Paunovic era starts slowly as Fire drop opener to NYCFC


Paunovic era starts slowly as Fire drop opener to NYCFC

The Veljko Paunovic era started with a thud on Sunday, but it was a thrilling thud if there is such a thing.

New York City FC beat the Chicago Fire 4-3 in a season opener that kept producing goals.

The Fire's new-look defense struggled to prevent chances and New York capitalized. All four defenders and goalkeeper Matt Lampson were making their Fire debuts and that unit didn't start well.

Even before kickoff Paunovic made his mark by choosing Lampson in goal ahead of Sean Johnson. Lampson struggled with NYCFC's press and there were some miscommunication errors in defense. Some of that should be expected with all new players, but it still wasn't a good debut by any definition.

"I think he did his best," Paunovic said of Lampson. "I think he worked for the team. He tried to develop the plan that we prepared. We are happy with him."

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Thomas McNamara scored the first goal of the Major League Soccer season with a beautiful curling effort from outside the box in the 10th minute. It was a great shot that left Lampson no chance, but McNamara was given plenty of space by the Fire midfield in a good position.

"I thought when we were able to switch the ball we were able to expose them a little bit and give us a little bit of an advantage," McNamara said.

The Fire almost answered immediately with David Accam springing Gilberto behind the NYCFC defense, but Gilberto went down in the box and didn't draw a call.

In the 19th minute the Fire did get their equalizer through Razvan Cocis. Arturo Alvarez hit a chipped pass over the defense and Cocis made a deep run to find himself all  alone in the box. He took his time and finished to level the match at 1-1.

The goals just kept coming with Tony Taylor putting the visitors back on top in the 29th minute. He scored with a nice turn and finish in the box after Michael Harrington and Joao Meira collided while trying to clear the ball.

Khiry Shelton doubled the New York City lead by burning Brandon Vincent on the right wing and dancing past Lampson in the 36th minute.

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Paunovic made another key decision at halftime, taking off Gilberto for Jonathan Campbell. On paper, taking off a forward and putting in a central defender while down two goals at halftime seems like a strange move. However, it seemed to work initially.

From the start of the half Accam and Kennedy Igboananike created all kinds of problems for the New York City defense. In the 49th minute, Accam forced a turnover and fed the ball across to Igboananike, who scored to get the Fire back in it and re-energize the crowd.

Then Mix Diskerud volleyed home the sixth goal of the match in the 63rd minute off a cross from McNamara.

Accam got the Fire back within one with a penalty kick in the 71st after a corner kick resulted in a handball in the box. That would be the end to the goals though.

"This is just the beginning of our philosophy," Accam said. "We have young players and they'll learn and we'll try to improve for the next games."

In all, nine players debuted for the Fire. Six starters, Lampson, all four defenders (Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof, Michael Harrington and Brandon Vincent) and Arturo Alvarez, and subs Campbell and Rodrigo Ramos and Joey Calistri.

As an additional note, John Goossens was unavailable while still awaiting his visa. On the pregame show on CSN, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said Goossens is flying back to the Netherlands this week to finish the process, but Rodriguez said he wasn't certain Goossens would be available for Friday's match at Orlando City.

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.