Fire

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

With road trip looming, Fire hope to buck league-wide trend

You don't have to tell the Chicago Fire that it's tough to play on the road in Major League Soccer.

The Fire went winless on the road in 2015 and had a 1-14-2 road record last year. In the first two games away from Toyota Park this season, the Fire played to a 1-1 draw at Columbus and got thumped 4-0 in Atlanta.

With that in mind, the Fire start a three-game road trip Friday at Toronto.

"It's just an hour flight to Toronto. I see just a normal thing," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Everyone around the world is playing and traveling. I know it's hard and I know it's a long season, but we just started the season actually and we just have to prepare well."

The Fire's recent track record on the road isn't that much of an anomaly around MLS. Road teams are 11-38-18 to start the 2017 MLS season. Both the win percentage (16.4 percent) and the points per game (0.76) are down from last year (18.8 league-wide road win percentage, 0.88 points per game in 2016). Compare that to the top four European leagues (Germany, Spain, England, Italy) where in the current season road teams have a win percentage ranging from 27 percent to 31 percent.

There are plenty of factors that go into why teams struggle away from home in MLS, some of which are not unique to the league or the sport. Obviously, there's the fan support when playing at home, something that has become more prevalent as more teams draw big crowds and have their own stadiums. There's also the travel. MLS teams are traveling bigger distances than many other leagues around the world due to the size of the U.S. and don't have regular chartered flights like other top tier American professional sports leagues. Then there's the parity within MLS. The gap between the top and bottom teams is smaller than in the top European leagues so a factor like playing at home carries more weight.

"There's lots of different things you can say," defender Michael Harrington said. "Obviously the fans give the other team a boost, but I try to look at it as just another game. It's 11 players against 11 players inside the white lines and there's no reason we can't go there and win a game, especially the way that we're playing."

[MORE FIRE: Nemanja Nikolic named MLS Player of the Week]

The Fire are coming off a three-game homestand. During that run of games they picked up two wins and a draw and moved into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

Given the numbers and the Fire's recent road record, getting seven points out of a possible nine on the road trip, which also features games at the New York Red Bulls and the LA Galaxy, seems highly unlikely. If the Fire can get three or four points though, that would be a better than average return. If it's less than that, they would be among the majority of MLS teams, which have a good home record and a bad road record.

"I think we need to put the same identity what we make here in Toyota Park on away games," forward Nemanja Nikolic said. "We need to believe that we also can win in away games, not just here in Chicago. This is our first step. We know that the last year the Fire have some problems in away games. We want to change this."

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.