The 2018 offseason has been a disappointing one so far for Fire fans, who had thought this would finally be the transfer window where Chicago makes a big money signing. That is yet to come to fruition, and probably won’t happen until the summer.
However, the Fire have still made a decent signing that some fans might have already forgotten about. On February 5th, Chicago announced the signing of Aleksandar Katai, a Serbian winger from La Liga side Deportivo Alavés. After some visa complications, the player was finally able to join up with his new teammates in Florida on the 22nd. He is not the big name signing Fire fans have been dreaming about, as many had no idea who the player was when he was first announced.
Saturday’s final preseason match vs Tulsa will be the first time many Fire fans see Katai in action. He featured in the most recent preseason match against Orlando City, but that game was held behind closed doors, with no livestream available. He had played games in La Liga, but his club Deportivo Alavés were only featured on television if they were playing against either Madrid team or Barcelona. Katai rose to prominence at Red Star Belgrade, but they are usually only watched by fellow Serbian fans. The highlight video that was posted when he was announced showed some of his best moments, but came far from telling the entire story.
Dax McCarty had plenty of praise for the new signing, labeling him as a “proper footballer” with a “soccer brain.” Paunovic went on to further describe the type of player Katai is, a winger to excels at beating defenders off the dribble with pace and skill. The player, when given the chance to talk about himself, simply told the media that they will see what he is about when he steps on the pitch. On a separate note, he speaks in a very similar way to Nikolic, in terms of accent and sentence structure. Fire fans begun to fall in love with Nikos interviews last season, so we should hope both are given plenty of time on the mic this season.
Some fans have turned to FIFA 18, the most popular soccer video game in the world, to understand what kind of player the Serbian is. Katai has a rating of 74 in game, the same as Dax McCarty, and one point lower than Nemanja Nikolic. He is listed as a right midfielder, who can play anywhere across the front four. His highest stat is in the dribbling category, with a very respectable 81. Much to the chagrin of FIFA players, he only has 65 pace, which is expected from most central defenders, not attacking wingers.
However, there is a slim chance Katai might not be in Chicago for long. Katai is only on loan here until the summer. There is an option to purchase the player in place, and many assume that it will be triggered at the end of the loan. Yet some Fire fans have a feeling that Nelson Rodriguez is waiting for the conclusion of the World Cup before signing a big name player. If Katai fails to show any promise, the Fire will be able to send him back to Deportivo Alavés without charge at the end of the loan spell. The winger could very well end up just being a placeholder in the team until Nelson can get a bigger name later this year.
However this shakes out, the Fire will be depending on Katai to make a substantial contribution for however long here’s here. Stay tuned.