Fire Postseason Report

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Fire Postseason Report

Major League Soccer is only in the early stages of its postseason tournament, but all the votes for the individual awards and Best XI selections had to be in last week.
The leagues Coach-of-the-Year wont be announced until Nov. 27, but competition for it took an unexpected twist on Friday when a prime candidate Jesse Marsch abruptly resigned as head man of the expansion Montreal Impact.
My vote for Coach-of-the-Year didnt go to Marsch. Not meaning to seem like a homer, but my choice was the Fires Frank Klopas. Klopas took a team that had 10 wins in 44 games in 1 seasons under his predecessor, Carlos de los Cobos. Under Klopas the Fire salvaged a .500 season (9-9-16) in 2011 and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 this season. The disappointing last six games notwithstanding, Klopas impact on his club was unmatched. Its improvement was largely due to coaching, as Klopas rosters reflected a massive rebuilding job.
While Klopas was my clear-cut choice for Coach-of-the-Year, my choice for second was Marsch. Ironically, Klopas and Marsch were teammates on the first Fire team that swept the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its inaugural 1998 season.
Marsch kept playing after that, and was a mainstay in the Fire midfield before finishing his career with four seasons as captain of Chivas USA. He clearly had the personality for coaching in his playing days, and his first head job with Montreal proved that.
The Impact had a slow start, not unusual for expansion clubs, but it challenged for a playoff berth before finishing 12-16-6 and in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Montreal owner Joey Saputo said the Impacts record had nothing to do with Marschs departure, said to be a mutual agreement by all involved in the decision-making.
"We did not share the same philosophy," said Marsch. "It wasnt easy, with the relationships weve built, but for me it was the right decision."
Montreal is way ahead of the rest of MLS in planning for 2013. The Impact leaves on Monday (Nov. 5) for 12-day tour of Italy, during which itll play two Serie A members, Bologna on Nov. 8 and Florentina on Nov. 15. The Impact is also the first MLS team to announce preseason plans for 2013. It will open camp on Jan. 19 and play in the Disney Pro tournament in Orlando, Fla., while training there from Feb. 9-23.
Two of Marschs assistants with Chicago ties will be on board at least for the Italian tour. Denis Hamlett, who took the Fire to the playoffs twice as its head coach in 2008 and 2009, and Mike Sorber, who completed his playing career in Chicago, were on Marschs staff.
As for Marsch, dont be surprised if he winds up coaching Chivas USA next season. That Los Angeles-based club struggled to a 7-18-9 record under the coaching of Robin Fraser this season. Only Toronto FC (which had 23 standings points) had few than Chivas USAs 30 this season.
WELCOME, COACH SERMANNI
The Fires season-ending 2-1 playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday coincided with the arrival of Tom Sermanni, who had just been named head coach of the U.S. womens team. He concluded the media rounds at Toyota Park in a pre-game meeting with reporters.
Sermanni, coach of the Australian national team for 11 years, has a tough act to follow. The U.S. women won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London and have been No. 1 in the FIFA Womens World Rankings since 2008.
"Most coaches come into a situation where a team is doing poorly and you want to try and turn things around," said Sermanni. "This is a different challenge, but the same principles apply. You just start from a much better base. You dont come into this job to make radical changes. You try to make the team even better, if thats possible. The most important thing is to try to keep winning.
Sermanni, in Chicago for just two days, will return to the U.S. in December to watch the last three matches of his new teams Fans Tribute Tour. Jill Ellis, U.S. womens development director for the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation, will coach those matches before Sermanni takes over on Jan. 1. Hes hopeful a U.S. womens pro league will be in place for 2013.
"Some of our players might want the experience of going to Europe, and that could be beneficial in some cases," Sermanni said. "But if a new league gets up and running here my preference would be for them to play here.
CALLING FIRE HOPEFULS
The first step for the Fire in preparation for next season is the two-day open tryout, to be held for the fifth time at Bridgeview Soccer & Sports Dome on Dec. 14-15.
Fire coaches will select one player from the tryout to participate in the first phase of the 2013 preseason. Only once has the survivor of the open tryout actually made the first team. In 2011 Mount Prospect defender Pari Pantazopoulos did it. He beat out over 200 candidates from 19 countries in the open tryout, then survived all three phases of the preseason to make the team. He didnt crack the roster for 2012, however.
Registration for the open tryout is 150, and the deadline is Dec. 11.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

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Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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