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Chicago Fire sign Aleksandar Katai, forming Serbian tandem with Nikolic

Aleksandar Katai of Serbia in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between Serbia and Austria at stadium Rajko Mitic on October 9, 2016 in Belgrade. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

The Chicago Fire announced Tuesday the signing of Serbian midfielder Aleksandar Katai, on loan with an option to buy from La Liga side Alaves for the 2018 MLS season.

“Aleksandar should make our attack more diversified,” said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez in a club statement.

“He has the ability to turn a game on a single play whether it be off the dribble, with a pass or cross or even on set pieces. His desire to triumph should also fit well in our locker room.”

Katai, standing at 6 feet and weighing 155 pounds, is an attacking midfielder skilled with both feet. He is most known for his versatility, despite mostly playing on the right side, is capable of featuring on the left, center, and even center forward. He can also create offense and provide assists thanks to his good ball-handling.

He developed in the youth ranks of his native land’s club, Vojvodina, where he debuted and featured until 2011, when he made the jump to the Greek Super League to sign with Olympiacos, managed then by current Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde.

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According to sources, in his first training session at Olympiacos, Valverde told Katai he must improve his defending. Since then, Katai failed to make a single appearance with the Greek club, and started a myriad of loan spells (Crete and Platanias in Greece, Vojvodina and Red Star Belgrade in Serbia) from 2011 through 2015, the year his Olympiacos contract ended, allowing him to sign permanently with Red Star.

There, with the number 10 on his back, he played his best season as a professional in 2015-2016, scoring 23 goals in 37 matches, for which he earned a call-up to the Serbian national team (he has made six appearances total) and a move to Alaves in August of 2016. At Alaves, Katai scored three goals and provided four assists in 23 games. However, his impact on the Spanish side began to fade, as did his minutes. He has only made three appearances this season (two in La Liga and one in Copa del Rey) for a total of 64 minutes.

Now, Katai arrives MLS to relaunch his career and, if possible, earn a spot in the Serbia squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He will have a fair chance to earn minutes because, after the departure of Juninho, the club has lacked someone with the ability to create play in the midfield.

In addition, Katai will not have problems with a language barrier or adapting to a playing style, considering now the team has three Serbians in Katai, manager Veljko Paunvoic, and striker Nemanja Nikolic, with whom he is expected to form an explosive tandem.

“I am excited to join my new teammates and for the opportunity to work with Veljko Paunovic and the rest of the coaching staff,” said Katai in the statement released by the club.

“We will do everything to win a championship for the city and our supporters, and I can’t wait to score in front of our fans.”

Katai, who is currently valued at $1.2 million according to Transfermarkt (down from $3.4 million in 2016), will not occupy the third Designated Player spot, which keeps the possibility of a big transfer still open.

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