Fire

Lemont product Djordje Mihailovic living out his dream playing for the Fire

Lemont product Djordje Mihailovic living out his dream playing for the Fire

Djordje Mihailovic is living out his childhood dream.

After growing up as the son of a professional soccer player, the 18-year-old signed with the Chicago Fire as a homegrown player just over a month ago.

Mihailovic's dad, Aleks, played in the North American Soccer League in the late 70s and early 80s. Now Djordje, who says he started playing when he was two years old, is beginning his own professional career.

"I can't think of a better job than to play soccer," he said. "I've been a fan of Chicago Fire my whole life. I always went to the games as a kid, to be playing in the stadium now is just unreal."

Mihailovic, who grew up in Lemont, was in his fourth season with the Fire's academy when he signed his homegrown contract on Jan. 27. The preseason had already started before he signed, but he was already training with the first team. He has been training with the first team sporadically since the summer of 2015.

The midfielder said that time helped him adjust to the pro game, but the transition was a bit jarring at first.

"The first thing I had to learn was how to play quicker out of pressure," Mihailovic said. "Quickly I learned that. All the guys going 100 percent everyday and respond. That's what you have to learn quick if you want to make it here."

In addition to training with professionals, Mihailovic has had experience at youth national team levels. He has represented the U.S. at the U-17 and U-19 levels, including spending some time with the under-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla. He played with the under-19s in February during the Fire's preseason and scored a goal against NASL side Miami FC in a friendly.

[MORE FIRE: Nemanja Nikolic says wearing No. 23 'is not because of Jordan']

Mihailovic was committed to play collegiately at North Carolina, where Fire homegrown prospects Cameron Lindley and Mauricio Pineda recently completed their freshmen seasons, but instead decided to make the jump to the professional ranks this season.

"I felt ready," Mihailovic said. "I've been here for a year. I get along with the guys good. I can compete with these guys. I feel like I can earn my spot."

He describes his position as a mix between a box-to-box midfielder and a more playmaking, attacking midfielder. He mentioned Juninho as the player on the Fire he tries to watch and model his game after most, even if Mihailovic is more of an attacking player than Juninho, who is more of a defensive mid.

Playing time may not come often this season, but that's not what Mihailovic said his focus is this season.

"I'm expecting this year just to learn as much as I can from older guys like Dax (McCarty) and Juni, the guys that played my position for a long time," he said. "They do a great job at it. I'm just trying to learn. If I get in, great, but as long I'm learning that's what I need right now at my age."

Whatever happens, for now it's a dream come true for Mihailovic, who was born a few weeks after the Fire won MLS Cup '98.

"It's been a dream," he said. "I came to Chicago Fire four years ago in the academy and hoped for this opportunity and it finally came true."

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.