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Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick

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Rodriguez teases news of pending Fire signings, potential trade of top pick

Chicago Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez spoke to the media in a conference call Tuesday afternoon and revealed key details about the rest of the offseason.

The highlights were the promise of one or two European center backs to join the squad, at least two MLS free agent signings to be announced in less than a week and an update on the status of the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft.

The biggest reveal was that the Fire have agreed to terms with a European center back. Rodriguez said the contract is not yet signed, but they expect it to go through. In addition, the Fire have made a “competitive offer” for a second European center back, who also has Champions League teams interested in him.

“Our priority has always been and remains to some degree the center back position,” Rodriguez said. “We have agreed to terms with a European center back. That contract is not yet signed, but we have no reason to believe that there will be any hangups. We have an outstanding offer out to a second European center back. In that instance we are competing with Champions League teams for him and we’re hopeful.”

[MORE: Fire release 2016 MLS schedule]

Rodriguez also detailed that the second European center back would not be a designated player, but rather a player that the team would use the new targeted allocation money.

“We would be very excited to acquire this player, but obviously it’s a challenge and it’s a global market,” Rodriguez said. “We’re competing against that global market. I know that our offer is competitive and I know that our project of where we are taking Chicago Fire is competitive. I know that because the representative of that player has contacted us each of the last two days to say ‘We remain interested in the Fire, can you give us a few more days?’ Being that we don’t feel the need to impose a deadline we are also targeting other center backs alternatives to that one. We have contingencies in play and we will continue to work that. The second one would be another good one to go with the one we’ve agreed to terms.”

In news that sounds more imminent, the Fire have agreed to terms with two Major League Soccer free agents.

“In less than a week’s time we will announce two MLS free agents with whom we’ve reached terms,” Rodriguez said. “We are simply waiting on the requisite paperwork from the league.”

Rodriguez also noted that the Fire’s first round pick in Thursday’s draft, which is the No. 1 overall selection, could potentially be traded. According to Rodriguez, the Fire received two offers on Tuesday, which was the last day of the MLS Combine, and have already rejected an offer they received about a month ago. The two offers the Fire received were “extremely similar.” In addition, three or four other teams have “inquired about the pick.”

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Rodriguez detailed what it would take for the Fire to trade the pick, although he added that the team has not decided whether the pick will be traded or not.

“If we’re going to trade the No. 1 choice overall we need what we call an accelerator,” Rodriguez said. “That would be a player that we believe is a starter at a more advanced or even a better level than what the No. 1 pick may project to be. Or we need a multiplier, and that would be some combination of assets that allows us to secure at least two players, whether that’s a starter and a pick, a player and an allocation or TAM money, two picks, whatever the case may be.”

Rodriguez spoke to the media for about 35 minutes and some other highlights are listed below. Stick with CSNChicago.com for a more in-depth preview ahead of Thursday’s draft.

- The coaching staff is nearly complete and that announcement is coming soon:

“We will look to make an announcement on the full coaching staff in about a week’s time. We are still finalizing one position, but the staff has been working together and dutifully so and we feel good about that.”

- On the lack of announcements with only 14 players on the current roster:

“I know announcements haven’t been publicized yet, but I wouldn’t want that to be misconstrued as there hasn’t been work conducted or results achieved.

“For sure, in an ideal situation you have 95 percent of your team in place by the first day of training camp, and oh by the way we may still be there. I don’t mean to suggest that we can’t get there or won’t get there, but we won’t use Jan. 25 [the first day of the Fire’s preseason] as the deadline.

“I don’t think the fans are frustrated. I think the fans are smart. We don’t conduct our business to win a day of positive PR. We conduct our business to win a championship. It’s more important to me that we remained disciplined with our process and we remain focused against our plan, and that we remain nimble as you react to some unforeseen circumstances or some opportunities that may arise. I think fans appreciate that. They appreciate it better when it all comes together. The process can be viewed as either boring or slow, but in the end no one is going to remember that we didn’t make an announcement on Jan. 11. They’re going to remember what our record was and how we performed so that’s what drives us.”

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.