Preview: Fire close out homestand against New England Saturday on CSN+

Preview: Fire close out homestand against New England Saturday on CSN+

With a tough three-game road trip staring ahead at them, the Chicago Fire know Saturday's home game against New England is a crucial early season game.

Not only is it important because it is against an Eastern Conference opponent and the playoff race is shaping up to be incredibly tight, but the Fire need to get points now while they are at home before embarking on a road trip at perenially tough teams in Toronto, the New York Red Bulls and LA.

"You always want to win your home games, especially we had three in a row and we're almost through those and obviously then a big road trip coming up so you always want to win your home games," midfielder Dax McCarty said.

Saturday's game against New England will be live on CSN+ with coverage beginning with Fire Pregame Live at 3:30 p.m.

The match will be the third straight home game against an Eastern Conference opponent for the Fire. The first two were a 2-2 draw against Montreal and a 1-0 win against Columbus.

"I was very disappointed with how we lost two points in the Montreal game," McCarty said. "I thought our performance warranted three points, but we didn't finish and we didn't close the game out well and we didn't defend well. I thought (against Columbus) we learned from our mistakes."

Even after losing to the Fire, Columbus still leads the conference with a 3-2-1 record (10 points). The Fire (2-1-2, 8 points) are two points behind, tied with Atlanta for third. New England (2-2-1, 7 points) is one of five teams with seven points.

It's early, but the Fire weren't really in the playoff race or conversation at all in 2016. Coach Veljko Paunovic talked up the team's improvement, bolstered by additions like McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger.

"We are not afraid of saying that we are getting better," Paunovic said. "We also know that we still have to work a lot and become the team that everyone in Chicago wants to root for and everyone is supporting and everyone wants to watch. That's what we are working on. Hopefully we can succeed this year. We are on that path. I am 100 percent sure, but we still have to work."

The Fire enter Saturday's game with Luis Solignac (left knee) and David Accam (right hip) listed as questionable. Matt Polster has been out since the preseason, but worked his way back to full training this week and could make his season debut.

Polster will join an already crowded central midfield. Juninho returns from red card suspension and Schweinsteiger and McCarty each have a man of the match to their names in the last two games.

"I think for the most part I've started the season off pretty well, pretty solid," McCarty said. "I'm happy with how I started the season, but I think there's always room to grow.

"I still have another level I think I can get to and I think this team can get to. It's important to recover and get ready for New England."

Meanwhile, New England has a clean injury report. The Revolution have plenty of talented attacking players in Lee Nguyen (3 goals, 1 assist), Kei Kamara (2 goals), Juan Agudelo (3 goals) and Diego Fagundez (2 assists). That will test the Fire's defense. It also increases the importance of the midfield keeping pressure off the defense, like McCarty alluded to.

Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.


When: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Saturday with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (2-1-2, 8 points), New England (2-2-1, 7 points)

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.