What to watch for in the Fire's preseason opener


What to watch for in the Fire's preseason opener

The Chicago Fire open up preseason play on Saturday with a match against the University of South Florida at 4 p.m. CT.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Fire after a busy offseason. Figuring out what this team will look like is no easy task giving the large number of unknowns and new players. The preseason, let alone the first preseason game against a college team out of season, won’t answer those questions.

With that said, here are some things to watch for if you tune into the web stream of Saturday’s game:

How does the team line up?

The Fire are missing six players in camp. Sean Johnson, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent are still with the national team and are expected to join the Fire on Monday. New acquisitions in the defense, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof and Rodrigo Ramos, are not yet with the team either. That means there won’t be a first view of a true starting lineup, but somethings can be learned from who plays where positionally and what the starting formation is.

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How do the rookies look?

Vincent may be gone, but Jonathan Campbell and homegrowns Joey Calistri and Drew Conner are both already signed. With Meira and Kappelhof not in camp, Campbell should get an extended look. In addition, fellow draft picks Alex Morrell, Vincent Keller and Vincent Mitchell have an opportunity to make an impression.

Who plays out wide?

The Fire don’t have many wide midfielders on the roster. David Accam plays out wide, but more as a winger than a midfielder. Morrell and trialist Arturo Alvarez are more naturally wide midfielders, but neither has a guaranteed roster spot at the moment. Saturday’s match could provide a view into how the Fire plan to create width with a roster thin at that position.

Will the Fire build out of the back?

Against a college team the Fire will be expected to control the play, but will the emphasis Paunovic has put on building from the back be evident? The way the Fire build up in attack could be a telling sign of how Paunovic plans to have the team play, even if a number of key personnel will be missing.

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What will the attack look like?

The defense may be missing a number of key players, but the attack is intact. How will David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike, Gilberto and Harry Shipp play together in Paunovic’s system? Without any additions at forward this offseason these four players will be asked to carry the team’s attack, yet they were on the field at the same time for just 28 minutes last season. Gilberto made 10 appearances with the Fire after making his debut on Aug. 22, but by the time he started playing a full 90 minutes Shipp and Igboananike were not used as regular starters. How this group lines up and plays together will be one of the key storylines of the preseason.

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.