New additions put Matt Polster's role with Fire into question

New additions put Matt Polster's role with Fire into question

Improving central midfield was a priority for the Chicago Fire this offseason. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said as much shortly after the 2016 season ended and then delivered with the additions of former MLS All-Stars Juninho and Dax McCarty.

Both are proven, experienced MLS midfielders who will be expected to start. The question then becomes what happens to Matt Polster?

Polster was a finalist for Rookie of the Year in 2015 after emerging as a defensive midfielder who was capable of breaking up plays and making the numerous chasing runs asked of that position. He logged more than 2,000 minutes in each of his first two MLS seasons and was a part of the American Olympic qualifying team last year.

Suddenly a 23-year-old who was building up a nice resume for a somewhat young MLS player is looking at potentially being used off the bench or as a rotation player in 2017 with two well-paid central midfielders now ahead of him on the depth chart.

"I think I just have to go into the preseason and do my best to show that I should be on the field just like any other player should," Polster said on Monday. "I think there's a lot of competition at every position so it's going to raise my game and I think in everybody else's aspect it's going to raise their game as well."

[RELATED: Fire showing patience with Dax McCarty]

Coach Veljko Paunovic always preaches the value of versatility in players and Polster does have some of that. He played at right back on occasion during his rookie year. That was also the position he played with the Olympic qualifying team due to a glut of central midfielders and a lack of options at outside back on that roster.

Right back appears to be a position of need for the Fire since Rodrigo Ramos was not retained and no replacement have been signed yet. However, during the first week of training there has been no indication that Polster will be used at right back. He has trained with the midfielders when the defenders have been separated in certain drills.

"I think in general the adaptable nature of how Pauno views the game favors anyone who can adjust and either play multiple positions or interpret roles in different ways," Rodriguez said when asked about Polster. "I think Matt we have to remember is still a young player, only two years as a pro, but he continues to have a very bright future and I would say he has a very bright present. When and where he plays will be entirely up to how his performance is adjudged."

This will be the first time since Polster initially won his starting job early in his rookie season that he will be pushed for playing time. He quickly asserted himself as a starter in 2015, coming off the bench in the season opener and then starting the next 13 matches.

Paunovic and Rodriguez could be watching to see how Polster responds to this test or they may have a way to get all three central midfielders on the field at the same time. This early in the preseason there has been no indication from Paunovic about how the team will line up, but that will be something to follow as the preseason unfolds.

On Monday, when the players had entrance physicals a day before the first training session Polster said he hadn't talked with the Fire staff about what they have planned for him. For now, Polster is saying the right things.

"I think the biggest thing is I think there's a lot of competition now at just about every position so I think it's going to make the sessions a lot tougher, a lot more competitive and I think it's going to raise the level of the team," Polster said. "I think you'll see that once the season begins."

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.