From Comcast SportsNetENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Broncos linebacker Joe Mays was strolling through the grocery store earlier this week when he spotted a family decked out in Pittsburgh Steelers garb. The invasion of Pittsburgh fans has already begun. In his own neighborhood, no less. Wait until Sunday. Billed as Broncos country, this region will be transformed into Steelers territory with Ben Roethlisberger & Co. arriving in the Mile High City for a first-round playoff game. Pittsburgh fans have always traveled well for big games, doing their best to bring some home-field advantage on the road with their numbers and noise. That's why Broncos coach John Fox urged fans not to sell their tickets to Steelers supporters. The last thing Fox wants to see this weekend is a sea of yellow Terrible Towels in the stadium. "I would encourage all of them to keep their seats so to speak and not sell them to Pittsburgh fans, so our stadium remains as active and loud as it's been," Fox said. "More blue and orange as opposed to (black) and gold." Shutting out Pittsburgh's faithful probably won't happen. They were certainly a roaring bunch during the 2005 AFC Championship, rooting on the Steelers to a 34-17 win in Denver on their way to another Super Bowl title. The sight of so much black and gold on the road never gets old for Roethlisberger. "I think it kind of blows most people away," he said. "When you're on the road and you have guys on other teams that aren't used to seeing that, and all of a sudden they see the Steeler fans come in and their like, Holy cow, what's going on?' It's a pretty neat feeling." According to SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that pulls together listings from all major secondary ticket websites, Pittsburgh fans just seem to find a way to get their hands on tickets. A good portion of ticket shoppers scouring SeatGeek for deals for the playoff game are from the Pennsylvania area. "The Steelers simply are a massive road draw, and their fans come out of the woodwork to show up -- wherever they are playing," said Will Flaherty, the director of communications at SeatGeek. "We see it week in and week out whenever the Steelers hit the road in the NFL in terms of elevated secondary market prices, and this weekend is no exception to that trend." There may be even more tickets available from disgruntled Broncos season-ticket holders. Sure, this is the Broncos' first postseason appearance in six years, but the recent poor play of Tim Tebow, along with conservative, predictable play calling, has turned off some die-hard Denver fans. The Broncos had far more punts (nine) than points (three) in a loss to Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. The Broncos' third straight loss nearly cost them a playoff spot, but they were bailed out when San Diego beat Oakland later Sunday. "That game was one step above watching paint dry," said Todd Tenenbaum, who's from Denver and has had season tickets in his family since the franchise's birth in 1960. "To watch the running back and quarterback bump into each other to see who can get up the middle first is just boring. "I'd rather stay home and watch Wizards of Waverly Place' with my kids." As for heeding Fox's advice, Tenenbaum said he's taking it under advisement. "Because of the value of the tickets and that most likely Pittsburgh is going to cream us, I'd rather sell to a Pittsburgh fan that I know," he said. "That way, they can enjoy the game. "I feel guilty about selling." Steelers fans often make road games feel just like Heinz Field. "I'm continually surprised and awed by that, particularly when we're out west," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got world championship-caliber fans, and that's why we work so hard to produce results on the field for them." Broncos running back Lance Ball can't get away from Steelersmania. He hears about it all the time since his brother is a big Pittsburgh fan. "He's on both sides. I think he'll wear a half (jersey of each)," Ball said, laughing. "Pittsburgh is one of America's teams. They've been around. They're a favorite, just like the Cowboys." As for the partisan crowd, Ball said it won't bother him. After all, the Broncos went 3-5 at home, 5-3 on the road. "I like playing in an away-game type of field," Ball said. "But we're at home. We have to take it like that. It's our house."
A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.
Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.
That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.
Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.
This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?
“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”
Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.
“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”
So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.
“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”
Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.
Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.
Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.
“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”
The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.
“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”
The Cubs are reportedly adding another pitcher to their 2017 mix.
According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have agreed to a deal with veteran left-hander Brett Anderson.
Sources: Brett Anderson has deal with #Cubs, pending physical. Impressed club during recent bullpen session in Arizona.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 24, 2017
Anderson would add to #Cubs’ rotation options, but his physical will be critical. Has appeared in only 65 games past five seasons.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 24, 2017
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Anderson started his career with a bang back in 2009, starting 30 games and striking out 150 batters for the Oakland A's and finishing in the top 10 in American League Rookie of the Year voting. But while he pitched well in some of the years that followed, staying healthy has been a consistent challenge.
After making those 30 starts in 2009, he started 19 games in 2010, then 13 in 2011, then a total of just 19 over the next three seasons, the third coming with the Colorado Rockies.
He burst back onto the scene with 31 starts (and a 3.69 ERA) with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. But last season with the Dodgers, he appeared in only four games, making just three starts.
All in all, Anderson has a 3.86 career ERA in 685 2/3 innings over 127 appearances, 115 of which have been starts.
While the Cubs' rotation is packed at the top with Cy Young contenders Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks — and John Lackey has the No. 4 spot nailed down — the fifth spot is a bit more of an uncertainty. Mike Montgomery figures to be the favorite, but perhaps Anderson could get himself into the mix.
Regardless, he's en route to the Windy City.
Wheels up to Chicago...I bet it's cold there.— Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson35) January 23, 2017