Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

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Anibaba returns to Fire starting lineup

Just a week ago there was a doubt that Jalil Anibaba would even be in the Fires starting 11 for Sundays home match against the Houston Dynamo. And, if he did play, there was a question of where hed fit in.

Cory Gibbs knee surgery on Tuesday answered both questions. Gibbs will be out four-six months as his torn meniscus heals, and second-year man Anibaba will be slotted into a central defenders role. Unfortunately, it happened because of Gibbs misfortune.

"Its devastating anytime you hear a teammate has to undergo surgery," said Anibaba. "Cory was definitely my mentor last season, and that continued into this one as well. We were under the impression that he wouldnt be out too long. Hes an irreplaceable to me and to the club."

Gibbs and Anibaba played together in the middle during the Fires first three matches of the Major League Soccer season. Newly-acquired German defender Arne Friedrich, however, improved his fitness as the Fire trained through a two-week break in league games. A veteran of 82 games for the powerful German national team, Friedrich figured to move into the lineup against Houston with Anibaba the likely man out in the middle.

Coach Frank Klopas, however, used Anibaba on the right side in last Saturdays friendly against the University of Louisville while Dan Gargan was nursing a sprained toe. If Gargan wasnt ready for Sunday, Anibaba could have be inserted in his spot.

Klopas used Anibaba on the right side at the start of his rookie season, but he prefers to play him in the middle of the four-man back line. Anibaba likes it better there, too.

"Ive just had more games there, more experience there," said Anibaba. "Thats where I played in college, but it comes down to where I can help the team the most."

Though Klopas prefers not to discuss lineup possibilities, there seems little doubt that Anibaba will play with Friedrich in the middle against the Dynamo -- Gargan seems likely to return on the right. Anibaba isnt worried about adjusting to Friedrich, a vocal leader, after spending so much time with Gibbs, who played 19 times for the U.S. national team and also had playing time with European clubs.

"Both are easy to play with," said Anibaba. "Theyve been with elite clubs and their experiences are very comparable, though their styles are a little different."

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play well in its last game with Gibbs and Anibaba together (a 2-0 loss at Colorado on April 1). Anibaba says a bounce-back is vital, no matter whos in the lineup.

"We dont have an option but to bounce back," he said. "The seasons not going to stop."

Elsewhere in the lineup, theres some doubt about the starting goalkeeper. Sean Johnson figures to make his first MLS appearance of the season after Paolo Tornaghi started the first three. Klopas wanted Johnson to get some game time after he basically just trained with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 squad since last season ended.

Johnson played in two reserve matches and was in for the first 45 minutes of the Louisville friendly since the Fires loss at Colorado, so he got some game action. The Fire, however, lost both of those reserve matches -- not a good omen going into the second home game of the season.

"Well be excited playing at home," said Anibaba. "Houstons a good side, plays well together and is very dangerous on set pieces. Itll be a battle for 90 minutes."

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

[PHOTO] Joe Maddon, Miguel Montero patch things up over a drink

Despite the Cubs ending their 108-year World Series drought, Miguel Montero made offseason headlines for all the wrong reasons when he complained about his role in the Cubs' 2017 championship campaign.

Montero criticized Maddon's communication skills, catching rotation and bullpen decision-making after the team's Grant Park celebration. Maddon brushed off the criticism, and last week at spring training Montero said he hadn't spoke with the Cubs' skipper.

That tension appears to be all but a thing of the past, as Montero posted this picture of him and his manager sharing a drink together sporting nothing but smiles.

It's safe to say Montero would describe his relationship with Maddon now as: #WeAreGood.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

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