Fire

Veljko Paunovic: 'It’s time to wake up from this mentality'

Veljko Paunovic: 'It’s time to wake up from this mentality'

If there's one characteristic that is apparent about Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, it's that he's a competitor.

Paunovic spoke of having the team's honor hurt after they lost the season opener at home to New York City FC and frequently talks about pushing for more and always going for the win.

It seems Saturday's 2-1 loss at Colorado, which came on an 89th minute goal after the Fire had tied the match less than 10 minutes earlier, sent Paunovic to a boiling point of sorts. In his weekly conference call with the media on Monday, Paunovic was fired up in his words about the team's recent performances.

"Nobody is happy with losing," Paunovic said. "Nobody is happy with the situation. It’s time to wake up from this mentality that we are in for a long time now. It’s time to understand that I can say that the guys are working hard here and we want the best, but it’s not enough. We have to understand that it’s not only important to participate. That’s for the Olympics. We have to understand that we are here to win games. It’s time to wake up from that dream that we are in right now. We have to do more, we have to work harder. As I said I’m responsible for that, I’m going to fix this thing and I’m going to work on that hard. That’s I would say our mentality because our physical level, we are there, we are working hard, but we need to improve our mentality. That’s the challenge that we all have here.”

With a league-worst 2-6-5 record, the Fire were minutes away from getting a draw at league-leading Colorado. However, Paunovic believed his team was settling for the draw instead of going for the win in the final minutes.

"After we tied the game, we had a game to win," Paunovic said. "I don’t think we pushed enough to do that. That’s something we of course have to learn from it, but I’m not happy about it and I addressed the locker room today about it. I’m very transparent and I’m going to tell you, we need winners. This is not Olympics. This is not about participating as I said before. We need real guys. We want guys only who will understand that and push forward where we are.”

Perhaps a more assertive Paunovic can get a bit more out of his players, but it's not going to get much easier in the short-term. Next up is a trip to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.

The Fire will still be without Matt Polster (concussion) and Collin Fernandez (ankle sprain). Arturo Alvarez suffered a knee contusion and a hyperextended knee in Colorado, according to Paunovic, and will also be out. Joey Calistri, who scored his first MLS goal on Saturday, had some swelling from an ankle injury as well and will not play in Philadelphia.

On the upside, Paunovic said John Goossens will return from his knee injury to be on the bench Wednesday. Fire Academy product Drew Conner was recalled from Saint Louis FC to give the team extra depth with all those absences.

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.