Fire

Soldier Field announced as 2017 MLS All-Star Game host

Soldier Field announced as 2017 MLS All-Star Game host

Major League Soccer officially announced the 2017 Major League Soccer All-Star Game will be at Soldier Field on Tuesday.

The press conference inside the stadium had all the typical pillars of the hype for a big event. MLS commissioner Don Garber, Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel all spoke. Even Target's mascot dog Bullseye was there.

MLS always makes a big deal out of the All-Star Game and this was no exception. As Garber said to reporters after the press conference concluded, this is a way to give the Fire and the city of Chicago a showcase MLS event.

"We're always trying to think of ways that we can do things to create excitement in all of our markets," Garber said. "I think this game is part of a way to achieve some celebration for this club and if there are other things we can do we'll work with the Fire to be able to do that."

The game will take place Aug. 2, but one thing missing from the day was that the opponent was not announced. The format pitting the MLS All-Stars against a foreign club remains, but the league could not announce the opponent.

Garber was only able to say that the opponent will be announced soon and is a "top five" club in the world. Real Madrid and Barcelona have been the subject of speculation and reports so far.

"We're looking for a really big team," Garber said. "We'll announce that team soon. We thought it was a great opportunity to sort of celebrate the Fire's 20th anniversary, a way to bring some excitement to this city with our sport, somewhat like what we did with our Copa America (semifinal)."

Garber added that the opponent will "probably not" be announced within a week, but didn't give any more details. Whatever the opponent, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic will manage the MLS All-Stars.

During the press conference, Garber told a story of how Emanuel urged Garber to bring the All-Star Game to Soldier Field during a rain delay when Chile took on Colombia in a Copa America semifinal last July. Fire Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla said the club has been working since last summer to get the All-Star Game and took representatives of the Chicago Sports Commission to San Jose for last year's All-Star Game to "get a sense of the event."

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As for why the event will be in Soldier Field and not the Fire's home of Toyota Park, Garber said that came down to the opponent and the size of the venues. Soldier Field has more than three times the capacity of Toyota Park.

"You'll see when we announce the team that it would make no sense for anybody to have an international opponent in a stadium that has (20,000) seats," Garber said.

Garber also added that the last time the MLS had the All-Star Game outside an MLS venue was when Manchester United played at Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium, in 2010. While Man. U. would fit as a "top five" club in the world in terms of size and fan draw, the Houston Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium was not yet built. Toyota Park did host the 2006 MLS All-Star Game shortly after it was built.

"I think our goal was to announce the club, our opponent and the game at the same time," Garber said. "Timing got the best of us so we had to announce this game and the club at a later date. I think when you hear who the club will be you'll understand it's not a game we could have played in Toyota Park."

Besides bringing an event that sounds like it will pack Soldier Field, the MLS All-Star Game and the other events and activities that will be come to Chicagoland, also still to be announced, in the week leading up to the game, this will also put an extra spotlight on the Fire. After back-to-back years finishing last in MLS, the Fire won't want to have another disappointing year on the field when all the extra attention will come to the club and the league in Chicago as a result of the All-Star Game.

"We need to deliver a fantastic product, day in, day out, regardless of an all-star game," Khosla said. "Yes, there will be a lot more spotlight on the Fire, we know that, but we're embracing it and we're excited about it."

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.