Fire

Top 5 Fire offseason storylines to watch

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Top 5 Fire offseason storylines to watch

There are plenty of lists around this time of year, both recapping 2015 and looking ahead to 2016.

Fans of the Chicago Fire may not want to revisit 2015, but there also isn’t enough known about the 2016 version of the club to make a proper look ahead to the season.

[RELATED - Fire GM Rodriguez denies Accam to Stoke rumors]

However, things will take shape quickly since the Fire will report for entrance physicals on Jan. 24 and media day is a day later. Compare that to now when the club has just 15 players under contract and the only player additions the club have made so far are homegrown signings Joey Calistri and Drew Conner, who both seem more likely to go out on loan than regularly crack the starting 11.

All this means that January figures to be a very busy month for general manager Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic in the front office. With that in mind, here’s a list of storylines for Fire fans to follow in next few weeks.

1. Will David Accam jump to Europe?

The Fire winger has been training with Premier League club Stoke City during the MLS offseason and rumors started to spread of a possible move for Accam. Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez shot down those rumors saying, “We’ve had no discussions at all with Stoke or any other team for the transfer of his services.”

Any move would have to wait until after the January transfer window opens in England, but of course that’s not far away now. After leading the Fire with 10 goals in 2015, keeping him at Toyota Park would be a big boost to the 2016 season.

2. What will the Fire do with the No. 1 pick in the MLS SuperDraft?

One of the most important moves in the Fire’s offseason will be what they do with the top pick in the draft on Jan. 14. The Generation adidas class, which is comprised of college early-entrants, has still yet to take shape and a number of the top rated players in the draft are expected to be in that group. Clemson goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was reportedly the first player to sign a Generation adidas contract, but the Fire likely won’t be looking at a goalkeeper at No. 1.

Georgetown defender Joshua Yaro is a more likely possibility and mock drafts from Ives Galarcep and Top Drawer Soccer have the Fire taking Yaro. The junior has received All-American honors in all three years of college, including being named Top Drawer Soccer’s Player of the Year as a sophomore. He has yet to sign with MLS and could even go abroad.

Rodriguez seemed to imply that the Fire are looking at underclassmen.

“There are several high quality players that we expect to be in the draft,” he said. “We say it that way because the league has not yet announced the signings of certain players, but if those signings occur as we expect than we think there are some really good players at the top end.”

3. Where’s the rest of the team?

After passing in the waiver draft and both stages of the re-entry draft, the only player additions the Fire have made are the two homegrown signings. The Fire are one of eight MLS teams that have yet to add a veteran player in the offseason and only the Philadelphia Union have fewer players under contract (13).

There are many openings to fill, but at least in regards to defenders it appears the team is looking abroad.

“We created a plan for ourselves and have been very disciplined in following that plan,” Rodriguez said. “Part of that plan has as a priority central defense. We did not feel that there were existing available solutions within the league that addressed that priority to the level that we feel we wanted to be satisfied. Our efforts in that regard have focused outside of the league.”

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As for any personnel moves, Rodriguez said movement should start up soon after the New Year.

“We may tend to be more patient, or some might say slower, than other teams, but we accept that as the matter in which we want to conduct our business,” he said. “As we get into the New Year we’ll start to make public some of the transactions that we finalize.”

4. Do the Fire still have a chance to retain Mike Magee?

The 2013 MVP is arguably the prize of the league’s first-ever free agency class and there hasn’t been much news on his new destination. Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman opened the free agency period by tweeting a recruiting pitch to him and fellow free agent Justin Mapp. Mapp already signed with SKC. Since then, a Yahoo Sports report stated the Fire, SKC, Vancouver and the Los Angeles Galaxy are the four favorites to sign Magee.

5. Will Sean Johnson get another U.S. call-up?

The U.S. Men’s National Team is set for its annual January camp, with games against Iceland and Canada. With MLS in its offseason and most European clubs playing during this period, the team is expected to be largely domestically based. That means Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson should have a decent chance of being called in. In addition, a U-23 group will be called in to prep for that group’s Olympic qualifying playoff in March against Colombia. Fire midfielder Matt Polster figures to be included.

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.