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After making difficult choice to leave Bundesliga, new Fire defender Rafael Czichos eager to live his dream in MLS

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New Fire defender Rafael Czichos is getting to live his dream of playing in Major League Soccer. But as happy as Czichos is to join the Fire, he did have to sacrifice something to make the move.

“I think the league is becoming better and better,” Czichos told the Sun-Times. “I love the country, I love the whole U.S. sport. It was always a goal for me to live in the States and now I can connect it with my job. I think it’s a really good opportunity for me. I’m really happy about it.”

Czichos, 31, was acquired from German Bundesliga club FC Köln on Jan. 2 and figures to take over the left center-back spot that was occupied last year by former Fire captain Francisco Calvo. Signed through the 2024 season, the Fire hope the left-footed Czichos will provide professionalism and leadership, and have the same steadying impact in Chicago that he had on his previous club.

Czichos, whose contract had been set to expire this summer, spent the last four years with Köln and helped them get back to the German top flight. Köln is currently in contention for a spot in European competition next season; so to switch to the Fire, Czichos had to leave a team that means something to him and is doing well in one of the world’s best leagues.

Czichos also said his family felt comfortable in Cologne, but they picked a “new experience” that would allow Czichos to get his wish to play in the U.S.

Staying through the rest of the Köln season and joining the Fire this summer, however, wasn’t an option. The Fire wanted Czichos in time for training camp, and he knows it’s easier to transition to the league in the winter instead of midseason.

“It was really hard [to leave Köln] because the last half-year was really fun,” Czichos said. “We were successful and the chemistry in the team was perfect [and] to work with the coaching staff was amazing. It was really difficult for me.”

It wasn’t easy for Köln, either, to let Czichos pursue another opportunity.

Though Czichos was one of the club’s leaders, team management didn’t want to stand between him and playing in MLS. After the transfer was announced, both Köln coach Steffen Baumgart and sporting director Jörg Jakobs praised Czichos.

Baumgart called Czichos a key player —which is borne out by his 16 starts and 17 appearances before departing — and described him as an “important point of contact for me on and off the pitch.”

“That’s why he was also one of the key figures in a sporting sense,” Baumgart said. “He is a straight-down-the-line, open guy with top character. You never like to see those types go. Rafa’s decision, to go down this path, is one that I accept with huge respect. It is a brave step, and I [wish] him only the best for his future in Chicago.”



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FC Dallas defender Justin Che headed to Hoffenheim – Loan-to-buy deal in place

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Return to Germany 

Six months after his loan at Bayern Munich expired, Justin Che appears to be on his way back to the Bundesliga. According to a report by the very reliable Sport 1 reporter Kerry Hau, the 18-year-old defender who has both a German and US passport is on the verge of joining Hoffenheim on an 18-month loan deal. Hoffenheim will have an option to make the deal permanent at any point during the loan. 

Bayern Munich were initially interested in a transfer, but Transfermarkt understands that interest cooled off in recent months due to Dallas’ negotiations tactics. As was the case with Ricardo Pepi, Dallas also preferred another destination. Pepi moved to Augsburg earlier this winter in a deal worth $18 million, including various performance-based incentives and a percentage of any future fee. Those sorts of incentives would have been more challenging to reach with Bayern. 

Che returns to Germany after spending the 2020/21 season in Germany. The Dallas academy product returned to Major League Soccer in June and played 15 games (three assists). Che can play both as center-back and as a right-back and will pair up with US compatriot Chris Richards at Hoffenheim. 

Pepi, Reynolds, Richards & Co.: FC Dallas record sales

Thiago Santos | To Grêmio in 2021 | Fee: $1.1m

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Chris Richards | To Bayern Munich in 2019 | Fee: $1.21m

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Juan Carlos Toja | To Steaua Bukarest in 2008 | Fee: $1.65m

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Anton Nedyalkov | To Ludogorets in 2018 | Fee: $2.2m

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Reggie Cannon | To Boavista in 2020 | Fee: 2.75m

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Fabián Castillo | To Trabzonspor in 2017 | Fee: $3m

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Loan fee and transfer fee combined.

