Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes


Lack of conviction, slow starts underpin Fire's road woes

After atoning for a 0-3 start to the 2015 MLS regular season with three consecutive home wins, the Chicago Fire faltered on the road for the third time this season and slipped to its fourth loss on Sunday, leaving them hovering above the red line by a whisker in the Eastern Conference standings.

Their trendsetting winless record against Western Conference opponents, made worse with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Kansas City, is gaining unwanted attention. The lack of incisiveness and ruthlessness in front of goal has been duly noted as of late, with all six of the Fire's goals supplied by all but the forward position in Kennedy Igboananike (two shots on target in 221 minutes), Quincy Amarikwa (five shots on target in 446 minutes) and Guly do Prado (one shot on target in 192 minutes) through the first seven games.

"We just didn’t quite execute in the final third," said head coach Frank Yallop during his weekly media conference call on Tuesday. "We’ve just got to figure out our play away from home being goal dangerous and being clinical because we had chances. We’re not quite there yet and we didn’t execute when we should have. That was the story of the game."

[SHOP: Get your Fire gear]

As Yallop prepares to alleviate the issue ahead of Real Salt Lake's visit to Toyota Park on Saturday, matching the intensity of their counterparts, in addition to being bereft of conviction in the attacking third, has also been a bit of a soft underbelly for the Men in Red while scoring just one goal and conceding five in three away matches. 

"We weren’t sharp in the first half, I thought," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "The second half we started to get our wind and get into the game. I said, Kansas City always starts very strong at home and they get at you. Once the level dropped down to par level, I thought we played well. I thought we matched them."

On Tuesday, he expanded on the slow start against Sporting KC, a resemblance of the Fire's prior performances at the LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes in March.    

[RELATED: Fire rue missed chances in loss to Sporting Kansas City]

“It’s a weird one because we talk about it, about coming out quickly, that they’re going to come out at us,” Yallop said. “We didn’t look confident (at Sporting KC) in the first 20-30 minutes. That could have cost us the game -- (Dom) Dwyer had a free header and should've scored. They could have been two-nil up at halftime."

With Salt Lake's visit in the offing, Yallop is already taking initiative to resolve the team's road setbacks, citing a refined strategy on the coaching staff's behalf as the precursor of better things to come ahead of the Fire's trip to New York City FC on May 15.

“I’m going to talk next week about maybe just changing something in training or maybe the days off to get us into the mode of a good start in an away game,” he said. “What I like about my technical staff is we’re forever trying to fix it through video, through sleeping patterns, and different things like this. We’ve got a pretty good team that can win games (on the road), so (starting slowly) was a frustration on Sunday.”

Stay with Comcast SportsNet for complete coverage ahead of the Fire's home contest against Real Salt Lake, slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday 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.