Fire

Matt Polster 'finally happy now' after return to the field

Matt Polster 'finally happy now' after return to the field

Matt Polster waited a long time for Saturday night.

The Chicago Fire's third-year player made his season debut after a knee injury suffered in the second week of the preseason and later setbacks kept him out of game action until he came off the bench for the final 19 minutes against the Seattle Sounders.

Polster did so at right back, a position he didn't play last season, but has played before. He completed 16 of 17 passes and drew a pair of fouls while the Fire added two insurance goals in the 4-1 win.

"It’s exciting to get back on the field and I just feel like I’m finally happy now," Polster said. "I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to this point and I’m just happy I’m here and healthy again and available to be on the field.”

Polster suffered what the team called a sprained left knee during preseason training on Feb. 2. He was initially expected to be out seven weeks and appeared to be reasonably close to that projection when he returned to training in late March. He was seen running and completing individual passing drills in training on March 21.

On April 15, Polster was available as a substitute against New England, but did not play. Then he suffered a setback while he tried to regain his fitness. Polster had a right hip injury and was out for the next three games before finally playing against Seattle.

Right back isn't a new position to Polster, who played center back in college before moving to defensive midfield as a pro. Polster also played some right back during his rookie season and when he played with the Olympic qualifying team last year.

"I have some experience with it," Polster said. "I think there will be moments where I might look like I haven’t done it, but I think if I get enough experience with it and get used to it I think I can definitely play that position.”

Michael Harrington began the season as the starter at right back, but Drew Conner started at the LA Galaxy. Conner again started against Seattle before Polster replaced him. Those three figure to be competing for that spot for the forseeable future.

“We were working on our improvement in our backline on the right back," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We were also talking with [Polster] in playing that position in the last couple of months, but as he got the setback with his injury he needed more time. We were working on his fitness. We were working also on preparing him so when the moment comes he was ready. I think [Saturday] he did very well."

Getting minutes at Polster's previous position in central midfield won't be easy. The trio of newcomers, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho will be very difficult to unseat. All three have made every start when they are healthy and available.

If Polster is limited to minutes at right back this year, he won't mind the position change, if it sticks.

“I think it’s definitely easier than central midfield," Polster said. "I think when you get the ball you have everything in front of you. You don’t really have to worry about something behind you, it’s just the [offside] line itself. For me I find it easier because I have everything in front of me. I’m able to pick my pass and I know what I’m going to do pretty early before I get it.”

Polster said this in front of the Fire's starting left back, Brandon Vincent, so Vincent was roped into the conversation. Vincent gave everyone a laugh with his response as to whether playing outside back is easier than central midfield as Polster said.

“It is," Vincent said. "That’s why I don’t play it.”

 

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

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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

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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.