Fire

Rodriguez details Fire’s center back, central midfield pursuit

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Rodriguez details Fire’s center back, central midfield pursuit

As the Chicago Fire continue to put together the roster for the 2016 season, general manager Nelson Rodriguez continues to give clues as to what to expect the rest of the offseason.

Rodriguez spoke to media via conference call on Tuesday following rounds three and four of the MLS SuperDraft.

Most pressing is the latest on the Fire’s continuing chase for center backs currently based in Europe. Rodriguez said due to the nature of negotiations that talks could continue into early February, after the team’s preseason will already be underway.

“We are competing with the European transfer window and so we understand in certain instances players want to hold out and see what may come across later in the window,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t want to impose an artificial and unnecessary deadline. That said, we can’t afford to allow all of our options to wither away while we wait for someone to make a decision so we juggle that balance on a daily basis.

[SHOP: Gear up, Fire fans!]

“It’s more important that we have them for the bulk of the season and in good form and in good health than have them for the first few days of preseason.”

In addition to Eric Gehrig, who is coming back from a stress fracture in his foot, and recently drafted Jonathan Campbell, Rodriguez said the team is hoping to add three more center backs to the squad.

“We would then consider ourselves well stocked in that position,” Rodriguez said. “We are looking for experience out of the people that we’re bringing in at that position because we see it as an important leadership role within the team on the field of play. The people that we have targeted are those that have a lot of games under their belt in top leagues in top competitions.”

In addition to looking after experienced center backs based in Europe, Rodriguez said that the players the Fire are pursuing will be out of contract by the summer and the team is willing to pay a transfer fee if the club holding a player’s contract requires one. The complication with transfer fees in MLS is that they count against the salary cap in certain circumstances. This is where the allocation money that the Fire acquired on day one of the draft comes into play.

“[The draft day trades] were designed to give us that flexibility, greater flexibility, from the monies that we had already amassed so that we could start to try to change the terms of negotiation and change the tempo of negotiations for the current players that we’re pursuing and also avail ourselves to more resources for a second list of players that we’re looking at to help us in the central midfield roles,” Rodriguez said.

Central midfield is the second priority for the Fire’s offseason, after center back. Rodriguez spoke highly of young players Harry Shipp, Matt Polster and homegrown rookie Drew Conner, but said he wants to add a “veteran presence” to that group. He added that the list of players they are looking at to fill this is internationally based.

The Fire are also in talks with “a couple of guys who have MLS experience,” according to Rodriguez. After signing fullback Michael Harrington from the first-ever MLS free agent pool yesterday, the Fire can sign one more player from that pool as well as any other out of contract league veterans.

[MORE: Fire complete SuperDraft with selections of Keller, Mitchell]

The news of the day started with the Fire drafting Vincent Keller in the third round and Vincent Mitchell in the fourth round to close the draft. While lower round picks typically have a tough time making MLS rosters as rookie, Rodriguez spoke highly of both and said the club now has “some intensity for spots within our training camp.”

Keller is a 5-foot-9 defender from Creighton, originally from Germany.

“Vincent Keller is very intelligent, very competitive, incredibly well spoken,” Rodriguez said. “We believe he can play center back or right back although we’d likely use him more as a right back in principal due to his size, but he’s got a highly competitive nature.”

Mitchell is a 5-foot-8 speedster from Jamaica who could bolster the attack or play wide.

“Vincent Mitchell can play along different spots in the attack,” Rodriguez said. “He has very good pace, a very good nose for goal, ability to beat guys off the dribble. A dynamic that we think we needed to add to the team.”

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.