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.”

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

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@JTHAZZARD

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.