Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Bastian Schweinsteiger's debut

Notes from the rewatch: Bastian Schweinsteiger's debut

Leading into Saturday's match against Montreal, two of the big questions were how would Bastian Schweinsteiger fit into the Chicago Fire's midfield and how influential could he be.

Turns out the short answers to those two questions are next to Juninho and Dax McCarty in a three-man midfield and very influential.

The German scored a goal, but it was his passing in midfield that deservedly made him man of the match. Here's a deeper look at what made Schweinsteiger so dangerous and some other notes from the 2-2 draw against the Impact.

Turns out this Schweinsteiger guy is pretty good

The concern regarding Schweinsteiger's signing was his fitness and ability to stay healthy, not his quality. That's why it shouldn't be a big surprise that Schweinsteiger made a number of key passes and was a very influential figure in the midfield. The surprise is that he played the whole game and made some of his best plays in the final 15 minutes.

The game finishing 10v10 could have put more stress on his fitness in what became a more open game, but instead he took advantage of the extra space to spring more runners with through balls. His through ball in the 80th minute for Luis Solignac that resulted in Victor Cabrera's red card is as good as it gets anywhere in the world and is a notch above even good MLS midfielders.

The pass is just about perfectly hit, but take a closer look at that first touch. It's a simple pass from Daniel Johnson that is easy to control, but Schweinsteiger doesn't use his first touch to control the ball. He uses his first touch to set up the pass. He redirects the ball with his left foot to put it right into his stride to make that pass quickly with his right foot.

Most MLS players probably take a touch to settle the ball and another to set up the pass, which allows the defenders an extra bit of time to prepare or see it coming.

Credit also goes to Luis Solignac for making that run. Schweinsteiger was probably the only player on the field who could reliably make that pass and Solignac was there to take advantage and draw the red card.

Schweinsteiger roamed around in the midfield. At times he dropped a bit deep alongside McCarty to maintain possession. He also pushed forward occasionally as more of an attacking midfield spot. He also spent periods on the left and right side of midfield.

Overall, coach Veljko Paunovic said the team was more "patient" with the ball. The German was directing traffic and pointing things out right away even though he is new to the team.

"I saw during the game that he was adjusting to what is happening to teammates, to the opponent," Paunovic said after the match. "It's his first game. With the performance we can just expect even more. I was very happy with that, but also aware that he needs time. You guys also saw that. The player with his class, his adjustment to the league, only one game and only four or five days in the town, was amazing. Now build from here. It's a very good starting point, build from here and give him everything he needs to lead the team."

Daniel Johnson might be pretty good, too

Johnson turned some heads at the MLS combine and showed flashes of his quickness and dribbling ability in the preseason, but didn't play in the first three matches while three other Fire midfielders made their MLS debuts before him.

The first round pick finally got his chance to get on the field against Montreal when he replaced Michael de Leeuw in the 79th minute. De Leeuw, who had entered the match less than 15 minutes earlier, had to leave with his hand bleeding after getting stepped on.

Johnson didn't have a perfectly clean outing, but did show more of those flashes. He set up Schweinsteiger on the through ball that led to the red card. He also made a nice first touch on a chipped pass by Dax McCarty.

Another standout moment was this sequence, involving one-touch passes from Schweinsteiger and Solignac.

Johnson is a natural left winger, a position currently occupied by David Accam, which means starting minutes may not be easy to come by. He showed Saturday that at least he looks like a lively option off the bench.

Defensive lapses

Schweinsteiger and Johnson were positives and the Fire didn't win so there had to be some negatives. Defensive lapses allowed both of the Impact's goals to happen.

On the first goal, neither David Accam nor Brandon Vincent closed down Chris Duvall in time. He used the time and space to line up a cross. Jonathan Campbell seemed to mistime his jump or misjudge the flight of the cross and it went over his head. Matteo Mancosu was left with a straightforward header at that point.

On the second goal, Michael Harrington left Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla with a lot of space to shoot. The shot came from outside the box and probably should have been saved by Jorge Bava, but the shot likely could have been prevented with more ball pressure.

"From my view, it's just really bad lapses defensively that concede goals," McCarty said.

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.