Second NYCFC match gives Fire chance to display improvement


Second NYCFC match gives Fire chance to display improvement

There was a lot of buildup to the Chicago Fire’s season opener.

A new coach, a lot of new faces on the roster and a season opener at home.

What immediately followed was a first 45 minutes many Fire fans won’t remember fondly. The Fire trailed 3-1 at halftime and, while the second half was better, the 4-3 loss to New York City FC was not how Veljko Paunovic wanted to start his coaching tenure.

The Fire haven’t lost since, with two draws and a win, and now have a second chance against NYCFC when the Fire travel to Yankee Stadium on Sunday.

“Our honor is hurt,” Paunovic said on Monday. “We feel like we have something there that we want to solve, some payback for us is something that we are looking for this game. We want to be competitive in this game, respectful, totally respectful for a great team and a great performance New York had here. We also feel like there is something special about this game and we will prepare very well to payback.”

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Beyond the payback Paunovic speaks of, Sunday’s match is also an opportunity for the Fire to show how much the team has improved. After the March 6 loss, Paunovic and the players both spoke about it taking time for this team to jell and figure things out with so many new pieces.

Now four matches in, this trip to Yankee Stadium can be an early benchmark for a side-by-side comparison of what the Fire are better at than they were to start the season and what is still a work in progress.

“When you’re playing against the same exact team that you played three games ago it’s easy to draw examples so it will be pretty clear if we are improving because the opponent is the same,” midfielder Michael Stephens said. “We have a common thread there.”

On the other side, NYCFC hasn’t won since knocking off the Fire. Two draws and a loss, all at home, have followed the win in Toyota Park.

[MORE: Fire notes: Rumors, David Accam update, Johan Kappelhof honored]

Paunovic has an extra bit of energy in his voice when talking about the chance to get a result against the team that ruined the Fire’s home opener. He also thinks the Fire have made strides and are capable of returning from New York with a result.

“I think we improved in everything,” Paunovic said when asked about how the team compares to Week 1. “I think we improved in our style, we improved in our fitness.

“Everyone is very, very motivated. We are very excited for the next game.”

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

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


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, 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.