Fire

Recently retired Eric Gehrig embracing new role as assistant coach

Recently retired Eric Gehrig embracing new role as assistant coach

Gearing up for a Chicago Fire matchday is nothing new for Eric Gehrig, but his role is different this year.

After spending the last two years as a defender for the Fire, Gehrig was on the sideline of Saturday's season opener in Columbus as an assistant coach.

"It's different, but I realize how lucky I am to get this opportunity to coach in MLS," Gehrig said.

Gehrig made 25 starts in 2015, his first season with the Fire, and was named the club's defender of the year. Last season did not go as smoothly for Gehrig, who was injured to start the season and struggled to find playing time after he came back. He made five appearances, three starts, in MLS play and the Fire declined his option after the season.

At 29, Gehrig wasn't expecting to end his playing career yet. He still had opportunities to play, but the Fire approached him with something different.

"I had a checklist of things I wanted in my next move as a player and then out of nowhere this opportunity came up," Gehrig said. "I had a few days to think about it and I talked it over with my family and my loved ones and I just thought that whether I retire in a year, two years, three years, then I don't know if I'd have this opportunity. Of course no one wants to shut the door on their playing career, but I also realized one day it's going to happen. I just don't know I'll have an opportunity of this magnitude down the road."

Logan Pause, another former Fire player, was an assistant coach last year, but left for a job with expansion team Los Angeles FC. Pause is heading LAFC's USL affiliate, Orange County SC, and will be an assistant on the LAFC staff next year when that club debuts. Gehrig filled that opening, but Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said they had already been considering adding Gehrig in another role.

"It's not something that we did because Logan left," Paunovic said. "Even when Logan was here, as I said, we were discussing if Eric in the future could help. We believe that he is happy with that opportunity that he could help the team and the staff and obviously the club. When we had the opportunity to speak with him he was thrilled."

Gehrig is from Chicagoland and played collegiately at Loyola. He is a big fan of Chicago sports teams and when it comes to the Fire, as he put it, he "grew up with the club." Staying home was a part of the decision and he said the only negative was ending his playing career.

He was with the Fire on the first day of preseason training in Chicago. Gehrig was initially a coaching trialist.

"He wanted to give it a try and during the preseason everything went very good," Paunovic said. "In this role I believe he's doing very well. He's also developing, learning. He's very helpful to the staff and right now we see him as a very important part of our staff."

Both sides were happy with how things were going when Gehrig was with the team in the preseason. The move became official on Feb. 15.

"It's a hard decision, but you got to make the decisions that work for you and are good for your life long-term," Gehrig said. "That's the decision I made. I sat down with both Pauno and Nelson. We had a good conversation before it all came about. After that I was pretty much sold."

[MORE FIRE: GM Nelson Rodriguez says Fire are searching for 'another impact player']

At 29, Gehrig is younger than six players on the Fire's roster. However, he thinks the familiarity with most of the players is beneficial.

"I feel last year as a veteran player, in a way I was essentially coach," Gehrig said. “Obviously I wasn't their coach, but I always did leading and directing on the field, especially from my position. It hasn't been that much of a transition for me to be honest."

Gehrig said he is still learning a lot about being a coach, but added he is becoming "more comfortable every day."

Paunovic saw Gehrig as a good fit as a coach and had conversations along those lines when Gehrig was a player.

"Last year I remember when I spoke with him, I told him if I were a player and I met you when I was a player for sure we would be very good teammates," Paunovic said. "Because I like his communication, his values, he is very honest. His approach is very direct."

While Gehrig is assimilating to his new role as a coach, the Fire do only have seven defenders under contract currently. If the Fire run into bad luck with injuries to the back line and are thin in numbers, would Gehrig consider a temporary return in the case of an emergency?

"We haven't talked about that at all, but of course I'm not opposed to ever doing that," Gehrig said. "I'm focusing on the coaching thing. I'm embracing it. I'm swallowing all those feelings of me wanting to play, which to be honest there haven't been that many."

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

city-trophy-epl.jpg
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

katai.jpg
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.