Fire

Veljko Paunovic: At some point the Fire will surprise everyone

Veljko Paunovic: At some point the Fire will surprise everyone

In his still young tenure with the Chicago Fire, Veljko Paunovic has shown to be an optimist who at times even resembles a motivational speaker in the way he talks.

The coach frequently speaks about instilling specific values in players like hard work, belief in what the team is doing and creating a winning mentality. On Monday, two days after the Fire’s sixth straight road loss, Paunovic showed his optimistic side.

“At some point we will surprise everyone with how well we played and how well we worked the game,” Paunovic said in a conference call. “We have to work for that moment and be consistent and wait for that to happen. But still, hard work, commitment, consistency and belief.”

Paunovic has shown minor levels of frustration with the team’s mentality, but has also never spoken negatively about the team in a general sense yet this season. At least in what he says, Paunovic remains positive and committed to what him and general manager Nelson Rodriguez are building despite sitting in last place in the league.

As for Saturday’s performance, in which the Fire conceded an early goal and were outshot 25-11, Paunovic said the team improved in the second half thanks to some adjustments and the introduction of Michael de Leeuw.

“We switched formations and in the game came Michael de Leeuw who I think did very well,” Paunovic said. “He gave us some good attacking options and a very good dynamic. There are still some adjustments for him, not only adjustments for the demands of the league, but also for the team that this is the first game he played with his teammates.”

De Leeuw managed one shot in 45 minutes of play in Toronto. Paunovic described de Leeuw as a dynamic attacker capable of switching positions in order to find space, but the Fire have a more specific role for him in the short-term.

“At this point we see him playing at the top, as a reference, as a target, but given that he’s not that kind of player,” Paunovic said. “We will look to take advantage of his dynamic and attacking movement in order to create superiority in any part of the field in attack.”

That positional flexibility could come in handy soon though. Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City will be the Fire’s second game out of five in a 15-day span. Paunovic said there will be some squad rotation given the crowded schedule, which was also another reason why Matt Polster was left off the bench in Toronto.

“He was cleared last week,” Paunovic said of Polster. “We wanted to give him more time to prepare for the stretch that we have now in front and be of course available 100 percent. We will count on him for the next games that we have.”

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.