Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

Michael de Leeuw 'excited' to make Fire debut

After a long courting process and a few weeks of training with the Fire before he could play, Michael de Leeuw is set to make his Fire debut on Saturday.

The Dutch forward became eligible once Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window opened on the Fourth of July. Now de Leeuw can join the Fire attack for the match in Toronto.

“I’m excited,” de Leeuw said after training on Wednesday. “This is what the last weeks I trained for. I knew that after Fourth of July I was capable of playing so now I’m available and I hope to make some minutes Saturday and show my skills to MLS.”

The 29-year-old has been training with the Fire since the middle of June, but has been forced to watch the team’s past five matches. He said this week’s training has been different for him because he knows he can suit up to play the next match.

“That’s frustrating, but I knew it before I signed,” de Leeuw said. “So I knew how it was, but still it’s frustrating because you trained the whole week before you prepare for the game. If you can’t play then you train different. This week was different. I know I can play so I want to give a hope Saturday that I can play and give everything for the team.”

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Coach Veljko Paunovic said on Tuesday that de Leeuw will be in the team’s roster, but wouldn’t give a clue as to how much de Leeuw will play or how he will be used. Will he start? Will he come off the bench? How will he line up in the Fire’s formation?

“We are working on that,” Paunovic said. “It is good for us to have options and for sure we will use all our resources offensively in order to improve our performance in attack.”

The bigger question in the long-run will be how de Leeuw fits in tactically. The team is as healthy as it has been all season with every player expected to be available in Toronto.

David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike are the two other forwards on the roster. Neither is a true hold-up type forward and Accam is more of a winger. If you ask de Leeuw he will say he isn’t either. In his introductory press conference he described himself as a cross between a playmaker and a true striker.

Does that mean de Leeuw will slide somewhat underneath Igboananike with Accam still playing wide? Will Igboananike go the bench to make way for de Leeuw? That may not be answered even on Saturday with de Leeuw probably not at full match fitness.

“I don’t know, that’s a decision the trainer has to make,” de Leeuw said. “I think I always can play so for me it’s no problem, but that’s a choice the trainer has to make, not me.”

[MORE FIRE: John Goossens scores first MLS goal in Fire win]

As for de Leeuw’s off the field adjustment, he has an apartment in Chicago and is settling into the city. He also spent the Fourth of July with Dutch teammates John Goossens and Johan Kappelhof.

“Me and my girlfriend went to the beach,” de Leeuw said. “After that we went shopping in the city and then with Johan and John we watched the fireworks with their families.”

Fire fans will be hoping de Leeuw can create some fireworks of his own on the field starting Saturday.

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.