Fire overcome by disturbing events

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Fire overcome by disturbing events

There were two disturbing things about the Fires match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, and neither involved the fact that the Major League Soccer franchise was eliminated by a team of kids from the Premier Development League.

No, the fact that the Fire got knocked out of the 99-year old summer-long tournament so early isnt that big a deal. Though the Fire takes the Open Cup competition more seriously than most MLS clubs and has won the Dewar Cup four times in 15 years, an early exit isnt that unusual.

The Fire is 5-5-1 in third-round matches (thats when the top eight MLS clubs begin in the competition each year). In 1999 the Fire coming off its sweep of the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its rousing inaugural season was put out of the Open Cup by the Rochester Rhinos 1-0. In 2002, the Fire was knocked out by the Milwaukee Rampage, also by a 1-0 margin, and in 2007 the Carolina RailHawks put the Fire out by the same score. Those three losses came on the road.

In 2010 the early knockout came at home, with the Charleston Battery doing the honors at Toyota Park.

So Tuesdays 2-1 setback at the hands of the Michigan Bucks shouldnt be disturbing. The Fire was playing its fourth match in 10 nights, and coach Frank Klopas started only two players who were in his first 11 in Saturdays 2-1 MLS loss at Columbus. Captain Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo didnt even make the trip. Neither did Marco Pappa, who was on national team duty for Guatemala.

Usual starters Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko made the trip but didnt play. Dominic Oduro didnt take the field until the 84th minute. At least the reserves received some much-needed playing time.

What is disturbing, though, is that Fire surrendered the first goal still again. The club has made that mistake nine times already in the MLS season. The teams 5-4-3 record shows the team has the gumption to battle back, but consistently falling behind never is a good thing.

Neither is the U.S. Soccer Federations policy for scheduling U.S. Open Cup matches. Theres no problem with coin tosses determining the home team, but never should a match be played indoors. Thats what the Fire had to do during its loss to the Michigan Bucks. Soccer, the 11-a-side version, is an outdoor sport. The Fire doesnt play indoors. In my book, the games shouldnt be played on artificial surfaces, though that was the case when the Fire used North Central College in Naperville as its home field a few years back when Soldier Field was undergoing a renovation and Toyota Park was still in the planning stages.

Having MLS teams play on the road against opponents in lower leagues is, in general, a good thing. It promotes the sport beyond MLS cities. The Fire-Bucks match was played at Ultimate Sports Arenas in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac and drew an estimated crowd of 2,000. Detroit doesnt have a professional soccer team, but surely there must have been an outdoor field suitable for such a significant match.

The Fire wasnt the only MLS team to be eliminated from the Open Cup by lower level opponents on Tuesday. If the Fire had won it would have faced the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park in its next match but the Crew lost, too. The Dayton Dutch Lions ousted the Crew.

Also bowing out of the Open Cup was the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy, the defending MLS champion. The Carolina RailHawks, winless in North American Soccer League Division II play this season, beat the Galaxy 2-1.

The Fire goes back to MLS play on Saturday with a road match against the New England Revolution, and the Revs were also knocked out of the Open Cup on Tuesday. They blew a 3-0 lead and lost in a shootout to the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer League Pro League Division III.

Other MLS losers on Tuesday were the Houston Dynamo (to the San Antonio Scorpions), FC Dallas (to the Charlotte Eagles), and Real Salt Lake (to the Minnesota Stars). Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United, the San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA and the Colorado Rapids won to give MLS a presence in the fourth round and the last two third-round matches are Wednesday night.

The Seattle Sounders, who beat the Fire in last years Open Cup final, are seeking a four-peat in the competition with the NASLs Atlanta Silverbacks the first opponent. The Portland Timbers are also in action, against California FC, an amateur club.

As for the Fire, the club can use a break. The Fire doesnt play at Toyota Park until June 17, when the Red Bulls visit. Therell be a big match in the Chicago area before that, however, and its sure to draw a big crowd to Soldier Field. The national teams of Mexico and Bosnia-Herzegovina collide there in an international friendly on Thursday.

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

Impressions of Aroldis Chapman as Cubs head to Dodger Stadium

SAN DIEGO – The Los Angeles Dodgers made an honorable no-tolerance statement on domestic violence, or their high-powered front office didn’t do enough homework on Aroldis Chapman, or a Hollywood franchise couldn’t deal with the bad optics.

Maybe all those factors swirled together as a deal with the Cincinnati Reds collapsed during the winter meetings, the police report surfacing weeks after an ugly incident at Chapman’s South Florida home. 

The New York Yankees scavenged and acquired the superstar closer at a steep discount in late December, before the Broward County State Attorney’s Office decided to not file criminal charges, and before Major League Baseball imposed a 30-game suspension to start this season. 

The Cubs handled Chapman’s transition in a clumsy, awkward manner after that blockbuster trade with the Yankees one month ago, looking unprepared for his welcome-to-Chicago press conference with coach Henry Blanco sitting there as the translator, and sounding insensitive when the Wrigley Field sound system played a 1997 Prodigy song called: “Smack My B---- Up.”

The Cubs hired a new translator – and fired a DJ – and now have Chapman’s 100-mph velocity waiting for a potential playoff preview that begins Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“The talent is even more impressive when you’re actually there watching it on your side,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That life at home plate is purely different. It’s just different what the baseball does.

“It’s obvious to me that you have to get in there and talk to him and develop that relationship. He’s smiling more easily already and the conversation’s actually coming back to me in English a little bit, which is fun to hear, so I’ve been really happy about that.”

