Fire

Aleksandar Katai hoping to fill David Accam's shoes with the Fire

katai-301.jpg
USA TODAY

Aleksandar Katai hoping to fill David Accam's shoes with the Fire

When David Accam was traded on draft day, it left a big hole on the wing for the Chicago Fire.

The Ghanaian was one of the team’s most productive players in each of his three seasons with the Fire and 2017 was his best year of the three. The player brought in to more or less replace Accam was Serbian winger Aleksandar Katai.

Katai has the Serbian national team connection with coach Veljko Paunovic, although Katai said he had never met Paunovic before the two parties began discussing bringing him to Toyota Park. Katai was not seeing the field with Deportivo Alaves in Spain’s La Liga and said making the move to the Fire was an easy decision.

“In Alaves I have this year (where) I played zero minutes and it’s very bad for one player,” Katai said on Tuesday. “I need to find a solution. When I heard that Veljko called me here to Chicago... I accept immediately.”

Katai last played for Alaves on Oct. 24 and last started on May 14. The combination of a club in Alaves that clearly had little interest in playing him and the Fire’s need for attacking additions gave few reasons for delay with the move.

“He was actually a player that we saw last year and that we liked,” Rodriguez said. “Then Matt Pearson, our scout, and Pauno brought him back. Often times we review our notes and bring players back. We reached out to the club and they, at that moment, indicated that they may consider moving him. They gave us permission to speak with Aleksandar, we did. He was very motivated by what we presented to him and that transaction actually came together pretty quickly and very easily.”

Despite joining from a team that was in-season, Katai’s lack of recent playing time means he could probably use some preseason time. After getting his visa, Katai joined the Fire in preseason training in Florida last Thursday and played in Saturday’s match at Orlando City. By the time the season opener kicks off on March 10 Katai will have had a couple weeks to adjust to his new teammates.

It hasn’t taken long for him to leave an impression on his teammates though.

“He’s just a proper footballer,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “He’s got a soccer brain. You can already tell from four or five days training with the guy. Right away, at least for me because I’m not super athletic, I always try to look for guys that think about the game before they step on the field and before they get running. You can tell in little passing exercises, little possession drills, he’s really clean on the ball. I don’t think you go play in La Liga if you’re not a really good player. I like what I’ve seen so far from him. Obviously he’s getting acclimated, trying to show a little bit of his personality. He’s a little quiet right now, but we’ll try to bring him out of his shell. But I think he’s going to be a huge piece for us, for sure.”

Paunovic echoed some of the same statements about Katai’s skillset. He said one of the coaches on Paunovic’s staff when he was a youth national team coach for Serbia had coached Katai and that helped with the familiarity.

When asked about what he brings to the table, Katai decided against boasting about himself.

“You will see,” Katai said with a smile. “I don’t want to talk here about my quality or something else. I will show everything I can on the field.”

Paunovic rattled off a number of attributes about Katai, but did say that he’s still getting used to the team. On paper Katai could slot into the starting lineup right away, but he may have to endure an adjustment period.

“He obviously has to learn the teammates,” Paunovic said. “He has to get to know with them and who needs the ball where, what are the qualities of the teammates and the team, which in a couple days you can not get all that information. For sure he’s very intelligent. He’s getting on the same page with other guys very quickly.”

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

Chicago Fire's 'MLS is Back' opening match postponed due to COVID-19

MLS announced on Tuesday that the Chicago Fire’s first game back after the season was suspended due to COVID-19 has been postponed.

The Fire were supposed to play Nashville SC on Wednesday in their opening Group A match of the MLS is Back tournament. But since arriving in Orlando for the tournament, five Nashville players tested positive for COVID-19 and four others received inclusive results, requiring more testing. As a result, MLS is now evaluating Nashville’s participation in the tournament.

The Fire will now return to play on July 14 against Inter Miami CF.

The Fire also announced that the Drive-In Matchday event that was scheduled for Wednesday’s game has been rescheduled for their July 19 game against New York City FC. Fans who registered for that event will have the opportunity to sign-up again for the new date.

This is the second Chicago pro sports match altered as leagues try to return to play. The Chicago Red Stars also had a game cancelled in late June due to Orlando Pride players testing positive for COVID-19.

As MLB, the NHL and the NBA gear up to return it remains to be seen how they will react in a similar situation.

RELATED: Chicago Dogs to host home opener with fans in stands

MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

mls.jpg
USA Today

MLS announces return to play plan for tournament at Disney World

MLS soccer is coming back this summer.

The league announced a plan to have all 26 MLS clubs resume play on July 8 with a league-wide “MLS is Back Tournament.”

The games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, without fans in the stands.

Here’s how it will work:

Clubs can arrive in Orlando to begin training on June 24. Then a group stage will begin July 8 followed by a knockout stage, starting July 25.

There will be six groups, three for each the Western and Eastern Conferences. The group stage draw will occur on June 11 at 2:30 p.m. CT.

Each team will play three group stage matches, and the results from those games will count in the 2020 MLS regular season standings.

Then the top two teams from each group, plus the four best third-place finishers will advance to the knockout stage. That stage starts with a round-of-16, followed by quarterfinals, semifinals and then the championship game. The championship game will be played on August 11.

In case of a tie at the end of regulation in the knockout stage, games will proceed directly to a penalty kick shootout.

The winner of the tournament will earn a berth in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

At the conclusion of the tournament, MLS will resume its regular season followed by the MLS Cup Playoffs and MLS Cup.

RELATED: Will MLB-MLBPA come to terms on 2020 season? 'This goes back to the owners'

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | Art19