will be something to watch in the early portion of this season.

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.