Paunovic says Fire need to improve through preseason


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.

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.