Young Fire midfielder Collin Fernandez in search of playing time


Young Fire midfielder Collin Fernandez in search of playing time

Collin Fernandez is the youngest player on the Chicago Fire and has been since he signed his first professional contract as a homegrown player in Aug. 28, 2014, as a 17-year-old.

Now 19, Fernandez is still fighting to find a regular place with the Fire, but has seen extra opportunities with the Peru Under-20 National Team. Fernandez has been with the U-20s for three camps this year and was called into another, but missed due to injury.

The midfielder from Downers Grove just returned to the Fire from one of those camps earlier this week.

“You get to play a lot of games against first division teams there,” Fernandez said. “It’s good experience for me to play in those games. I’m playing a lot and they like me there so it’s a good experience.”

Fernandez is eligible to play for Peru due to his family heritage, but was born in the U.S. and doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. He is able to communicate with a couple teammates who speak English.

Beyond a language barrier, Fernandez has also noticed some differences in the playing style there as opposed to in the States.

“Over there you keep the ball, you play,” Fernandez said. “It’s not always 100 miles an hour. Sometimes it’s a little slower, but that’s just how they play.”

[MORE FIRE: Already out of playoff contention, Fire hope for positive finish to season]

Playing with the Peru U-20s when he can has been a big boost for Fernandez because he hasn’t seen as much playing time with the Fire as he would like. After making one substitute appearance for six minutes as a rookie in 2015, Fernandez has come off the bench twice this season for a total of eight minutes.

One of the reasons for the lack of playing time was a sprained ankle Fernandez suffered in the middle part of the season. He was in and out of training before finally deciding to shut things down for a while to fully recover.

Even with the injury and being absent at times to play with the Peru U-20s, playing 14 minutes in nearly two full seasons with the Fire is not what Fernandez had in mind when he signed.

“Obviously not my expectation,” Fernandez said. “It was much higher, but it is what it is and it’s part of the process. I have to respect that.

“It’s something that I’m disappointed in, but you just try to move forward. It’s just a learning thing. You can’t dwell on it because it’s only going to make it worse.”

Fernandez was able to see some time with the Fire’s USL affiliate, Saint Louis FC, late in the USL season. He played 110 minutes in three appearances. Fernandez started and played 64 minutes in the season finale on Sept. 24.

Fernandez last appeared for the Fire on May 11. The lack of playing time in a key point in Fernandez’s development is something general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about on Sept. 1 during a roundtable with reporters. Rodriguez explained that after a “very good preseason” he believed Fernandez would get more time with the first team, but injuries and time with the Peru U-20s interfered with sending Fernandez to St. Louis earlier in the season. He ultimately admitted the club needed to do more for Fernandez.

“We’re not satisfied with what we’ve done for Collin," Rodriguez said. "He has not in any negative way contributed to that, in part through injury, in part through other decisions that he took that he has a right to take. In the end, it’s not good enough. Not good enough for him, not good enough for us.

“He has not had the development that he needs in these critical ages.”

The lack of playing time has made improving his fitness a challenge. That has become one of his focal points.

“In this league you got to be able to run so that’s one of the main things I’ve been working on,” Fernandez said. “I’ve been able to play. It was good to play 90 minutes in Peru against Paraguay so that was a good experience. That was my first 90-minute game in a couple years so that was good for my fitness.”

The Fire’s season ends in less than two weeks, which means Fernandez will enter another period where minutes will be hard to come by.

However, Fernandez has a good chance to play with the Peru U-20s in U-20 World Cup Qualifying. The South American qualifying tournament takes place Jan. 13 to Feb. 5 in Ecuador, which means Fernandez could miss the start of the Fire’s preseason next year.

“The coach told me I’m in his thoughts for it,” Fernandez said. “I just have to keep performing well and do what I do.

“That’s going to be great for the team, great for individual players. It’s great exposure for everyone.”

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.