After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break


After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break

This will be a long two weeks off for the Fire.

Granted, the Fire is much better than it was a year ago, when it was stumbling badly under coach Carlos de los Cobos, who was replaced early last seasons after winning just 10 of 44 games.

Frank Klopas, the technical director, replaced de los Cobos on an interim basis and owner Andrew Hauptman elevated Klopas to head coach in the last offseason after the Fire finished 2011 strong. Klopas is 11-10-13 as the Fires head coach and 5-5-3 this season, but that record could be much better and theres no momentum working now.

The Fire has yet to win two in a row and lost its last three games going into the break, during which Major League Soccer stops its games so that its players can compete for national teams in World Cup, qualifying and other international matches. The Fire has only one such player in that boat. Midfielder Marco Pappa missed the three losses to be with Guatemalas national team. He helped Guatemala to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday night in his countrys last tuneup match for the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

Pappa would have helped, but its doubtful he alone could have stemmed the recent slump. The Fire lost 2-1 at Columbus in MLS play on May 26, then took a loss in second-half stoppage time to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League three nights later in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and concluded the dismal stretch with a 2-0 road loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

The next match isnt until June 17, a battle with the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park, and the Fire has plenty to think about before then. Some soul-searching is definitely in order.

Klopas, his team enduring a busy May, tried to look at the big picture at the end of the month. Acknowledging the fact that lots of a long season is still ahead, Klopas gave veteran mainstays Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo significant time off during the busy stretch. That didnt help in the Fire getting results because the reserves didnt do their part.

The loss at New England (5-7-1) was a real downer, as Klopas sent Grazzini, Pause and Pardo back into the first 11 and also had Chris Rolfe available for the first time since he rejoined the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Re-signed on April 16, Rolfe --the second-best goal-scorer in Fire history -- replaced Dominic Oduro in the 69th minute. Sidelined by a sprained ankle he suffered in his second day of training with the Fire keeping him out for six weeks, Rolfe did little in his return to the lineup.

Neither did Orr Barouch, a spark off the bench last season. He got a rare start, but didnt take advantage of it. Klopas pulled him for Frederico Puppo in the 75th minute. Rafael Robayo replaced Pause after the Fire surrendered the games first goal for the 10th time in MLS games this season. Lack of focus at the start of games is increasingly becoming a serious concern for the Fire.

Oduro, possibly bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, couldnt get his team going this time. The break will do him some good. It should also enable Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, to shake off a right hamstring strain that kept him out during the three-game slump. The Fire badly needs him, with second-year man Jalil Anibaba and rookie Austin Berry showing signs of their relative inexperience.

The Fire hit the post twice (Gonzalo Segares in the first half and Oduro early in the second) before New England got the first goal, from rookie Kelyn Rowe, in the 70th minute just seconds after Rolfe came on for Oduro. Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on Rowes goal, added an insurance goal for the Revs in the 73rd minute. Rowe, a second half sub, also assisted on Feilhabers goal.

Saturdays match was the 60th between the Fire and Revs across all competitions and the Fire had dominated in recent MLS meetings, going 7-0-3 since the last previous loss on May 6, 2007. The Fire still owns a 28-22-10 edge against its most frequent league rival, but Saturdays loss was a painful one. The clubs meet two more times this regular season.

New England is one of the few MLS teams still playing in a non-soccer specific stadium. Gillette Stadium, home of footballs New England Patriots, is too big for the Revs and that fact was accentuated on a rainy night against the Fire. The crowd of just 12,523 looked especially sparse and the atmosphere was lacking.

Thats no excuse for the Fire, which is still in a fight for playoff position with two-thirds of the MLS regular season still ahead. The Fire will have to play much better than it did in the last week before the break if its to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2009 when Denis Hamlett was the head coach.

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

Morning Update: Cubs tie up World Series with Game 2 win; Bulls begin season against Celtics

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Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

Cubs offense settling into World Series groove

CLEVELAND - It doesn't take long for the 2016 Cubs to rebound.

Their American League-style lineup is just simply too talented to keep down for an extended period of time, especially with Kyle Schwarber now added back into the fold.

They Cubs hitters are so confident, they even left Progressive Field feeling good about themselves despite being shut out in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Cubs got on the board early Wednesday night, plating a run on the third batter of the game as Anthony Rizzo doubled home Kris Bryant.

"Take the momentum away. Take the crowd out of it," Bryant said. "It's nice to score first. Especially when you're the visiting team, to get out there and score within the first three batters is huge."

The early lead helped the lineup settle in and keep their foot on the gas for a 5-1 victory to take the series back to Wrigley Field tied one game apiece.

"Especially with a young lineup, I think when you see a few guys go up there and take some good quality at-bats, one happens after the other and the other guys seem to do the same thing," Ben Zobrist said. "It takes a lot of pressure off. When you see other guys having good, quality at-bats, you don't feel like you have to take pitches and you can be aggressive early on. 

"Oftentimes when you're aggressive in the zone is when you take the tough ones. We did a good job tonight laying off some good pitches. When they made mistakes in the zone, we really hit the ball hard. Even though we scored five runs, obviously we had a lot of baserunners on and we could've scored a lot more."

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Zobrist has a point.

The night after leaving nine runners on base and going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position, the Cubs left 13 runners on base and tallied just three hits in 12 tries with runners in scoring position.

Between nine hits and eight walks, there were Cubs on base all game. Indians pitchers didn't retire Cubs hitters in order in an inning until the seventh.

The Cubs also forced the Indians to throw 196 pitches in nine innings and worked starter Trevor Bauer to 51 pitches through the first two frames.

"That was good for us," Bryant said. "We saw a lot of their bullpen, so we have a lot of information to learn from and hopefully use in the next game."

Anthony Rizzo summed up the lineup's mentality simply:

"Grind out at-bats, work the pitcher's pitch count up and get the next guy up," he said.

That "pass the baton" mentality is what drives this offense and after a brief lull in that regard in Los Angeles when they were shut out in back-to-back games in the NLCS, the Cubs leave Cleveland feeling pretty good.

"When we're able to [get pitch counts up], you can kinda feel it - our offense really feeds off of that," Zobrist said. "We believe that we're going to break through eventually."