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Paunovic: Jonathan Campbell has national team potential

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Paunovic: Jonathan Campbell has national team potential

The Chicago Fire have a lot of young players on the roster and a few of them are already earning regular playing time, but none seem to have settled in as quickly as Jonathan Campbell.

The rookie has worked his way into a center back trio for the Fire and his coach is taking notice of the 22-year-old’s potential.

“I think Jonathan is doing well with his adaptation to the league,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It only took two or three games. It’s amazing how intelligent and how well he is handling this first year as a rookie.

“I truly believe that he can be not only a very good player for Chicago Fire, which we all work on that, but also for the national team. I think that he has that capacity to become a great player for this country.”

Paunovic’s heavy praise comes with some numbers to back it up.

The Fire’s revamped defense was shredded for three goals in the first half of the season opener against New York City FC. Campbell came on at halftime of that match and has played every minute since. The Fire have given up two goals in the 225 minutes Campbell has been on the field.

[MORE: Fire notes: Veljko Paunovic addresses injuries, Sean Johnson]

As a center back Campbell wasn’t expecting to come on as a sub against NYCFC, which added a bit to the nerves of making his professional debut.

“I was nervous, but I was think nerves can be good,” Campbell said. “In that game I was ready to go in, but I wasn’t expecting to come in at halftime just as a center back. You only get three subs and you’re not really expecting to change things much in the back. That’s what we did and we changed formation.”

The formation change has stuck so far and part of the improvement in defense is simply down to the extra body. The Fire have played with five defenders since Campbell’s inclusion and Crew coach Gregg Berhalter said in his postgame press conference that the Fire defending in numbers made it tough for the Crew.

The shutout in that match was the Fire’s first since Aug. 2, 2015. The club had gone 15 matches without a shutout.

“I think we marked up well in the box and were a lot cleaner with our clearances,” Campbell said after the match. “We didn’t give them really many chances. The shots that they took were far out of the box so I think we did a good job with that.”

Campbell played a big part in limiting Crew forward Kei Kamara, a physical presence coming off a 22-goal season, as the central most of the three Fire center backs.

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That’s not to say Campbell is a finished product. He made a few errant passes against Columbus and was at least partially at fault for Cyle Larin’s goal in the match at Orlando. Campbell gave Larin too much space after a Fire turnover and although Campbell was able to recover and block Larin’s first attempt, the loose ball fell back to Larin for the goal.

It appears Paunovic and the Fire will put up with some rookie mistakes, especially if Paunovic believes so strongly in Campbell’s potential.

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.