The seventh match of the season is a bit early to be thinking about must-win games, but a look at the Chicago Fire's early results and schedule shows why there should be a bit more desperation.
The Fire host D.C. United on Saturday (4 p.m. on CSN; coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live) and need three points to avoid putting themselves in an early hole in the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
After playing four of the first six matches at home against all against Eastern Conference teams, the Fire (1-2-3, 6 points) have just one win. On top of that, the next three games are all on the road in an eight-day period. Getting points during that stretch will be difficult. That's why Saturday's game against D.C. (2-3-3, 9 points) is about as important as a late-April game can be.
"The team we have a good feeling," Fire midfielder John Goossens said. "We are waiting on the results. We are working hard for it. Last week was really hard sessions. We trained really hard and we have to show it on the weekend.”
On the other side, D.C. has two shutout victories in its last three matches after going winless through five. The veteran team is crushed with injuries at the moment.
Standout goalkeeper Bill Hamid has been out all season and his replacement Andrew Dykstra, a former Fire keeper, has been out since starting the opener. Charlie Horton, who was acquired due to the absence of Hamid, is also out injured. Second-year player Travis Worra has started each match since.
Forward Fabian Espindola, who has three goals so far, picked up a hamstring injury last weekend and is out. He will likely be replaced by Alvaro Sabario at forward, who will pair with former Fire forward Chris Rolfe up top. Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas is suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
In addition to Rolfe, Saturday marks the return of longtime Fire player Patrick Nyarko. Nyarko was traded by the Fire in the offseason after playing eight seasons for the Chicago club. Nyarko has made seven starts for United.
“I think they have good individual quality," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said of D.C. "They have also experienced players, many of them have played a long time together so that’s a great advantage for their team. I think they are very good on the counter also and very good on set pieces so we will work on that to prepare as much as we can... We have to be smart and don’t concede fouls and corners and set pieces in our half.”
On the Fire injury front, David Accam is still out with a knee injury. Rookie Alex Morrell, who has come on as a sub in each of the last two matches, is also listed as out in the injury report due to a calf strain.
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
When: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
TV: CSN Chicago (simulcast in Spanish on CSN+)
Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
Cubs nation can breathe a sigh of relief: Kris Bryant is considered just day-to-day with an ankle injury.
In fact, Bryant may even see game action in the latter innings of Friday's game against the Atlanta Braves.
Bryant suffered the ankle injury running the bases Thursday and a precautionary MRI showed nothing more than a mild sprain.
The Cubs kept him out of the lineup for Friday's action and Bryant will stay in the training room at the beginning of the game.
But if the team needs his bat late in the game, that could be a possibility.
"We'll know game-in-progress whether or not he's able to hit late if we need that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
The Cubs lineup is deep, but they can't really afford to be without Bryant for any extended period of time with Kyle Schwarber already lost for the season and Miguel Montero placed on the disabled list Thursday.
That's a big reason why they opted to play it safe with Bryant's ankle and give him time to heal so this doesn't become a lingering issue.
"[Ankle injuries] are tricky," Maddon said. "[Cubs trainer P.J. Mainville] seems to be optimistic about this whole thing. I think if we just kinda rest him a little bit right now and not really abuse it right now, then it should go away relatively fast.
"The thing with sprained ankles is always if you re-jam it somehow. That's the problem. You could be feeling fine after maybe a week or two weeks and all of a sudden, you just hit it wrong and you feel it.
"The biggest concern is always that somebody's not able to hurt themselves further. You can play with a soreness as long as there's no threat for a greater injury."
Bryant is currently hitting .289 with an .878 OPS, four homers and 15 RBI through the Cubs' 16-5 start.
Andrew Ladd’s second stint in Chicago was, in some ways, like his first one.
He had good teammates and enjoyed being around them again. He had nothing but good things to say about the organization that welcomed him here for the second time in his career.
The only difference was the abrupt postseason ending.
“It’s disappointing, for sure,” Ladd said during Wednesday’s wrap-up interviews. “You bring your family here and move your whole life. You want to make a run for it, make it worthwhile. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.”
Ladd’s stay with the Blackhawks is likely to be a brief one. They traded for the veteran, who was part of their 2010 Stanley Cup team, figuring he could be a key piece for another run. It wasn’t to be. Ladd had a quiet postseason, recording just two points in the Blackhawks’ seven-game series against the St. Louis Blues.
“It was a tight series, could’ve gone either way and that’s life,” he said. “You move on. Just happy to have the opportunity to come back and be a part of this group again.”
Ladd has reached that point in his career where he can look at the big picture. He’s won two Cups, one with the Blackhawks and the other with the Carolina Hurricanes. His family grew by another member earlier this month; Ladd brought his his son Walker Gordon, born April 14, home on Tuesday.
“It was a good day after what happened in St. Louis,” Ladd said. “It kind of put things in perspective when you can come home and take your mind off everything else.”
As for Ladd’s continuing hockey career, he said it’s not about getting the lucrative contract anymore as much as it’s about playing for a winner.
“I think I’m at the point in my career where I can make decisions based on being in a good situation. At the end of the day it’s not all about money for me. It’s about being in a good place for my family and being on a team that’s going to contend every year,” Ladd said. “You’d be crazy not to want to be a part of this group and this organization. We’ll see what happens.”
Chances are the Blackhawks and Ladd will not be together in the near future. The Blackhawks are once again facing a salary-cap crunch and, if there is a high-priority signee for them, it’s Andrew Shaw. Even that possibility is a tough one.
Still, Ladd’s not ruling anything out. Ladd’s latest playoff run with the Blackhawks was much shorter than he or they would have liked. But the Blackhawks have the pieces to contend again, and Ladd wouldn’t mind being a part of it.
“Every guy’s at a different point in his career in terms of what he wants to accomplish, whether he has a family or he’s getting on later in his career and wants to be part of a contender,” Ladd said. “There are a lot of things that go into that. You evaluate that individually and try to make the best decision possible for yourself and for your family. At the end of the day, you try to do whatever’s possible to be a part of a group and an organization like this.”