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Offseason news and notes: No additions yet for Fire

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Offseason news and notes: No additions yet for Fire

All is still quiet on the player addition front for the Chicago Fire this offseason, but there has been some activity for the club.

Thanks to the Fire’s league-worst record in 2015 the club has the first pick in not only January’s SuperDraft, but also in the waiver draft, the re-entry draft and the allocation order.

The Fire passed in the waiver draft, which took place on Dec. 9. Only one player was selected in the draft with Colorado taking midfielder Michael Azira from Seattle.

Next up was the re-entry draft on Dec. 11. The Fire traded the top spot to FC Dallas for general allocation money and Dallas’ spot in the re-entry draft. Dallas used the pick on Portland forward Maxi Urruti. Dallas had a need at forward after parting ways with Panamanian international Blas Perez and the Fire clearly didn’t have anyone they were targeting since they passed with Dallas’ 17th pick. If nothing else, the Fire gained more salary cap flexibility while giving up only an asset that had no use to them.

The only other player taken in the re-entry draft was former Fire goalkeeper Alec Kann, who was selected by Sporting Kansas City. Kann, 25, joined the Fire in 2013 and made his first team debut in the 2015 season finale against the New York Red Bulls.

The second stage of the re-entry draft takes place Thursday. The key difference between the first stage and the upcoming second stage is that in the first stage teams must pick up the player’s 2016 contract option while in the second stage teams are allowed to negotiate a new contract at a lower price. More moves are expected in the second stage. The Fire again kick things off with the first pick. The full list of eligible players is on the MLS website (minus the since selected Urruti and Kann).

[MORE: Mike Magee leads class of Fire free agents]

In other news, academy director Larry Sunderland is headed to Portland for a similar job, as first reported by Fire Confidential. Sunderland has been with the Fire since 2008 and headed an academy that helped produce four players on the 2015 roster. The club’s U-17/18 team won the Development Academy national championship in July.

Sunderland’s departure means the Fire could have new faces in every major leadership role within the technical staff at the start of the 2016 season. General manager Nelson Rodriguez joined the club in September, coach Veljko Paunovic was hired in November and technical director Brian Bliss’ future is still to be determined after the SuperDraft.

Meanwhile, MLS has its first free agent signing. Former Fire midfielder Justin Mapp left Montreal to sign for Sporting Kansas City on Monday. Mike Magee, Jeff Larentowicz, Jon Busch and Ty Harden are the Fire’s first free agent class. None have picked a new home yet.

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.