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MLS SuperDraft preview: Will Fire keep or trade top pick?

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MLS SuperDraft preview: Will Fire keep or trade top pick?

The MLS SuperDraft takes place on Thursday and the Chicago Fire have the first overall pick so what should fans expect?

Starting at Noon, the Fire kick off the event in Baltimore. Or, at least the team will if it holds onto the top pick.

Trade offers, confirmed by general manager Nelson Rodriguez in a conference call on Tuesday, have been made to the Fire regarding that top pick. Rodriguez wouldn’t deny the team’s interest in potentially trading the spot, but also wouldn’t confirm that they desired to do so. The Fire already have at least two outstanding offers and Rodriguez said he expected one more attempt if the team decides to reject those offers.

“What I know regarding the No. 1 pick is, whether we keep it or we move it, on Thursday, we will be a better team,” Rodriguez said. “I believe there are starters [in the draft] along all four lines, goalkeeper, back, midfield and forward. That’s why I’m confident and we don’t feel pressured to do anything with the first round draft pick because we believe we will help our team no matter what.”

[RELATED - Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick]

The Fire’s draft prep this year has also been met with unusual complications. Rodriguez took over in late September, when the college soccer season was already a month old, and coach Veljko Paunovic was hired while the NCAA Tournament was already underway meaning in-person scouting for the duo was limited. In addition, Brian Bliss, who led club scouting, left as the club’s technical director earlier this month. As a result, the MLS Combine, which concluded on Tuesday, took on more importance for the Fire.

“For us this year, the Combine was really important, perhaps even more so than in previous years and perhaps more so than it will be in future years,” Rodriguez said. “Specifically because Pauno didn’t have a chance to see as many players live as we would have liked and he would have liked. Although he watched extensive video on all of the players at the combine and many others who were not invited to the Combine, there is no substitute for seeing a player live, for seeing their behaviors off the field, off the ball and their reactions for things that might happen outside the view of a camera lense.

“In the future, I think the Combine will still have importance, but perhaps not as much because we’ll have a far better and far more robust scouting system and we’ll have more detailed dossiers on every player before we get down there.”

So who are the Fire likely to pick if they do end up keeping the pick?

Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro has been the top rated player and projected top pick by every mock draft under the sun. However, after the Combine concluded, word got out that some teams valued Wake Forest winger Jack Harrison higher than Yaro and may be looking to trade up to get Harrison.

[MORE: Fire release 2016 MLS schedule]

In addition, Stanford left back Brandon Vincent, the only senior among the top rated players, has gained some steam after receiving a call-up to U.S. Men’s National Team camp with the U-23 group as prep for the upcoming Olympic qualifying playoff in March. Akron midfielder Richie Laryea is also a name that is expected to be picked early.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Travis Clark of TopDrawerSoccer.com, a leading site in coverage of college and youth soccer in the U.S., broke down the outlook for those four players, which are the top rated players on the site’s MLS SuperDraft big board.

(It should be noted that Creighton forward Fabian Herbers, a late addition to the draft pool, is also rated as a potential Top 5 pick.

Top names to watch

Josh Yaro, Georgetown defender, 5-foot-11, 163 pounds

Clark: I think he is a player that can help a team. He can be a center back in MLS if you pair him with a guy who is big enough. If you don’t want to be constrained with that, you probably want to work him in as a right back. As someone in the D.C. area, I’ve seen plenty of him and there’s some part of me that I feel you could try him at center mid and see what sticks just because of how much ground he could cover and what he could do as a holding midfielder or maybe even a box-to-box type. In college, he was good on the ball and could burst forward and he’s one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen at that level, so he’s somebody who could certainly make an impact. I don’t know if he’s necessarily going to be a good enough right back to spend the No. 1 pick on. If there’s uncertainty there, I can see why people and teams would hesitate a little bit. There’s no question that he’s a Top 3, Top 5 guy and his character off the field, he’s going to put the work in to be the best player that he can be and be an asset for your team. There are other factors to consider, but there is no doubt that he can help you somewhere on the field.

Jack Harrison, Wake Forest winger, 5-foot-9, 155 pounds

Clark: He’s a really dynamic, fun-to-watch guy who came a little bit out of nowhere. He was a national player of the year with a few years of high school soccer, but considering high school soccer is a little bit less important these days in the U.S., you never know what to make of it. He burst onto the scene at Wake Forest and was the ACC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, which says a lot because the ACC is a good college soccer conference. He’s going to play the left side or the right side and he’s going to be able to run at outside backs. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to a better level of defending. He’s good on the ball and knows how to score, can set up teammates pretty well. He does a lot of the things that make people like watching soccer.

[SHOP FIRE: Get your Fire gear right here]

Brandon Vincent, Stanford left back, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds

Clark: I think simply being a left back makes him an asset off the get-go because he’s a guy who is in a position where MLS teams struggle to fill. While he may not have some of the riskier, higher-upside abilities that some of the other younger talents might have, he seems to be the steady guy, a lock to spend several years in the league. He seems almost like a can’t miss as a pro simply because he is a very solid defender, a good player all-around, a good leader, does all the little things well. He gets forward a little bit, but he’s not your Dani Alves-type attacking outside back.

Richie Laryea, Akron midfielder, 5-foot-9, 150 pounds

Clark: I think he has a high ceiling. He’ll need to be in the right system where a coach is going to trust him. They’re going to look at what he does well and identify what the best position is, whether that’s an attacking mid or a box-to-box mid. He should fit in somewhere centrally, though you could make the argument that he has the dynamic ability, he’s not an out-and-out winger, but could be a player who starts wide and pinches in.

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.