Fire

Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire

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USA TODAY

Jon Bakero, Mo Adams both took similar routes to landing with Fire

The growing investment in and importance of MLS academies have taken away much of the best domestic talent out of the league’s draft, but international talent that stands out in college can still be plentiful in the draft.

Three of the first five picks and six of the first 12 in the 2018 draft were foreign-born players. The Fire traded up to snag two of those players, Jon Bakero and Mo Adams. Both went through the academy systems in their native countries before journeying across the Atlantic to college and now in MLS. Not counting Jack Harrison, who was traded within minutes of being the top pick in the 2016 draft, the Fire hadn’t drafted a player born outside the U.S. in the first round since 2008 (Patrick Nyarko).

Bakero’s story has received more attention because the Spanish-born player is the son of a former FC Barcelona and Spanish national team player, Jose Mari Bakero. He joined Wake Forest after not having any pro prospects in Spain and turned into a Hermann Trophy winner this fall, capping off a four-year career that included an appearance in the College Cup final in 2016.

“I think I’ve been able to learn the Spanish system, the American system and I think that having three and a half years in college allowed me to fully develop as a player, as a person and I think I’m ready now to start my professional career,” Bakero said during the first week of the Fire’s preseason training.

Bakero completed his college career, but Adams left after two years at Syracuse, another ACC powerhouse program. The defensive midfielder played for the academies of Nottingham Forest and Derby County before being offered a professional contract at Blackburn. However, Adams was unable to sign the deal due to injury.

“That was kind of a point where I didn’t know what to do next,” Adams said. “There’s different agencies that sort of release players with scholarships in the States. I kind of decided to take that route. It’s something different, a new chapter that you can learn from. Two years at Syracuse and now I’m here on the professional level.”

When asked about Dom Dwyer, Orlando City’s English-born forward who played collegiately and has since played for the U.S. national team, Adams said Dwyer was someone who helped him make the decision to come stateside.

Adams noted the differences between the way the English and American games are played. He said in the U.S. the game is “more aggressive and intense” but has shortcomings in other areas.

“I think in England the speed of play is maybe quicker, but I think is less intense in that aspect,” Adams said. “The guys think quicker, but not necessarily move as quick. Here you can see the ball and you’ve got two, three guys closing you down straight away. You’re playing against guys who are a lot bigger, more physical and stuff like that. I think that it’s good that I’ve experienced both sides of things.”

As the Fire’s roster currently stands, both players should have a good opportunity to snag regular minutes. Bakero is likely in line to be the first choice attacking midfielder behind, or even potentially alongside, striker Nemanja Nikolic if the Fire don’t add any players at that spot in the next month. Adams could be a leading candidate to fill the minutes lost with Juninho’s departure after his loan expired at the end of 2017.

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.