Fire

Notes from the rewatch: Trying to contain Sebastian Giovinco

Notes from the rewatch: Trying to contain Sebastian Giovinco

The Chicago Fire started a three-game road trip on Friday and it was yet another loss away from Toyota Park.

The loss at Toronto wasn't a shameful result because Toronto is one of the most talented teams in the league and has a former league MVP leading the way. Sebastian Giovinco torched the Fire for two goals and was upset he didn't get a third. Here's a look at Giovinco's game against the Fire and a couple other observations from the 16th road loss in 20 road matches for coach Veljko Paunovic.

Trying to contain Giovinco

The 2015 MLS MVP scored a pair of goals against the Fire and had chances for more. Heck, he was even angry when he got subbed out a couple minutes after scoring his second goal.

The Italian had 11 shots and six on target. As a team, the Fire had nine shots and one on target. Whatever the gameplan was on defending Giovinco, it didn't work. Those numbers are too much to allow and not expect him to score a goal or two.

Giovinco is so hard to defend because he can beat you with a powerful shot if you don't close him down, as happened on the first goal, and he can get by you with his quickness if you get too tight on him. He forced Michael Harrington into that tough choice on the first goal. Giovinco didn't move much in the lead up to the goal, but was allowed to receive the ball with a bit of space and was quick to turn and score with a hard right-footed shot.

Patience in midfield

The Fire's midfield has been revamped from a year ago with three quality players in central midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho all are solid passers. Having three players like this is very different from last year when the Fire were last in the league in time in possession.

Maybe the team needs some time to adjust to being able to play a different style, but this shouldn't be a long ball team like it was last year. The Fire can sit on the ball, be patient and control the tempo of the game. This is especially true when speedy winger David Accam doesn't start and also against a team like Toronto, which doesn't press high.

Without Accam in the lineup, the Fire don't have enough speed or technically adept players to play at pace. Forwards Nemanja Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw are best at finding space in the box and poaching goals, and a more deliberate buildup would play into that better.

Early on against Toronto, the Fire seemed to rush things and played at a higher tempo than necessary, which played into Toronto's hands. Only towards the end of the first half, after TFC led 2-0, did the Fire slow things down. There was a 19-pass sequence in the 41st minute with most of the passes coming in Toronto's half. The end result was a Juninho cross that was headed out for a corner kick. The Fire have shown at various times this season the ability to string passes together for extended periods. If the Fire had displayed that patience more consistently early on, they might not have been in a two-goal hole.

Check out this interaction with Schweinsteiger signaling to McCarty to play it wide to keep the ball. McCarty passes it forward and turns it over while Schweinsteiger looks up in frustration. Schweinsteiger was encouraging the route that wasn't going to lead to a chance, but would keep the Fire on the ball.

"Strange game"

After the match, Schweinsteiger called it a "strange game." Schweinsteiger's first road game may have been a bit of a "Welcome to MLS" moment for the German.

This isn't the pristine, manicured, high-profile game that Bayern Munich, the German national team and Manchester United play. This is MLS, where parity reigns and no team is as dominant as any of the three teams Schweinsteiger has played for.

Beyond that, MLS teams don't dominant games like Bayern or Man U strive to do. Toronto had a slight edge in possession early, but once the Reds went up two goals, they let the Fire control possession. This is something Schweinsteiger will have to get used to.

The Fire also weren't happy with either of the calls that led to the set pieces that Toronto scored on. Michael de Leeuw wanted a foul to go the other way in the 31st minute. Giovinco's ensuing free kick forced a corner kick and Toronto scored on that corner. Then in the 81st minute every Fire player in the vicinity was upset with the foul that went against Johan Kappelhof and led to Giovinco's free kick goal.

There's also the handball that got called in the 72nd minute against Justin Morrow, but was incorrectly called outside the box for a free kick. The Fire didn't have a shot on goal yet and were down two goals so a penalty kick probably wouldn't have turned things around, but would have made it more interesting down the stretch.

Welcome to MLS, Bastian. It sure can be strange.

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.