Fire

Young Red Stars hope for title push in 2016

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Chicago Red Stars

Young Red Stars hope for title push in 2016

One look at the Chicago Red Stars roster will show something a bit unusual: the oldest player on the team is 27 years old.

The Red Stars, which begin their fourth season in the National Women’s Soccer League Saturday at Houston, had four players over 30 last season. All four of them departed in the offseason, including U.S. Women’s National Team players Lori Chalupny and Shannon Boxx to retirement.

“I would not say 26 is old, but apparently it is,” joked midfielder Alyssa Mautz, who is entering her fifth season with the Red Stars. “I think it’s more so we’re able to cover more space. We have more athletes.”

The oldest player on the team is national team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who turns 28 on April 20. Naeher, who was on the 2015 Women’s World Cup roster for the U.S., was acquired in the offseason.

“She is a huge addition for us,” forward Jen Hoy said. “She brings a lot of experience and composure to our team and our back line.

“She’s definitely a really great presence at the back.”

Naeher joins two teammates, forward Christen Press and defender Julie Johnston, from that World Cup roster. Press led the team with 10 goals in just 11 games last season.

Sofia Huerta had six goals in 2015 and will support Press in the attack along with Hoy, who had four goals and four assists. Those two will have to carry the offensive load while Press and the national teamers compete in the Olympics in August.

A few local additions will get to play in front of friends and family during home games at Toyota Park, where the Red Stars moved back to this season. Katie Naughton, a defender from Elk Grove and Notre Dame, was the Red Stars’ first pick in the draft. Fellow Chicago area products Courtney Raetzman and Sarah Gorden, both from Conant High School, are also rookies this year.

The Red Stars are hoping the youth movement will pay off and the team can improve on last year’s 8-3-9 record and go deeper in the playoffs. In 2015 the Red Stars made the playoffs for the first time in the NWSL before losing to eventual champion FC Kansas City in the semifinals.

“We’re happy we finally broke that barrier of getting to the playoffs,” Mautz said. “Our goal is to make the championship game.”

The home opener is April 23 against Western New York.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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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

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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.