Fire

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

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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.”

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.