Fire

Preview: Fire hope to get back on track against Vancouver Saturday on CSN+

Preview: Fire hope to get back on track against Vancouver Saturday on CSN+

Winning was starting to become a habit for the Chicago Fire this season.

Since Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival in April, the team took some time to coalesce but had turned into a well-tuned machine through May and much of June, going through 10 matches without a loss (8-0-2).

However, Wednesday’s setback in the U.S. Open Cup at Cincinnati presents a new challenge for the team. A team which had gotten used to winning now has to regroup after a long game and just a few days of rest.

The Fire’s response against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday at Toyota Park could be telling for what’s ahead this season. The match will be live on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m.

The game in Cincinnati represented a second time in June that the Fire were unable to score against a team that was defending deep. Coach Veljko Paunovic brought up the comparison between the Cincinnati loss and the scoreless draw in Orlando on June 4 and said the team spoke about that during halftime in Ohio.

“What we learned is the importance of one play, one single play,” Paunovic said.

Vancouver may not defend in the same manner as a minor league team (Cincinnati) or a team playing with nine men (Orlando), but the Whitecaps (6-6-3, 21 points) do have one of the better defensive records in the league with 21 goals allowed in 15 matches.

“We just got to make sure we’re a little bit more clinical in front of goal,” midfielder Arturo Alvarez said. “This game is cruel, it’s unfair so whenever you don’t put those chances in at the end you’re kind of wishing you had those back or what not. At that point it’s too late.”

The Fire (10-3-4, 34 points) have won seven straight at home, but have a few factors going against them on Saturday. For one, David Accam and Dax McCarty are still away on national team duty and will go up against each other on Saturday in a friendly between Ghana and the U.S. that should finish less than an hour before the Fire kickoff against Vancouver.

On top of that, the Fire will be playing for the third time in eight days, including the 120 minutes plus penalties they endured at Cincinnati. Most of the Fire’s regular starting lineup, including Bastian Schweinsteiger and Nemanja Nikolic, played all 120 minutes.

The Whitecaps will be without standout center back Kendall Waston, who had surgery on his right hand a week ago, and midfielder Christian Bolanos is questionable with a shoulder sprain after sitting out the last two games.

Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: CSN+ (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (10-3-4, 34 points), Vancouver (6-6-3, 21 points)

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.