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Whether or not Dodger fans stay until the end to watch a first-place team that has weathered Clayton Kershaw’s back injury – and the 26 other players who have spent time on the disabled list this season, tying a major-league record – watching Chapman is a unique experience even for an MVP candidate or a Cy Young Award winner. 

“It’s fun hearing the crowd do their oohs and aahs on every pitch,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, “how engaged they are, and how excited they are when he comes in to pitch.”

“A lot of the players are almost in the same amount of awe that the fans are,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “When you see a guy like Chapman go out there and compete and perform, there’s a lot of appreciation and respect for what he’s capable of, because, frankly, the game’s never really seen anything like it, especially from the left side. 

“We’ve seen a lot of hard throwers. But when you see a scouting report that’s 100-to-105 (mph), he’s a one-of-one type of guy. You definitely stop and watch when he’s out there.”

Chapman – who can cash in as a free agent after this season – has so far answered the legitimate questions about how he would fit into a laid-back clubhouse and effect best-team-in-baseball chemistry.

“He’s an absolute professional,” Arrieta said. “I’m very attentive to details. (I’m) watching the way he goes about his routine and (how) it starts for a 7 o’clock game. He’s starting right around 2:30, 3 o’clock, getting ready for that ninth inning.

“He’s getting his body ready. He’s getting his mind ready. You can see his focus. A guy like that, he obviously has his routine down extremely well, so it’s really nice to kind of watch him throughout the day. What’s he doing at 3:30? What’s he doing at 4:30? What’s he doing at 6 o’clock? He’s constantly doing things to prepare himself for those three outs.

“That’s why he’s so successful. Obviously, he’s very gifted. His velocity, his presence and his size alone are extremely tough to defeat. But when you see the amount of hours that he puts into those three outs, it makes you realize why he’s able to go out there and be as successful as he is.”

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Chapman hasn’t quite been the add-on to a dominant bullpen the Cubs envisioned, because top setup guy Pedro Strop (knee) and former closer Hector Rondon (triceps) are on the disabled list. Maddon also had to curb his enthusiasm for four-out saves and realize Chapman – who’s allowed four of eight inherited runners to score – prefers to work one inning at a time.  

But Chapman has been as good as advertised, going 9-for-11 in save chances, allowing two earned runs in 15 appearances and striking out 21 of the 48 batters he’s faced while giving up only three walks.   

“It’s probably a demoralizing feeling for the other team to see him warming up,” pitcher Jason Hammel said. “Big-league hitters will hit a fastball after a while if they see it enough. But he makes guys take some pretty silly hacks.”

“You can literally hear the ball out of his hand,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He can make the seams sing a little bit with the power he’s getting.”

Dodger Stadium draws celebrities to an iconic site, creates a sense of energy and gets louder and louder. But after a series of decisions that could echo into October, Wrigley Field is where Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasts from the speakers as Chapman warms up and the fans look up at the video board after each pitch.   

“The guys on the bench are like mimicking what the crowd is doing,” Maddon said. “It’s wonderful. How many pitchers elicit that kind of reaction? There’s a couple, but you’re anticipating that big number and we’ve never seen that here. 

“But most any place you’ve not seen it. (It’s) the reputation, where he’s come from – and his presence and how big he is – he’s so formidable and imposing. And now he’s our toy.”

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

White Sox rule Austin Jackson, Matt Davidson out for season

Austin Jackson and Matt Davidson are officially done for the season.

Meanwhile, the White Sox still remain hopeful that Brett Lawrie is on the mend after a second MRI.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday that Jackson, who had surgery June 10 to repair a medial meniscus tear in left knee, and Davidson, who had surgery after he fractured his right foot, won’t return this season.

“Austin is progressing, but it unfortunately it’s been a slow pace,” Hahn said. “He has not taken baseball activities. I wouldn’t expect him back this season.”

Jackson hit .254/.318/.343 with 18 RBIs in 203 plate appearances before he suffered the injury.

At the time of Jackson’s injury, Hahn didn’t think it would end his season. But, Hahn did say it would take at least six weeks before they could re-evaluate Jackson’s knee post-surgery and get a better determination of when he might return. Jackson’s re-evaluation was pushed back a few days from the six-week mark and the White Sox made it clear they weren’t optimistic about him returning.

Davidson went 1-for-2 with an RBI before he broke his foot running the bases in his first game of the season.

“(I) would not expect (Davidson) either. It was a pretty bad fracture. It’s progressing and he’s hitting the early milestones. There just isn’t enough time for either of those two.”

Lawrie, who has been on the disabled list since July 22, had a second MRI earlier this week and is being treated, Hahn said.

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Manager Robin Ventura has been adamant all along that Lawrie’s injury was tricky to diagnose. What began as a strained hamstring and later was thought to be a quad injury has been reclassified as a knee and calf issue. Hahn said the MRI showed the area is structurally sound.

“He received some medicine in the joint there,” Hahn said. “We’re let that work for a couple of days and we’ll ramp up the activity and see how it goes. No specific time frame.”

Miguel Gonzalez will participate in one more bullpen — possibly a simulated game — before he starts a rehab assignment, Ventura said. Gonzalez is on the DL with a strained right groin.

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Rookie class making much-needed impact from Bears

Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.

The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.

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Among the most significant:

No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd

The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.

Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.

No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair

After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.

“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”

No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”

No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall

The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week. 

Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.

“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”

No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard

Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.

“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”

Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.