Fire

MLS needs its own Chicago-St. Louis rivalry

MLS needs its own Chicago-St. Louis rivalry

The Chicago-St. Louis sports rivalry has been on display in recent days with the Blackhawks-Blues playoff series and the Cubs making the first trip to Busch Stadium earlier this week.

Cubs-Cardinals is one of the better rivalries in baseball and when both teams are competitive, as they are now, it has even more fire. Blackhawks-Blues has been rejuvenated with recent playoff meetings.

Meanwhile, on the soccer side there is no Major League Soccer team in St. Louis to provide the Chicago Fire with that same marquee matchup, but that could be changing.

MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the league wants to expand to 28 teams. The league currently sits at 20 teams. Atlanta and Minnesota plan to join next season and Los Angeles FC and the Miami franchise headed by David Beckham aren’t much further behind. That brings the league to 24 teams and Garber’s comments reopened expansion competition with four new spots in the league available.

Hawks-Blues and Cubs-Cards over the last few days has shown that the Chicago-St. Louis sports rivalry is strong and MLS needs to be a part of that. The Fire need a true rival and St. Louis’ introduction to MLS would be an instant rival for the Fire given the heated rivalries in other sports.

The closest MLS teams to Chicago are Columbus, which is over five hours away, and Kansas City, which is an eight-hour drive away and no longer in the same conference as the Fire. Minnesota’s addition to the league will add another Midwestern team which Chicago sports fans will be familiar seeing as a divisional rival, but odds are that team will head to the Western Conference, limiting meetings with the Fire to just once a year.

St. Louis has played a massive role in the history of soccer in this country. A glimpse of that was shown in the movie “The Game of Their Lives,” where a group of players from The Hill neighborhood in St. Louis featured on the 1950 U.S. World Cup team which beat England. On the collegiate level, St. Louis University has won 10 national championships in men’s soccer.

So what are the chances of St. Louis getting a team?

SI.com’s Brian Straus broke down the current expansion candidates. Straus said Sacramento is practically a lock, but referred to St. Louis as the best bet for team No. 26. There has been talk of MLS in St. Louis for years, but the Rams’ departure seems to have sparked interest a bit more. Garber admitted Thursday that Sacramento and St. Louis are the frontrunners.

Currently Saint Louis FC, which plays in suburban Fenton, is the top soccer team in the market. They play in the USL and are the Fire’s affiliate. Good crowds for that minor league team and for international games, either European summer friendlies or U.S. National Team games, have shown the interest for soccer is there.

It’s always a matter of finding an ownership group and a stadium deal when it comes to MLS expansion. If those two things come together, St. Louis will have a team because both the league and the city appear interested.

If and when it happens, it could give Fire fans a home game or two to circle on the calendar every year, which is something currently lacking.

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.