Fire

Paunovic says Fire need to improve through preseason

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Paunovic says Fire need to improve through preseason

The usually very optimistic Veljko Paunovic had a slight tone change during Monday’s conference call with the media.

The Chicago Fire coach still maintained his upbeat words about the players and the upcoming season, but also emphasized how much improvement the team needs to make.

“I think it’s very good in pace, in how we control the game,” Paunovic said when asked about the team’s strengths. “I think that we still have to improve our mechanisms for getting in the final third, but it’s still early. We haven’t worked on that so it’s something that’s normal. In this point in the preseason we are still not working on merging it all together so those pieces are still missing. As I said, we are going to step up. Right now I think the good point is to understand the possession and the advantages of the possession and to improve the mechanisms of finishing and getting in the final third."

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The Fire landed in Tampa on Sunday for the second phase of the preseason. The first preseason game will take place on Feb. 6 against the University of South Florida. The club announced that the South Florida game will be streamed on the Fire’s website.

Nick LaBrocca, whose free agent signing was finalized on Jan. 27, joined the team on Sunday. Winger Arturo Alvarez has also joined the the team on trial. Alvarez, 30, played nine years in MLS before playing in Portugal and Hungary since 2012. Both players are behind in fitness, but will train with the team in technical and tactical training.

The most notable quote from Paunovic’s conference call was probably his take on Harry Shipp. When asked what Shipp’s best position was, Paunovic gave a somewhat deeper evaluation of Shipp.

“As an attacking midfielder, either behind the striker or on the wing,” Paunovic said of Shipp’s best role. “I think that he has that quality that he can switch positions with another teammate. I think his main quality is that he is very, very good on the ball. Good technique, but I think that he still needs to improve, especially improve that hunger to score goals, to assist, to create general space and impact in the game.”

[MORE: Calistri looks to add depth to Fire's forward line]

Fitness was the main focus for week one of the preseason and that will still be true this week. The focus will shift to anaerobic work.

“We are working on improvement our anaerobic threshold, which is very important in order to play a high intensity style of play that we want to develop,” Paunovic said. “We are working on that on the physical level. On the technical and tactical, always continue to improve our technique and our understanding of the style of play which we want to be the team who controls the game.”

As for Saturday’s first preseason game, Paunovic said he plans to give as many players an opportunity as possible. The game will kickoff at 4 p.m. CT.

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.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.