Kennedy Igboananike goal leads Fire to first win of season


Kennedy Igboananike goal leads Fire to first win of season

The weather outside was frightful, but the Chicago Fire finally have a win in 2016.

The Fire beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Saturday at Toyota Park. It was the Fire's first win of the season.

Kennedy Igboananike scored the match's only goal in the 51st minute, just a few minutes after Philadelphia's Warren Creavalle was sent off for a harsh tackle from behind on Razvan Cocis.

With strong wind, occasional snow and cold temperatures, some fans from Section 8 started singing "Let It Snow" with some help from a trumpeter. The conditions definitely impacted the fans in the stands, but the field remained in decent shape when the snow wasn't swirling over the field.

The win gave the Fire (1-1-2, 5 points) the first win under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic.

“It means a lot for me and for this locker room, who works very hard so far," Paunovic said. "I think winning this game gave us more confidence now and believe we are on a good path, which we always knew that we were."

The game could have gone very differently with the Union (2-2, 6 points) hitting the goal frame three times in the match. Union forward C.J. Sapong headed off the crossbar in the 29th minute and drilled a shot off the post in the 41st minute.

Meanwhile, the Fire were unable to put a shot on goal in the first half.

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Early in the second half a long shot from Ilsinho went through goalkeeper Matt Lampson's hands and ricocheted off the bar. A minute later Creavalle was sent off with a red card and the match changed almost immediately. Creavalle had picked up a yellow card in the first half.

“The sending off obviously changes the game," Union coach Jim Curtin said. “We talked about to Warren about being careful and not leaving his feet so a little bit silly in the area of the field. I think he should just let him turn there and we live to fight another day.”

It took less than five minutes for the Fire to turn the man-advantage into a lead. Michael Harrington slotted a pass in the box to Igboananike, who was able to quickly turn and slide a low shot just inside the far post.

“That’s a really, really good finish to turn and quickly shoot it like that," Fire midfielder Michael Stephens said. "It was a good team goal and it came off a big sequence of passing, which is something we worked on this week.”

[MORE: Joao Meira left Portugal for something different in Chicago]

The Fire held on for a second straight shutout at home while returning to a four-man back line. Harrington returned from his red card suspension to take Brandon Vincent's spot at left back. Rodrigo Ramos earned his second straight start at right back and Jonathan Campbell paired with Johan Kappelhof at centerback. Campbell's start is a sign that he may have passed up Joao Meira, who played every minute of the Fire's first three matches, on the depth chart in Paunovic's mind.

“I think it’s gotten better every week," Kappelhof said. "We train hard and we communicate good. It’s getting better. We are improving. We are not there yet, but we are working hard.”

Next up for the Fire is an April 10 match at New York City FC, who beat the Fire 4-3 in the season opener at Toyota Park.

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.