Fire

Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp

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Paunovic explains decision to trade Harry Shipp

As the Fire start the final leg of the preseason in Portland, the minds of fans might be in Montreal.

That’s where fan favorite Harry Shipp is after being traded on Saturday.

However, the club has moved on and coach Veljko Paunovic updated the status of the team during a conference call with the media on Tuesday morning. Paunovic didn’t give the full nitty-gritty details of the trade, but did offer some insight as to why the Fire made the move.

“At a point we had the situation with Harry where we had to decide because there was a team very, very interested in him,” Paunovic said. “We can’t say at that point we could guarantee for Harry that he was going to have the role that everybody and he expected. We had to decide obviously and make the best possible decision. Harry will have a better opportunity to play soccer, which he obviously always wants. That’s basically the main situation.

“I’m going to repeat it thousands of times: he’s a fantastic kid. He handled it very well and it was very difficult for him and I can tell you for us, too. He’s moving forward and we’re going to root for him. He’s a great guy and we appreciate everything he did for Chicago... I think we made the best possible decision for all parties.”

Paunovic makes it sound like Shipp was not going to be a regular in the lineup. The next question then is why Paunovic and the Fire came to that conclusion.

“I think that the first reason, the technical reason, is why we decided to do that,” he said. “For the style of play and for what we are looking for in that position is something that we decided was very important.”

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The Fire have played with a 4-2-3-1 formation in the two preseason matches so far. Shipp played in the central attacking midfield role, in the center of the three, in both matches. Collin Fernandez also played in that position.

The 19-year-old has shown flashes of talent, but has only one MLS appearance, a six-minute substitute appearance. He is the most obvious candidate to receive playing time at that position unless a new player comes in. Paunovic stayed mum on possible new acquisitions, but did talk about the competition for a now open spot left vacant by Shipp.

“We have guys on the roster we are looking for and they have an opportunity to show up and prove themselves now that there is an open spot,” Paunovic said. “That’s where we are with the guys we have on the roster we are looking if they will take this opportunity and win this spot. I think I said that everybody has to earn their spot. For everybody in the position, everybody has to earn it.”

When asked about which players have stood out to Paunovic in camp so far, he took a broader view of the team.

“I want to see in our team guys who will take advantage of the situation now and earn the hearts of our fans and obviously our staff and our other players,” Paunovic said. “This is what we are looking for in this situation. We want to convert this situation into a positive, dynamic situation where the players will be eager to play in the way the fans love and obviously win for our team.”

[MORE: Trade emotional for both Harry Shipp and Fire fans]

Paunovic also commented on the status of trialist Arturo Alvarez. Paunovic said he has been happy with Alvarez and his will to accomplish everything the team asks of him. However, no decision has been made on whether to sign him to a contract.

Dutch defender Johan Kappelhof joined the team in Portland on Monday. Paunovic had words of praise for the Fire’s new addition.

“What I love in the interview that Nelson and I had with him before we decided to sign him, he said, ‘I love to defend. I love the challenge of playing 1v1. I’m really engaged in defending our goal,’” Paunovic said. “We saw the soccer player who wants to play, build out of the back and who is committed to possession of the ball and progression. He has a very good, quality pass, his decisions are good. He is a defender and that defensive mentality that he has, that defensive attitude is contagious and that’s what we are expecting from him. When we have to defend because that’s part of the game what we expect from him is to be one of the leaders in our defensive line and contain everyone in front of him.”

The Fire’s first game in Portland is against the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4:30 p.m. CT.

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.