Fire

Fire extend Dax McCarty's contract in a key move for the club's near future

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USA TODAY

Fire extend Dax McCarty's contract in a key move for the club's near future

For all of the attention paid to Bastian Schweinsteiger and all of Nemanja Nikolic’s goals, Dax McCarty had a solid argument for being the most valuable player on the Fire in 2017.

With that in mind, the Fire announcing a contract extension with McCarty is a big deal for the longer-term future of the club. The 30-year-old is now guaranteed through the 2019 season and there is a club option for 2020 on the deal.

The Fire picked up the option on McCarty’s contract for 2018 and had another option for 2019. In essence, this extension has added another year to the deal.

The midfielder was a key player for the Fire in 2017, helping to stabilize central midfield, long a weakness of the team, along with Schweinsteiger and Juninho. He was an MLS All-Star for the second time in his career.

"Although the year did not end how any of us would have liked, I believe we’re on course to becoming a perennial contender for trophies like Fire teams of old,” McCarty said in a statement released by the club. “Together with the fans, our club can build on the foundation laid last season and now set our sights even higher. I’m excited to be in Chicago long term."

The importance of a solid central midfielder, or two, is the basis of any strong team. The last two MLS Cups have featured two teams with strong players in that position, Michael Bradley for Toronto and Ozzie Alonso and Cristian Roldan for Seattle.

Having that position figured out for the next two seasons, at least, gives general manager Nelson Rodriguez a solid base to build around. McCarty also filled another void that Rodriguez mentioned repeatedly, his vocal leadership.

The one drawback of sorts with McCarty in his first season with the Fire was his consistent call-ups to the U.S. national team, meaning he left the team multiple times throughout 2017. Those call-ups would have continued had the team made the World Cup, but instead, his international career is in doubt and the Americans don’t have any meaningful games in 2018.

Another point worth bringing up is another Rodriguez cliche: a consistent core. Since taking over, he has talked about how successful teams in MLS’ history have had a core of several key players for multiple years. The Fire may not be there with that core yet, but it’s possible to see a team built around McCarty, Nikolic, defender Johan Kappelhof and potentially others (David Accam if he sticks around, Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent if they continue to improve) competing towards the top of the league for the next few years. More additions to that core will be needed to win a trophy, but it’s a solid base to build from.

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.

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof involved in car crash on Thursday morning

Chicago Fire defender Johan Kappelhof was involved in a car accident on his way to practice Thursday morning that sent him to the hospital with minor injuries.

According to authorities and the Secretary of State’s Office, a box truck crashed into the Dutch player’s 2013 Volkswagen and another vehicle in the 5900 block of South Harlem. Kappelhof’s vehicle rolled over and two people fled from the scene.

The driver ran on foot and the passenger moved into the driver’s seat before driving the truck onto the Stevenson Expressway after the crash, officials said. After the damaged vehicle broke down, police say the same passenger tried to jump into the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Both were taken into custody.

Team officials said Kappelhof was treated and released from the hospital without indicators of a concussion. The 27-year-old was reportedly seen at Toyota Park after the crash and did not have any serious injuries. The other driver who was hit by the box truck was also treated, police said.

This season in league play with the Fire, Kappelhof has three assists in 16 games. The international product was a 2017 MLS All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year for the Fire last season. He was signed in 2016 and has made one MLS Cup Playoffs appearance.