Fire

Palmer hopes Fire can use Open Cup as "springboard" to MLS success

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Palmer hopes Fire can use Open Cup as "springboard" to MLS success

The rejoicing that accompanied Alex Chilowicz's final blow of the whistle Tuesday night signaled the Chicago Fire's passage through to the quarterfinal stage of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. It provided some respite for a team that hadn't had its way in June, losing all four of its matches in league play while only having a marginal fourth-round Open Cup win against Louisville City FC to drawn on.

For Lovel Palmer, sauntering to Toyota Park's Harlem End to greet Section 8 Chicago supporters immediately following his Man of the Match performance, the victory was telltale in more ways than one.       

"For the past couple of games, we've been trying to find a spark and trying to kickstart our season," Palmer said Thursday. "We've been in a bit of a rut, so I'm just happy we got the victory and moved on in the Cup. Hopefully that can springboard our season going into Houston."

[RELATED: Fire travel to face Dynamo in the Houston heat]

The 30-year-old, who notched a goal and assist in Tuesday's 3-1 Open Cup Round of 16 win over the Charlotte Independence, has endured a challenging second full season as Frank Yallop's first acquisition back on Dec. 13, 2013. The Mandeville, Jamaica native's grown accustomed to accommodating Yallop's needs, often switching between left and right back positions and waging a competitive battle with Eric Gehrig for sole possession of the starting role at right back.

"I expect this a lot; I'm a professional player," he said. "We all want to be in the starting lineup, but the players who are on the bench are just as important as the players who start the game, and even the guys who are not in the 18.

"The way you train, you either help to prepare the starting lineup for the game on the weekend or you show the coach that you're ready to play. Personally, I've been working hard, in the gym and on the pitch. I put in the work just to show the coaches that I'm ready. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get the Chicago Fire back to winning ways."

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That frame of mind will be crucial as the Men in Red get set for a Friday night, cross-conference clash with the Houston Dynamo (8 p.m. CT on Univision Deportes), Palmer's first MLS club.    

From 2010 to 2011, Palmer made 45 appearances for the Dynamo before venturing west to feature for the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake in 2012 and 2013. The Jamaican defender, however, credits all of his success to now former head coach Dominic Kinnear, who left the Dynamo for the San Jose Earthquakes this season, but introduced Palmer to the league on March 19, 2010.    

"First and foremost, Houston will always hold a special place in my heart, along with Dom Kinnear" he said. "He kickstarted Lovel Palmer's career. Dom is a unique coach and he had a style that he wanted to play for many years in Houston. The team has changed a lot; the players and coaches we all know during Dom's time.

"They're always hardworking and the humidity there works for them also. We just have to play Chicago Fire soccer, concentrate for 90-plus minutes, not give up on any play; see every play out, and be committed to the team."   

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.