Rounding into form, Aleksandar Katai makes case to stay with Chicago Fire

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Aleksandar Katai is hoping his recent run of good form will be enough to secure an extended stay with the Chicago Fire and bring to an end his Spanish nightmare.

The Serbian attacker has played a part in seven of the Fire’s 21 regular-season goals, scoring four and assisting on three, including two goals and three assists in his past five games.

That improved production came after a sluggish start to life in MLS, which saw him score in a 4-3 home defeat to Sporting Kansas City on his debut before a dip in form saw him substituted at halftime in his third game against the Portland Timbers and start from the bench in the next two games.

However, he has regained the trust of head coach Veljko Paunovic and started the last 10 games, going the full 90 minutes in eight, as the Fire (5-7-3, 18 points) have moved to within one point of a playoff spot.

For Katai, his preference in what happens after his loan ends at the end of the month is clear.

“I definitely want to stay here because I had some bad moments there in Spain, I was not happy there and here it is a different situation,” Katai told MLSsoccer.com. “I play here, I am scoring goals and I am happy here and I hope I will stay, but they need to make a decision.”

His current contract with La Liga outfit Deportivo Alaves runs until the end of the 2018-19 season. So far, there is no word or reports circulating out of Chicago of either the loan period being extended or the Fire activating the purchase option on the deal.

Katai's volley against the Red Bulls was one of the top goals of the season | USA Today Sports Images

“We still have time to decide and we still haven’t decided,” Paunovic told MLSsoccer.com. “So that means that we expect that he can continue with his good performances and literally until the last minute, while we have time, we will make the decision. It’s still not done yet.”

Katai and Paunovic both said there has been no communication with the Spanish side. But Katai, whose wife already had several family members living in Chicago before their move in February, is keen to extend his time in a city he has grown to love. 

“I like it too much here, I like the US generally, you know,” Katai said. “Chicago is a very nice city, I have family here so it’s very good for me and I am very, very happy here.”

Capped six times by his native Serbia, the former Red Star Belgrade and Olympiacos player had hoped a good run with the Fire might propel him into contention for a place in their World Cup squad.

After making just three league appearances for Alaves off the bench last season, he knew he had his work cut out to get back into the plans of Serbian head coach Mladen Krstajic. Ultimately, he did not make the final squad of 23 despite his recent good form for the Fire. 

“No, it is very difficult to call me for the national team,” Katai said when asked if he was disappointed not to make the squad. “I didn’t play in Spain and now I start to play late, so I need to be honest, I didn’t expect to be called up to the national team.”

One player who does understand the value of Katai and what he brings to his club team is Fire captain Dax McCarty, who has been impressed by his improved performances in recent weeks.

“It’s easy for everyone to see that Katai is one of our more dangerous players in the attack, if not our most dangerous player in the attack,” McCarty said. “When we lost David Accam, Katai was a guy that was brought in to replace that production and that danger. It took him a while to get going and now I think you’re starting to see the best of him and how dangerous he can be. He can play on either flank, he’s very good with the ball, he’s very technical. It should come as no surprise. You don’t earn a contract in Spain if you aren’t a good player.”

“So, selfishly, as a guy who appreciates good attacking talent, I would love for him to stay and to keep him,” McCarty added. “All I can say is that he makes us a better team in the attacking third and there’s no question about that.”

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