Fire

Fire announce signing of homegrown defender Grant Lillard

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USA TODAY

Fire announce signing of homegrown defender Grant Lillard

The first player addition of the Fire’s offseason was the least kept secret.

The Fire made official the signing of homegrown defender Grant Lillard on Wednesday. Lillard joins the Fire after a four-year career at Indiana with plenty of accolades.

The 6-foot-4 centerback signed a two-year contract with the Fire holding two more club options beyond that. Lillard leaves Indiana after being a first team All-Big Ten selection three years, including winning Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year this fall as a senior year. This season he was named a first team All-American by Top Drawer Soccer, College Soccer News and United Soccer Coaches.

Had Lillard been eligible for the draft, he would have been one of the first players taken. Instead, the Fire get to bring him on board and, as a homegrown player, he will not count against the cap.

“It’s a dream come true for me, signing my first professional contract,” Lillard said in an interview released by the team. “It’s an unbelievable honor to be able to sign with my hometown club, the Chicago Fire. Moving here my sophomore year of high school as soon as I came here I knew this is where I wanted to be. This is where I set my goals to play and it’s just an unbelievable experience to be able to sit here and have it all come to reality.”


Lillard moved to Hinsdale from Arizona and enrolled at Hinsdale Central. He played with the Fire’s academy at the Under-16 and U-18 levels.

He could have gone pro early. The Fire had discussions with Lillard last offseason, but he elected to finish his collegiate career. He wrapped up his final season at Indiana with a place in the College Cup final, which was an overtime loss to the winner of now three straight national titles, Stanford. Lillard made the all-tournament team at the College Cup.

“The last few months has been a lot,” he said. “Just dealing with the College Cup run we made at Indiana. I continued to develop as a player and as a person off the field. There was a great platform at Indiana. Every single year I was working on something else and I got better. This is kind of just the first step. This is where the fun starts and I’m just excited to get to work and see how far we can take this thing.”

Lillard has a chance to play right away. The Fire lost Joao Meira, a regular starting centerback last season, and so far Lillard is the only newcomer to the position. Johan Kappelhof will remain a fixture at the position, but who plays alongside him will likely be decided in preseason (and throughout the year).

Jonathan Campbell will head into his third year as a pro, but didn’t see as much time in 2017 after leading the Fire in minutes as a rookie in 2016. Christian Dean is another option, but he is coming off a foot injury and has struggled to stay healthy in his career. Even if Lillard doesn’t win a starting job, the lack of numbers at the position should allow him to get on the field on a semi-regular basis if he stays healthy.

The Fire now have 19 players under contract. With three goalkeepers and seven defenders (eight if you want to count Drew Conner as a backup option at right back) under contract, those positions may not see much change. The midfield and attack will need some additions, even if Bastian Schweinsteiger returns.

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.