Fire

Fire to return to Florida for the preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire to return to Florida for the preseason

For Chicagoans enduring numerous days of temperatures in the single digits, it's probably hard to believe that the MLS preseason is less than three weeks away.

The Fire's preseason will officially begin on Jan. 22 with entrance physicals for the players. The team will finish out the week with four days of training at the recently built Toyota Park Dome.

The dome finished construction during the 2017 season and was used by the team at least once during the regular season after heavy rains came down on the practice field. It is located on the north side of the Toyota Park property. In previous years the Fire had utilized the Fire Pitch on the North Side to begin the preseason.

After the opening week, the team will travel to Florida, where it has spent each preseason under coach Veljko Paunovic. The first stint will be in Tampa from Jan. 28 to Feb. 8 and a second stint will be from Feb. 11 to 24 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, where the Fire also had the second leg of preseason last year.

No matches were announced. The Fire will have to fill in some time after returning from Florida because the season opener was moved back to March 10 after the originally scheduled opener in Colorado was moved to June.

The Fire only have 18 players under contract (not including Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is reportedly nearing an agreement to return) so things should heat up between now and the start of preseason. While general manager Nelson Rodriguez has said repeatedly that the start of preseason is not a hard deadline to complete the roster, it is fair to assume it will be more complete by then.

All has remained quiet on the homegrown front although Indiana senior defender Grant Lillard, a first-team All-American by multiple outlets, is the most likely to sign. The draft combine begins on Jan. 13 and the draft is Jan. 19. The Fire hold the No. 15 pick in the first round.

There have also been multiple rumors. As always, most don't materialize, but the Fire should have some room to add a significant signing, even if Schweinsteiger comes back. Along with the continuing rumors about Colombian playmaker Juan Quintero, there was a report from The Daily Mail in England linking the Fire to Barcelona winger Arda Turan.

Especially after the trade of Arturo Alvarez, right wing is a position of need for the Fire. The ACL tears to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic may force Luis Solignac to play underneath Nemanja Nikolic in the attack, leaving the Fire with no options at right wing. Daniel Johnson, coming off a promising, but injury-riddled rookie season, typically plays at left wing but could likely move to the right if necessary. Either way, the Fire are in need of other attacking options, especially for the first few months of the season until de Leeuw and Mihailovic return.

Most of this should play out within the next few weeks if not sooner. Last year the Fire added Nemanja Nikolic and Juninho in December, but there have not been any additions yet.

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.