Fire

Preview: Fire square off against Orlando City SC

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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+       

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.