Paunovic: Fire's draw against Red Bulls 'tougher than any other defeat'

Paunovic: Fire's draw against Red Bulls 'tougher than any other defeat'

Sunday’s 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls felt like a loss to Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

Actually, Paunovic said it felt worse than a loss.

“Losing these two points for me is tougher than any other defeat we had this year,” Paunovic said. “It’s very difficult for us after a great response from the team.”

Paunovic’s postgame demeanor naturally mimics the team’s result, but this was as dejected as he’s been after a home game all season.

The Fire blew a chance for a come-from-behind home victory by allowing the Red Bulls to score in the 90th minute. The Fire took a 2-1 lead into halftime even after giving the Red Bulls an early lead through an own goal. The team’s positive response to the early setback was why Paunovic felt so disheartened that his team could not come away with the win.

“When we tied the game and took the lead in the game, [that] was a great response,” Paunovic said. “This is what we learned, but we have to get better. It’s still the same issue with conceding goals in the last minutes of the game where I think the maturity and mentality comes in play. I think we did most of the things very well, but I think we have to learn how to win games.”

The Fire lost at New England on an 85th minute goal last Saturday, costing them a chance to earn a point on the road. That makes two games in a row the Fire have dropped points in the final minutes of a game.

Paunovic lamented his team’s inability to find a third goal to put the match away in the second half.

“We have to learn now either to score the third goal, which was something that we were looking for in the second half, especially with a good start of the second half,” Paunovic said. “That was our goal. Then if you don’t see that then you have to go and keep the score, especially in the last five, 10 minutes. We had to keep the score and that’s something we have to learn and improve.”

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The Fire’s playoff hopes were already slim at this point in the season. The Fire sit eight points below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, but a win could have at least moved the team out of the cellar and provided a confidence boost.

Instead, Paunovic seemed to be hit by the reality of a frustrating and disappointing season.

“I think it’s obviously disappointing,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “Going down a goal, giving up an own goal by myself is unfortunate, but I thought we did well to battle back and go up 2-1 and then to give up a late goal is not ideal. To have three points right in front of you and to lose [the lead] is disappointing.”

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson offered the positive side that the team’s performance was good. Even though the Red Bulls dominated possession, they only managed two shots on target. Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch even said his team was lucky not go to down 3-1.

“I think it was a valiant effort today, obviously disappointing to lose [the lead] late on, but we’ve shown some good things today and we can’t hang our heads too low after this,” Johnson said.

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.