International window forces Fire to compensate for absent starters


International window forces Fire to compensate for absent starters

With the FIFA international window (Aug. 31-Sept. 8) beginning Monday, the time is now for Fire head coach Frank Yallop to assess the depth of his squad ahead of Saturday's trip to face the Montreal Impact.

David Accam (Ghana), Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) and Matt Polster (United States Under-23) all went the full 90 minutes in the 1-1 draw with Orlando City SC Saturday night, and departed The Sunshine State Sunday morning to team up with their respective national squads. With newly acquired defender Daneil Cyrus (Trinidad and Tobago) and Collin Fernandez (U.S. U-20) joining them, the excursion to Stade Saputo on Sept. 5 will present unique challenges for the Fire technical staff during training this week. 

“We’re going to be missing some key players, but we’re hoping that the little bit of momentum in the last league games we’ve had can carry us through,” Yallop told reporters Monday via teleconference. 

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Accam - one of the club's prominent attack-minded signings during the offseason - produced a goal and an assist in his previous two outings, and was named to the MLS Team of the Week for his exploits. The Ghanaian could feature in the Black Stars' friendly against Congo on Tuesday and the African Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda on Sept. 4. 

The 24-year-old's absence for the journey to face the Impact will create a void on the left flank, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Yallop must compensate for two other key starters away on international duty this week - Jones and Polster - and fathom how to devise a balanced team sheet in the coming days before a bout with their Eastern Conference foe.

The absence of Jones and Cyrus, who'll be in contention to start for Trinidad and Tobago's friendly with Mexico on Sept. 4 at Rio Tinto Stadium, prompted the second-year head coach to recall defender Patrick Doody from his loan stint with USL side Saint Louis FC, with fullback Greg Cochrane waiting in the wings as another apt replacement, according to Yallop.

[RELATED: Fire's Sean Johnson earns USMNT call-up for friendly vs. Brazil

In terms of playing time, the international dates can wreak havoc for MLS squads that play through the window, with injury concerns at the forefront of the conversation. Yallop engaged in varying levels of dialogue with Ghana, Trinidad and Tobago and the U.S. U-23 men's national team after learning of Accam, Cyrus - who's yet to officially join the Fire - Jones and Polster's call-ups within the last week.     

"Polster basically has been asked to go the last two trips before [Friday’s call-up], and I’ve basically stopped that in chatting and talking to the coaching staff over there," Yallop added. "At some point I’ve got to abide by the rules and let him go. This is a trip that is very important to them; it’s their preparation [for Olympic qualifying]. I expect him to play 90 minutes in the first game [Sept. 3 vs. England], and we spoke a little bit of not playing as much on Tuesday [Sept. 8 vs. Qatar] so he’s available for our game on Friday [Sept. 11 at New York Red Bulls].

“I’ve spoken to [Trinidad and Tobago] coach [Stephen Hart]. He’ll look at the minutes, but they don’t have many defenders, so Daneil and JJ – Trinidad are a little bit light on defenders – should still be okay for our next game [at New York].”

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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


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, 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.