Brek Shea | To Stoke City in 2013 | Fee: $3.3m

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Tanner Tessmann | To Venezia FC in 2021 | Fee: $4m

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Carlos Gruezo | To FC Augsburg in 2019 | Fee: $4.4m

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Bryan Reynolds | To AS Roma in 2021 | Fee: $7.43m

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Previously on loan

Ricardo Pepi | To FC Augsburg in 2022 | Fee: $18m

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Toronto FC’s GoalMachine takes home eMLS League Series One title

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It was a historic performance for the Toronto man, who just signed as the Reds’ eMLS representative in December and was making his debut appearance on the circuit. With the victory, he delivered Toronto FC’s first eMLS final appearance and championship in club history.

He got everything he could handle in the final from PauloNeto999, who had a 3-2 aggregate lead in the 88th minute of the second leg, only to see GoalMachine strike for a clutch late equalizer to force extra time.





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Lion Links: 1/16/22 – The Mane Land

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Hello, Mane Landers! This week kept The Mane Land staff team busy with breaking news, which must indicate the opening of Orlando City’s preseason camp is right around the corner. Tuesday, to be exact. Let’s head to the links!

Pato Returns to Orlando City

Orlando City announced Saturday morning the re-signing of center forward Alexandre Pato to a one-year deal. The Lions’ front office does not include financial terms when it announces transactions. However, multiple outlets reported the deal mostly consists of performance incentives. Pato was injured in the first game of last season and ultimately appeared in only four regular season matches and the Lions’ lone playoff game in Nashville. The accomplished Brazilian striker, if he can stay healthy, and Tesho Akindele are expected to provide goal-scoring depth behind whomever is acquired to succeed Daryl Dike up top. We’re going to sign more guys, right?

Moments after the club announced the return of Pato, which means “duck” in Portuguese, the Lions’ assistant general manager and technical director Ricardo Moreira tweeted perhaps the catchiest celebration of the news. LDG!

Pato shared an announcement video in which he promised “2022 will be better than the last one.”

Lions Announce 2022 Preseason Schedule

The Lions will face five MLS sides and Florida’s two USL Championship clubs in preseason action. All seven matches will be played behind closed doors. The preseason opener is Jan. 23 against an MLS club not yet named. Orlando City will also play Minnesota United, FC Dallas, and the Colorado Rapids. The Lions will battle the USL’s Miami FC, which is now led by former Orlando City B head coach Anthony Pulis. The Welshman played for Orlando City from 2012-2014 when it competed in USL Pro. The Lions and the Tampa Bay Rowdies square off on Feb. 19 to close out the schedule. Even though it’s a preseason match and the two teams compete in different tiers, is it still considered an I-4 derby? I think so.

Weston McKinnie Is On Fire

Juventus and U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Weston McKennie is the hottest American player in the world right now. McKennie headed in Juve’s second goal in its 2-0 triumph over Udinese yesterday, and he has now netted eight goals in 50 Serie A competitions. Yesterday’s goal followed one he scored in Juve’s Italian Supercoppa loss to Inter Milan on Wednesday. The American continues to improve on the pitch and that bodes well for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it prepares to resume Concacaf World Cup qualifiying later this month.

Reports: Che & Bassett to Europe; Arriola to Mexico City

MLSSoccer.com’s Transfer Tracker shared reports that two young MLS players will soon be loaned to European clubs for 18 months with options to buy. FC Dallas will reportedly send Homegrown defender Justin Che to the Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim and the Colorado Rapids will ship USMNT midfielder Cole Bassett to Eredivisie club Feyenoord. Club America is also expected to bring D.C. United and USMNT winger Paul Arriola back to Liga MX.

Man City Downs Chelsea, Coutinho Scores in Aston Villa Debut

A dazzling strike from Kevin De Bruyne lifted Manchester City over Chelsea yesterday to extend the Cityzens’ Premier League lead to 13 points. A close three-team battle for the Premier League crown is looking less likely.

Philippe Coutinho introduced himself to the Villa Park faithful with a game-tying goal after coming on as a substitute in Aston Villa’s come-from-behind 2-2 draw with Manchester United.

Free Kicks

Thanks for visiting, Mane Landers. Enjoy this week’s scenes from preseason camp.



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