Michael de Leeuw scores game-winner in his first Fire start

Michael de Leeuw scores game-winner in his first Fire start

Out of all the new players the Chicago Fire since the offseason, Michael de Leeuw was the only one that had an in-person introductory press conference.

Some of that was circumstance, but de Leeuw gave an early glimpse into why he was worth the fuss. He scored the only goal in the Fire's 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.

After enduring an hour-forty-five-minute weather delay at Toyota Park, de Leeuw's tap-in in the 19th minute stood as the only goal of the game. He made his first start for the Fire (4-8-5, 17 points) and scored his first goal with the team. Razvan Cocis got to the endline on the left side and centered the ball to de Leeuw, who only had to tap the ball into an open net.

"If you can score in your first home game, that’s always great," de Leeuw said. "But I couldn’t miss that one.

"Raz gave me a perfect assist.”

De Leeuw played up top as a target forward. On the goal was able to get on the end of a cross, something coach Veljko Paunovic said the Fire have needed all season.

“We had a lot of guys trying to develop that role of the player who will be in the box and take advantage of a lot of crosses," Paunovic said “We need somebody to be there to score those goals and convert those opportunities.”

Having a different type of forward, as opposed to the speedy David Accam and Kennedy Igboananike, does give the Fire a different dynamic to its attack. The Dutch forward is still trying to get a feel for his teammates and they are trying to get used to him. On Wednesday, chances for the Fire were hard to come by, but de Leeuw was in the right spot when he needed to be.

“The confidence is high because you score in your second game," de Leeuw said. “I think they know what kind of player I am, but I think we have to play more games so they understand me and I understand them. You can train it, but in the games you always get the different situations. I think they know what kind of player I am and if I score goals then they know, give the ball in the box, give it to Michael. I have to show them.”

The goal was the only shot on goal for either team in the first half. Sporting Kansas City (8-9-4, 28 points) had six shots in the first half, including a Jacob Peterson shot off the post just before halftime. The Fire went into halftime with one shot and one goal.

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Sporting continued to put the pressure on in the second half, but was not able to find a goal. KC held a more than two-to-one edge in time of possession and a 19-3 advantage in shots. Sporting manager Peter Vermes thought a second minute goal by Dom Dwyer was incorrectly called back for offside, and replays showed he probably was right. Vermes also thought there was a second whistle from a referee that caused some hesitation from his players on the restart that led to de Leeuw's goal. Both breaks went the Fire's way.

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up with a pair of big saves late to preserve the shutout, both came on dives to his left. He stopped a Brad Davis free kick in the 80th minute and denied a Dom Dwyer header in the 87th minute.

“The ball came across and I was able to turn and get set," Johnson said of the save on Dwyer's header. "The whole game I think we battled, we showed we can withstand the test of time in a game. Once you get the goal you always look to push for second. There comes a time in the game where the team is going to push numbers forward and I think everybody dug in tonight and it was a complete team performance.”

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic made five changes from Saturday’s 1-0 loss in Toronto, including having two stalwarts start on the bench. Neither Johan Kappelhof, who had played every minute of league play this season, nor Kennedy Igboananike, who had started every league match, started. Rodrigo Ramos and John Goossens, who both have made an impact in recent games, also did not start. Goossens, Ramos and Kappelhof all came on as substitutes.

The Fire return to action Saturday at league-leading FC Dallas.

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.