Matt Polster looks to build on strong rookie season


Matt Polster looks to build on strong rookie season

Representing your country is one of the highest honors in sports.

Matt Polster had that chance while training with the U.S. National Team during the annual January camp. Now the Fire’s second-year midfielder is hoping to improve upon his positive debut season.

Polster didn’t get to play during the two friendlies the U.S. played to conclude the training camp, but he still figures to be a part of the U-23 squad that hopes to qualify for the Olympics via a two-leg playoff against Colombia in March.

“It was a great experience being with all those players,” Polster said. “I think the caliber of coaches made the experience very good obviously. I was able to learn a lot. I picked up some things from veteran players like Michael Bradley and how they prepare themselves before training and games.

“I picked up some things on how they prepared, how they work during training and how mentally engaged they were through everything.”

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Polster initially received an email saying he was being considered for the camp. He later got the call from manager Jurgen Klinsmann to make it official that he would be a part of the group. Polster said he immediately called his parents and some friends to share the news.

Despite not playing in a match, training with a select group of players was something that Polster, who had not represented the U.S. at any other youth level, was honored by.

“That’s the highest thing you can do is play for your national team so to get that opportunity to play for the national team and put the shirt on and represent the country I think is a huge step for my career,” Polster said. “I think I did well in camp, which is a little bit of a confidence booster as well. I think each part of camp was slowly building confidence, getting a rhythm and building up for Chicago.”

Polster was joined by Fire teammates Sean Johnson and Brandon Vincent at the training camp. The trio joined the Fire midway through the club’s stay in Tampa for the preseason.

Upon arriving in Tampa, Polster noticed changes under first-year coach Veljko Paunovic.

“He’s very hands on,” Polster said of Paunovic. “He’s always engaged. He likes to stop sessions, let us know what we’re doing wrong, what we can do better or even sometimes stop and say that was good. I think he’s tactically very smart. I think we’re going to have an idea of how we want to go forward, how we want to defend, how we want to build out of the back.”

[MORE: Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp]

Individually, Polster admitted he has some things to sharpen up. On the team side, Polster said the returning Fire players have something to prove after a disappointing season last year.

Polster’s desire to improve is something that stood out to Paunovic.

“He is a really young guy full of potential, full of energy, which we have to channel,” Paunovic said. “We have to channel his passion, his will to give his best in every session, in every game, which is very, very important. At the same time we have to put that under control and that control has to come from him. That’s what we are working on from him. We really think he has potential and a big value in our club and our league.”

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.