Veljko Paunovic: U.S. Open Cup is important to the history of our club

Veljko Paunovic: U.S. Open Cup is important to the history of our club

Cup competitions are tricky for a number of reasons.

The added schedule congestion, opponents from different leagues and the typically smaller crowds all factor into the decision of how much a team will invest in its domestic cup competition.

For the Chicago Fire, things are a bit different. The club has won the U.S. Open Cup four times, matched only by the Seattle Sounders among MLS teams, and the tournament has become a point of pride within the organization and the fanbase.

With that in mind, the Fire start the tournament Wednesday against Indy Eleven at Toyota Park. Coach Veljko Paunovic is well aware of the importance of the U.S. Open Cup and tried to impart that to his players.

“Last week we had a presentation from Logan (Pause), who won this title two times,” Paunovic said of his assistant coach during a conference call on Monday. “He gave this speech to our guys.

“He explained how important it is for the history of our club and also for our fans and for everyone. It was a great experience and I believe we are doing all we can in order to make our players understand how important for us this competition is, but also how important it is to respect our rivals.”

Michael Harrington, who won the U.S. Open Cup in 2012 with Sporting Kansas City, and Johan Kappelhof, who won the Dutch KNVB Cup with FC Groningen in 2015, also spoke about the importance of cup competitions.

“It’s pretty much the same in every single league that I played,” Paunovic said. “Always the cup competitions are very, very tricky.”

Indy Eleven plays in the second tier North American Soccer League, but is fresh off winning the league’s spring title. Indy went 4-0-6 in the league’s first of two split seasons and won the title on the final match. They matched the New York Cosmos (6-4) with 18 points, a plus-seven goal differential and 15 goals scored. The third tiebreaker, head-to-head, gave Indy the title.

The matchup on Wednesday also has the added rivalry spark of featuring two Midwest teams. Lovel Palmer and Jon Busch currently play for Indy Eleven after playing for the Fire last season.

“We know that they have a lot of experienced guys who played also in MLS,” Paunovic said. “We know that they have a lot of players who played on our team in the years before.”

Paunovic hinted that he may rotate the lineup a bit, but still emphasized fielding a strong team. Though the Fire are well-rested after going on break for the Copa America Centenario, the team also plays Saturday at Colorado and a week from Wednesday at Philadelphia to make for another stretch of three games in eight days.

On the injury front, John Goossens (knee) and Collin Fernandez (ankle) are still expected to be out for the next couple games. Joao Meira had a minor shoulder injury, but Paunovic said he could be available Wednesday.

Paunovic also said there is no change in Gilberto’s status and he will not be available Wednesday.

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.