Fire

John Goossens' return could be key for the Fire

John Goossens' return could be key for the Fire

For much of this season the Chicago Fire have struggled not just to score goals, but to create chances.

The Fire moved out of last place in Major League Soccer in goals scored after putting in three in a loss at Philadelphia last week, but are still last place in total shots (157) and shots on target (43). For context, the team just above the Fire in shots on target is San Jose with 60 and Vancouver leads the league with 109.

In Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup victory against Columbus there was a welcome face starting in the midfield for the first time since April 16: John Goossens. Goossens made his return from a sprained LCL in Philadelphia, but came off the bench in that match.

Goossens' impact against the Crew was immediately seen in his assist to David Accam on the opening goal in the seventh minute. Goossens got control of the ball in his own half and was able to dribble forward into Columbus' third. When the defense finally closed him down, Goossens was able to weave through a pair of defenders and hit Accam with a pass. Accam did the rest of the work with an impressive finish, but it's reasonable to think no other player on the Fire is able to get the ball to Accam in that spot, at least not in the same way.

“I think he’s calm and comfortable on the ball,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of Goossens. “He has actually very good offensive perception of the game.

“He was relief for us when we were building out of the back. In the moments when we had to win and have a progression in our build up he showed up and that’s very important and positive for the team.”

Goossens had a number of opportunities with the ball and the Fire’s pair of speedy forwards, Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, running in front of him.

“It was really easy for me once I get the ball behind their midfield, between their midfield and defensive line,” Goossens said. “I had all the time to turn and to look for those two fast guys. They scored two amazing goals.”

Goossens subbed out of the game after 60 minutes, which was expected given it was his first start in more than two months.

The problem so far is that Goossens hasn't been able to stay healthy this season. He hasn't played a full 90 minutes yet this season and has only made seven appearances this season.

That said, when Goossens has played he has made a difference. The assist to Accam was his third of the season. In addition, the team has performed its best with Goossens on the field. Even before Tuesday's 2-1 win, Goossens had the best plus-minus, to borrow a hockey stat, on the Fire.

When Goossens has been on the field in MLS play, the Fire have a plus-two goal differential. Of course there are a lot of factors that go into that with 11 players on the field, but plus-two is a notable difference from the Fire's overall goal differential of minus-six. The only other player on the team with a positive plus-minus is Arturo Alvarez at plus-one.

“We missed him,” Accam said. “He is one of our creative players and I’m really happy we have him back on the pitch. If we get Arturo back then we are perfect for us strikers because we need the midfielders to feed us good balls and today Goossens did that. Hopefully that will continue.”

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

city-trophy-epl.jpg
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

katai.jpg
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.