Fire

Patience and persistence were required for Fire to sign Bastian Schweinsteiger

Patience and persistence were required for Fire to sign Bastian Schweinsteiger

For many, the Bastian Schweinsteiger to Chicago Fire rumors started with a meeting in Manchester.

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was spotted meeting with Schweinsteiger in Manchester in November. The tabloid, TMZ-like nature of how the European media covers player moves and rumors had an effect on the Fire.

However, the Fire's pursuit of Schweinsteiger started months before that. MLSsoccer.com's Sam Stejskal chronicled the timeline and how the Fire convinced the German star to come to Chicago.

General manager Nelson Rodriguez said in a conference call on Tuesday that the first pursuit of him "came late summer, early fall of last year." Things did not progress initially.

"At that time, while granted permission to make contact with the player's representatives and the player, we were kindly asked to wait and see how things went," Rodriguez said. "Ultimately we pursued Bastian harder because he is rather singular, he is rather unique in all of that vast experience that he brings along with the attitude and willingness to share it."

As the 2016-17 Premier League season started and Jose Mourinho took over at Manchester United, Schweinsteiger found himself on the outs. He ended up playing no league matches and four cup matches this season for Man U.

Rodriguez and Paunovic saw an opportunity with Schweinsteiger not playing.

"We worked on our weaknesses last season and one of them was adapting in our midfield," Paunovic said. "We had the idea with him when we saw everything was happening that he was not playing. We reached out to the team, Manchester United. We asked for the permission to speak with him and from there we started a relationship with Bastian and it went well. We were working a long time on his acquisition and we are very happy that we could make it done."

Reports of Schweinsteiger training with the Man U reserves signaled a likely departure, but he was not ready to give up.

"Bastian had nothing but good things to say about his experience at United, about his relationship with his teammates and his coaching staff," Rodriguez said. "He clearly has a great affection for the fans as well. I'm sure knowing the competitor that he is, although not wanting to speak for him, of course I imagine he felt he could have played more, should have played more, wanted to play more. But he did not exhibit frustration. In fact, some of the length of this process was due to his insistence to want to remain at United and prove himself even more valuable than he was able to show."

According to Stejskal, the infamous meeting in Manchester between Paunovic and Schweinsteiger was four hours long and the Fire were hoping to land Schweinsteiger in January. While the chances of that seemed to fade, Man U found some moderate use for him.

He still wasn't playing in the Premier League, but Schweinsteiger was high enough on the depth chart to play in some cup matches in January, including playing all 90 minutes and scoring against Wigan in the FA Cup on Jan. 29.

The Fire brass remained persistent in their pursuit of Schweinsteiger. Rodriguez said on Fire Weekly on Wednesday that they checked in with Schweisteiger about once a month, but as the Fire's season neared and ultimately began, things were getting tight. Rodriguez has said multiple times that he isn't fond of introducing players in the middle of the MLS season, saying it is difficult to fully integrate players midseason and didn't want to have to do so with Schweinsteiger.

"We would have preferred it earlier," Rodriguez said. "We would have preferred it before the window closed in England and in January and in preseason. But United, with good reason, was reluctant to let him leave. They were still competing on all fronts and they still regarded Bastian as a valuable member of their club. I think over time maybe we were able to wear them down a little bit with our persistence. Their calendar probably is thinning out as we get closer to the end of the year, but we did reach a point where we said 'It has to be now or it wouldn't happen.'"

Another meeting took place, according to Stejskal, and this time it convinced Schweinsteiger to get on board. After getting United to let him leave, the deal was on. Rodriguez said on Fire Weekly that "it all came together in early March."

"Bastian is a special case, again as a person and as a player, and so not wanting to say an ultimatum because I think that would be unfair and untrue, we made it clear that if we couldn't close it now, then we would likely move on," Rodriguez said.

Now Schweinsteiger is set to join the Fire and could do so possibly as early as the middle of next week, pending his visa, in advance of the April 1 home game against Montreal.

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.