Michael de Leeuw joins Fire as potential solution to scoring woes

Michael de Leeuw joins Fire as potential solution to scoring woes

The Chicago Fire are last in Major League Soccer with 10 goals scored and are one of two teams in the league averaging less than a goal per game.

That’s why the arrival of Michael de Leeuw is coming with some extra fanfare. The 29-year-old Dutch forward had an introductory press conference at Toyota Park on Tuesday.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire identified de Leeuw as a target after scouting his former FC Groningen teammate and current Fire defender Johan Kappelhof.
“In watching Groningen several times our attention kept being drawn to Michael,” Rodriguez said. “What excites us the most is we think we’ve added another important piece to the championship program that we’re trying to build.”

After a lengthy recruitment process that involved waiting for de Leeuw’s season with Groningen to end just after the initial MLS transfer window closed, the Fire hope he can team up with David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike to make a more potent attack. Rodriguez wanted to calm any expectations that de Leeuw can turn around the last place Fire by himself though.

“I want to be clear, while we have high hopes and expectations for Michael and for his play with our club, he’s not a savior,” Rodriguez said. “He is just an important piece to what we’re trying to build through a deliberate and thoughtful process.”

Rodriguez warned against the transition to MLS being tough for new players to the league. Currently, de Leeuw is in the second week of a five-week preseason type schedule set by the club to get him ready for when he is first eligible to play on July 9 at Toronto.

He said he is fit and ready to go, even if he has to wait and be limited to practice for a few more weeks. Monday was de Leeuw’s first training session with the team.

“I can adapt and I get to know the players, I get to know everyone, the city,” de Leeuw said. “I want to play tomorrow because I want to show Chicago, show everyone what I can do, what my capabilities are. I feel fit so I think it’s no problem to blend in.”

As for how he fits in positionally, both de Leeuw and coach Veljko Paunovic said he can play in any attacking position. Paunovic said de Leeuw is a good fit for any of the front three positions in a 4-3-1-2 formation which the Fire used in recent games while de Leeuw called himself a 9-and-a-half, a mix between a true striker No. 9 and a playmaking No. 10.

After playing for four years in Groningen, de Leeuw said he wanted a new experience. He joined the Fire on a two-and-a-half year contract.

“It’s good to get a new environment so you stay hungry,” de Leeuw said. “With Groningen everything was the same so now I got a new environment. Also it’s a good way for me to develop in another country.”

Kappelhof was a source of information for de Leeuw in his process of joining the Fire.

“I spoke a lot with Johan,” de Leeuw said. “He told me that it’s more physical than in Holland. Of course the level with players like Drogba... and now Pirlo. There are big players in the league so the level is of course high.”

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.