Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener


Paunovic defends Matt Lampson after rocky opener

One of the major storylines from Sunday's Fire opener was goalkeeper Matt Lampson.

That may have been the case regardless of how the game turned out because he was starting instead of the longest tenured Fire player and national teamer Sean Johnson. After a 4-3 loss, though, Lampson's performance was amplified.

With a couple days to rewatch the season-opening defeat, Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was able to give a clearer view on what worked and what went wrong. Paunovic spoke to media during his weekly conference on Tuesday and had more to say about the defensive lapses and Lampson's performance.

[MORE: Fire remain hopeful after disappointing opener]

As he did in the postgame press conference, Paunovic defended Lampson because he executed the game plan, which was to play out of the back. Paunovic admitted some blame for an ill-fated strategy while playing into the wind and also said his teammates put Lampson in tough spots.

“I watched the game several times because I wanted to be sure of everything," Paunovic said. "Regarding Matt I think the team didn’t help him. He could do better. Everyone could do better than we performed in building out of the back, but he tried and tried and tried to develop and to play our plan.

"When that wasn’t possible he tried to play those long balls to our fullbacks, which didn’t work. He tried to do that so this is what we have to understand. He was trying to do that, and that is obviously my responsibility. He tried to do the plan that we wanted to play against New York. At some point we also have to understand that sometimes anyone else on the field, sometimes it was a midfielder, sometimes it was a center back, sometimes fullback, they played the ball back to him when it wasn’t necessary, when we didn’t need that. Having the weather conditions like we had, the wind against us, it wasn’t the best decision."

Those words in defense of Lampson might hint that he is still in line to start Friday at Orlando, but Paunovic said the staff is still deciding on who will get the start. He also quashed any notion that Sean Johnson was hurt by joining the team later in the preseason following a stint with the national team.

“Playing for the national team is always important and we are happy that our players are called for the national team and we will always support that," Paunovic said. "I think for sure it was beneficial for him and beneficial for the national team and for us, too. I wouldn’t relate the current situation with Sean with being with the national team the first part of the preseason."

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As for other lineup question marks heading into Friday, Gilberto's availability is unknown. The forward picked up a calf strain in the second minute of the loss to New York City FC and was subbed out at halftime.

Meanwhile, John Goossens has his visa and is flying back from the Netherlands on Tuesday. Goossens wasn't available for the opener.

“He had a very short period to fly a long flight and changing time zones so we will see how he feels," Paunovic said. "We will try to prepare him to be available for the game. We will decide obviously on Friday if he is ready or not.”

It's worth noting the story that Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez previously told about Goossens' arrival for his trial. The team offered Goossens some time to settle in before playing, but he wanted to play right away and did. If that's anything to go by, Goossens is probably more likely to play Friday than Paunovic led on.

The only other injury in the team remains Eric Gehrig. Gehrig, who is still recovering from surgery late last season, is still expected to be unavailable for a week or two, according to Paunovic, but has been a full participant in practice.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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


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, 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.