Fire

Preview: Fire continue road slate against Impact

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Preview: Fire continue road slate against Impact

Only three times has Fire coach Frank Yallop had the luxury of naming identical starting lineups in consecutive MLS regular season matches this year: at Columbus Crew SC (2-2 draw) on May 22 and at home to the Montreal Impact (3-0 win) on May 30; at home against FC Dallas (2-0 win) on Aug. 2 and away to the Portland Timbers on Aug. 7 (1-0 loss); and at home to the New York Red Bulls (3-2 win) on Aug. 26 and away to Orlando City SC (1-1 draw) three days later.

Following both of the first two spells - May 22-May 30 and Aug. 2-Aug. 7 - the subsequent regular season fixture would bring about at least three personnel changes. Both games - a 3-1 defeat to D.C. United at RFK Stadium on June 3 and a 3-3 draw with the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Aug. 16 - saw the Men in Red jump out to first-half leads, but called attention to a change in chemistry that, among other factors, led to dropped points.

When the ninth-placed Fire (7-13-6, 27 points) travel to Montreal to face the seventh-placed Impact (8-11-4, 28 points) on Saturday (7 p.m. CT; CSN), absences to David Accam (Ghana)Joevin Jones (Trinidad and Tobago) and Matt Polster (United States Under-23) will prompt Yallop to incorporate some fresh faces into the fold in hopes of gaining ground on the teams above them in the Eastern Conference.

[RELATED: International window forces Fire to compensate for absent starters]           

"It's never easy, but we train together every day, so we know each other personality-wise," said Yallop, who was seen frequently intervening Thursday's stop-start training session, stressing defensive shape to a new-look back four. "We worked on a little bit of shape this morning on certain scenarios that I think are going to happen in the game - back four and different changes we make in the lineup as we move forward in the game - just to give our guys a bit of feel with each other."

With a polished performance against a dynamic Red Bulls outfit, the Fire, if not for a dubious offside call on Gilberto and an Eric Gehrig own goal, came close to snatching their first away win of the campaign. Riding that sort of momentum without the energy provided by Polster and balance between defending and attacking supplied by Jones, not to mention Accam's destructive pace on the flanks, will be hard to match.

For Lovel Palmer, who waged a battle at right back with Gehrig during the early stages of 2015 before his move to centerback, vying for places in Yallop's team selection week in, week out has made the Jamaican stronger. Palmer, a likely candidate to replace Polster at right back against the Impact, acknowledged the challenges.   

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"Gehrig and Polster, hats off to them," Palmer said. "They came in, they've pushed me all season and I'm very happy for the competition. Personally, it's been good for me. I've been working on aspects of my game that I've never really paid attention [to] before. With these guys coming in and banging on the door, it makes me start to look at myself and be like, 'Oh, what am I doing wrong? What do I need to improve on?'

"Good competition makes for a better team. Coach Frank, when he was building his team, he had that in mind, I'm sure."     

Changes are forced, sometimes not. The Fire, largely a momentum team through 26 games, will still be seeking their first win on their travels since July 12, 2014, itching to see whether adjustments to the lineup and formation pan out. When referee Silviu Petrescu blows for the final whistle by night's end on Saturday, the final score will tell the story. 

Viewing information:

Montreal Impact vs. Chicago Fire

Kickoff time: 7 p.m. CT

Where: Stade Saputo; Montreal, Quebec.

Broadcast: CSN Chicago     

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.