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MLS SuperDraft may be fading in talent, but remains essential

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MLS SuperDraft may be fading in talent, but remains essential

After a lack of news and announcements from the Chicago Fire, things sure picked up this week and the source of that was the MLS SuperDraft.

It is easy to argue that the draft has lost some of its luster since the homegrown player rule has changed the landscape of the draft. More and more teams are developing more and more players through their academy systems, which is syphoning top talent from the draft.

In December, the Fire signed two homegrown players in Northwestern forward Joey Calistri and Wisconsin midfielder Drew Conner. (For the record, TopDrawerSoccer.com’s Travis Clark said Calistri and Conner would both probably slide in as third or fourth round picks in this draft had they not signed homegrown deals with the Fire.) According to MLSsoccer.com’s offseason tracker 16 players have already been signed as homegrown players this offseason, and that doesn’t even include Hermann Trophy winner and U.S. Men’s National Team player Jordan Morris, who is mulling signing with Seattle as a homegrown or signing with a European team.

[MORE FIRE: Fire draft day wrap - Jones, No. 1 pick traded for 3 rookies, allocation money]

With so many quality names missing from the draft class, it becomes tougher and tougher to find good talent.

“Approached the right way it can provide a valuable asset or two,” Clark said of the draft. “That said, of the 80 players that are going to get picked I can’t imagine more than 15 or 20 at the very highest will still be on an MLS roster a year from now, and it could be lower than that. It’s a little bit of mixed bag and obviously you have the homegrown program that sheers down the number of kids, you have kids that skip college altogether or go to Europe.”

It’s hard to say that the quality of the talent pool in the draft hasn’t lessened in recent years, but that doesn’t mean the draft doesn’t still serve a different purpose. That purpose is to create buzz about a league during its offseason.

That point wasn’t lost on Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez as he explained during his conference call with the media on Tuesday. He noted that the MLS season ended in early December and the league basically goes dark until draft time.

“The SuperDraft itself is, almost on a yearly basis, the No. 1 traffic day of the year on MLSsoccer.com,” Rodriguez said. “One need only look at the NFL and the NBA and what they’ve done with their drafts and how that hype keeps those leagues relevant and consumer friendly at a time that their sports aren’t being played. It’s amazing to me. There’s a place and a need for the combine and a place and a need for the SuperDraft and I see that for the foreseeable future.”\

[SHOP: Gear up, Fire fans!]

So while the MLS SuperDraft may be dwindling in terms of relevance on the field, its relevance off it remains. In addition, Rodriguez spoke of the hope a new, young player gives to a franchise and its fan base.

“I believe the draft in any sports league provides something that is critical to every fan of every team and that’s hope,” he said. “The draft pick, whether the first person chosen or the last person chosen, represents hope to a fan base and to a front office staff. The hope that the player selected will prove to be an instrumental contributor or even a difference maker to the present and future of the team.”

Each offseason, baseball fans flock to media outlets for the latest gossip coming from the Winter Meetings. The start of the NBA free agency period has become a frenzied period of news and rumors. The NFL Draft is a key three-day cog in the league’s year-round hype machine and gets fans excited about the upcoming season nearly five months before it starts.

Even if the three players the Fire drafted on Thursday don’t turn into stars, or even solid contributors, Chicago soccer fans were given a day to think about soccer even when all they see outside their windows is a thick, cold layer of snow on the ground. That’s not such a bad thing.

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.