Joao Meira left Portugal for something different in Chicago


Joao Meira left Portugal for something different in Chicago

After playing his entire professional career in Portugal, Joao Meira was ready for something different.

The 28-year-old defender had been a professional playing in various levels of Portuguese soccer for 10 years. His most recent stint was with Belenenses from 2012-2015, helping the club earn promotion to the top league in Portugal during that time.

“I finished my contract with Belenenses and didn’t renew because I wanted other things in my career outside Portugal,” Meira said. “I had an agreement with one club in Spain, but the financial problems killed the contract.”

As a result, Meira was stuck without a club for six months, waiting until the next transfer window opened in January. While he admitted training alone with a personal trainer was difficult, he was able to stay in shape and the Chicago Fire eventually came calling.

Having gone several months without playing organized soccer, the Fire made sure to push him in their tests when evaluating him in person.

“We were aware that Joao hadn’t played competitively for a while,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. “I think this speaks to Joao’s character; we ran him through a battery of tests on the field, and physical, and he was great about all that.”

Rodriguez spoke highly of Meira’s versatility and said the fact that Meira helped a team earn promotion in Portugal was another selling point.

“We liked that he helped a lower level team ascend,” Rodriguez said. “That leadership, that experience of making an impact against a previous weaker team is something we thought could translate well for us.”

[MORE: Improving time of possession is next target for Fire]

Meira also speaks English and can speak Portuguese to Brazilian teammates Gilberto and Rodrigo Ramos. Ramos, another offseason acquisition of the Fire, doesn’t speak any English yet so Meira can act as a translator on and off the field.

Moving to MLS was something Meira insists he wanted in his career. He was unsure of when it could happen, but when the Fire approached him, it became a reality.

“Sincerely it’s a goal of mine,” Meira said. “It is a good opportunity for me, to show myself in America and MLS.”

He has played every minute of the Fire’s first three matches. He has already noticed differences in how the game is played in MLS as opposed to in Portugal.

“Here you play more with your heart,” Meira said. “The game is open. In Portugal you think the game a little bit more and more tempo in possession, the ball. It’s different. More tricks.”

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Off the field, Meira is getting used to a new apartment he just moved into in the West Loop. He had been staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago.

His answer to what his first impression was of the city may not surprise any Chicagoans.

“The life is fantastic, but the wind and the cold, it kills me,” Meira said. “It’s very different than Portugal, which has fantastic weather.”

Meira said he doesn’t miss much from Portugal yet. He is able to talk on Skype with his parents and family everyday.

However, one thing he does miss is Portuguese food, which Meira has not yet found in Chicago. He said Chicago has good restaurants, but laughs when saying they are very expensive.

“Very different restaurants, I try to know a little bit the Greektown,” Meira said. “It’s good… The Greek is similar, a little bit different.”

When talking about Portuguese food Meira lights up just a bit more.

“It’s more healthy, like Mediterranean,” he said. “You have big plate in Portugal and it’s fantastic food. The traditional food of Portugal is not the best, but in the top five best of the world.”

This is not Meira’s first time in the U.S. He has vacationed in Miami and New York on multiple occasions, which was made easier because his wife is a flight attendant.

Now, Meira is trying to make the most out of his more permanent stay, both on and off the field.

“It is good for me," he said. “I am very happy.”

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.