Fire

Nashville officially wins MLS expansion bid, but the Midwest still has gaps

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USA TODAY

Nashville officially wins MLS expansion bid, but the Midwest still has gaps

Major League Soccer made it official on Wednesday: Nashville is getting an expansion team.

The first of four promised MLS expansion teams was announced and awarded to Nashville. Commissioner Don Garber was among the speakers at Wednesday's press conference that made the news, which been reported a couple days prior, official.

"Nashville was not on our radar screen (initially), but one of the things that we take pride in is being open to any discussion to will lead to growing the game in North America," Garber said.

While calling Nashville a city in the Midwest is a stretch, the Tennessee team will become the third-closest team to the Fire. The two closer cities come with asterisks. Minnesota is in the Western Conference, meaning the Fire play the Loons just once a year, and Columbus, the Fire's biggest rival, is in danger of being relocated to Austin, Texas.

It wasn't announced when Nashville will begin play in MLS, although a USL expansion team will kick start things in 2018 before the team moves to MLS. When Nashville begins play in MLS, it will join the Eastern Conference and could restore balance to the two conferences. Los Angeles FC's entry in 2018 has brought the league to an odd number, 23 teams.

An additional expansion team is expected to be announced before the end of the year. The three candidates for that are Cincinnati, Sacramento and Detroit. The latest reports seem to be favoring Cincinnati and Sacramento, although no reports have leaked any information as to which one is getting the nod. While Cincinnati would be a new regional foe for the Fire, Sacramento would continue to leave gaps in the Midwest.

As more cities and teams are added to the MLS map, more rivalries have been created. For all of the attention that has been paid to the trio of Cascadia teams, Seattle didn't have Portland and Vancouver to play until 2011. New York City FC's addition in 2015 has made any games between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls one of the premier games on the schedule. Two recent expansion teams in Orlando and Atlanta have a budding rivalry. LAFC's arrival should make any game against the LA Galaxy a tense affair.

Meanwhile, the Fire-Columbus rivalry has taken a back seat and could go away. While a marquee rivalry game isn't make or break for the Fire, it would bring more excitement, even if only on those matchdays. Cincinnati could potentially fill in for Columbus if the Crew leave, but that would take time. Detroit would make sense as a rival given the history of Bulls-Pistons and Blackhawks-Red Wings, but that bid doesn't seem to have much steam at the moment.

For now, the Fire and its fans wait for another geographical rival to add an extra intriguing match or two to the schedule.

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.