Preview: Fire square off against Orlando City SC


Preview: Fire square off against Orlando City SC

At this point in the MLS regular season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a coach more fixated on scoreboard watching than Fire head coach Frank Yallop.

In the weeks since handing the New York Red Bulls a 3-2 defeat on Aug. 26, results elsewhere around the East have - to some degree - kept the Fire's playoff prospects in check.

Beginning Aug. 29, the Men in Red embarked on a pivotal three-game road stint, which featured in-conference clashes with Orlando City SC, Montreal Impact and the Red Bulls. Yallop’s men emerged with one point, six goals scored and eight conceded.

Conceding ill-timed goals - soft ones, Yallop would admit - has hurt his side of late, however. It’s a stark reality, and one that - through 28 games - has led to dropped points and allowed Montreal to stretch their point-gap over Chicago to six points. It also prompted the second-year head coach to sift through statistics and get to the root of the problem himself.   

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“I looked at a stat yesterday: we’ve been leading in eight games, and out of those we’ve lost four and tied four,” he said. “(If) you see two or three of those games through, then right now we’re sitting here and saying, ‘We’re doing well.’ It’s a fine line, and we can’t lose (sight) of what’s gone on in our season.”

Of those eight, in only two of them did the Fire relinquish points at home after going in front: against Orlando City (a 3-2 loss on June 6) and against the New England Revolution (a 2-2 draw on July 25).   

Before returning north of the border for another road swing against Montreal and Toronto FC, the Fire (7-15-6, 27 points) return home to face Orlando City (8-13-8, 32 points) on Saturday (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+), one of three remaining fixtures at Toyota Park.

“It’s huge,” Yallop said Thursday of the importance of home-field advantage, where the Fire have won 22 of their 27 points this year. “We’ve got to win this game to give (ourselves) any chance of getting even a look at the playoffs.”

[MORE FIRE: Matt Polster to represent U.S. in Olympic qualifying]

Though slim and perhaps convincingly out of the question in the eyes of a frustrated fanbase, a postseason berth to Homegrown midfielder Harry Shipp is a feat that, while not mathematically out of reach, will necessitate a considerable deviation from the mentality that has seen the Men in Red fixed to the bottom of the Eastern Conference table for much of the campaign.      

"It's going to be tough for us," Shipp said of the team's playoff aspirations. "We're going to have to get on a roll, and do something we haven't done so far this year. For us to say, 'We've got to just keep doing the same things we've been doing and it'll turn around' isn't really the answer because it hasn't worked when we're 80 percent of the way through the year."  

Injury notes:

- Adaílton (core muscle repair surgery) jogged around the field at training on Thursday, and engaged in some separate, individual drills off to the side (ladder work, planks).

- Kennedy Igboananike (ankle strain) did not train fully until Friday. Gilberto (back/hamstring tightness) trained fully on Thursday and Friday. Both are expected to be available for selection vs. Orlando City on Saturday.

- Eric Gehrig has been dealing with a plantar fascia issue - essentially heel pain - and has been receiving treatment on it throughout the week. His availability for Saturday will be determined closer to kickoff.

Viewing information:

Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC

Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT

Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.

Broadcast: CSN+       

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.