Joey Calistri looking to break through with the Fire

Joey Calistri looking to break through with the Fire

There are a lot of young players on the Chicago Fire and only a few of them can get on the field right now.

The Fire have five rookies and four second-year pros, if you count 20-year-old Brazilian Rodrigo Ramos in the second-year group. Out of those nine players, Matt Polster enteredhe season as an established starter while Ramos and rookie Jonathan Campbell appear to have solidified themselves as starters for now.

Rookie Brandon Vincent started the first three matches, but hasn't played since. Joey Calistri and Alex Morrell, both rookies, have been able to earn late substitute roles on multiple occasions, but no starts. Rookie Drew Conner and second-year players Patrick Doody and Collin Fernandez haven't played at all although Doody and Conner are on loan with Saint Louis FC.

Just looking at that group, it shows how difficult is has been for the younger players on the team to earn regular minutes. When asked about Calistri specifically earlier this week, coach Veljko Paunovic spoke about the importance of giving playing time to young players.

"For him I think it’s important that he can go through this process of developing and getting minutes in the league, (for that) to go smoothly," Paunovic said. "We are working on that and as soon as he is ready and as soon as we believe he can help the team on the field we will not have any issue to make him play.

"We also have a lot of young, talented players that we want to mold them. We also know for the young players it is very important to have minutes and where we can’t give them those minutes we will look for opportunities to loan those young players so they can get either with our affiliate or with another club in the league where we can give them for a short-term loan. This is our approach for Calistri and all other young players that we have on the squad that are not having enough minutes. We believe that is important for young players."

Paunovic came to the Fire after coaching the Serbian U-20 team, which gives him youth development coaching experience. When he talks about getting young players minutes, he knows it's important.

Calistri subbed in after the 80th minute in each of the team's first three matches, but hasn't played since. With a stretch of four games in 11 days coming up in May, squad rotation will be necessary, but Paunovic said he doesn't expect Calistri's role to change much during that period.

"(Paunovic) just keeps preaching work ethic and hard work and keep working on my finishing, my killer instinct," Calistri said. "That’s stuff in training and when I get into a scrimmage that I try to focus on."

The former Northwestern forward is still learning the professional game and is trying to take advantage of his opportunities as they come, even if they are for less than 10 minutes at a time.

"It’s a great learning experience for me. I think that’s probably the most important part is that I’m learning a lot from all the guys and Pauno and the staff," Calistri said. "For me it’s all about work rate and energy and trying to bring a little spark. If I’m coming in in the 80th, 85th minute, most of the guys are going to be pretty tired. Just trying to run at some guys, get in behind, make it tough for the guys who have been out there."

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.