Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

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Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 11:20 a.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

Not much is expected from the expansion Portland Timbers this season. After all, its a squad assembled from the rest of the leagues castoffs. But for the Chicago Fire, Thursdays matchup with the Timbers is one of the biggest games on its schedule.

These are the games that we play for, as a professional, Fire defender Cory Gibbs said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Ive tried to translate this to the team. Ive been there many times, fortunately, in my career. These are games that we strive to play.

How can that be? Portland has not won a game all season, and the Timbers currently sit at the bottom of the league table.

The Fire can thank the MLS schedule makers for adding a few layers of intrigue and drama to the first meeting between the clubs. Thursday, the Timbers will play their first home game in MLS, opening their renovated ground, Jeld-Wen Field, to what is sure to be a capacity crowd of rabid Timbers supporters.

The Fire, coming off a 2-1 defeat in front of 36,223 fans in Seattle on Saturday, are excited for another opportunity to play in a tough atmosphere.

We know that this game is going to be a lot harder than the Seattle game in terms of: expansion team, season opener, they havent won a game yet, and theyre going to have a lot to prove to their fans, Gibbs said. We should expect a lot of pressure in terms of intensity from them, and aggression from them.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos isnt keen on overhyping the game, but sees an opportunity for his squad to right the ship after a strong, but ultimately disappointing result in Seattle.

Each match is a different situation, de los Cobos said on a conference call Thursday. Portland is a new team in the league, but the attitude for sure will be very important for this kind of match, because we are coming with a bad result we need to add points. Portland is in front of its fans, but we keep playing like we are playing, good results are coming for us.

The story through the Fires opening matches has been strong play, but missed opportunities. Given their form, the Fire could easily be 3-0-0 instead of 1-1-1.

We just need to fine tune a couple of things we made mistakes on and easily the game could have gone the other way, Gibbs said. We left out of that game in Seattle, in all honesty, with a lot of confidence, knowing that even though we werent victorious in that game, were going to have a bright future if we play together and just believe in one another.

In each of the Fires first three games, striker Gaston Puerari has had breakaway opportunities, going one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Against FC Dallas and Seattle, Pueraris shots were saved. Gibbs brought up the breakaways as missed chances, but both he and de los Cobos pointed Seattles opening goal as something that cannot happen again.

Both said that goal, a header scored by Sounders forward OBrian White from 16 yards out, was a momentary lapse of strong play for the Fire. Even double-marked, White was still able to win the ball in the air and send it into the net. Portlands best chances on Thursday will likely come in a similar form.

The Timbers star, six-foot-three striker Kenny Cooper, poses an arial threat the Fire havent yet seen this season. The lessons of Whites goal Saturday have not been lost on de los Cobos, and the team has prepared in training to shut down the arial game.

We need to stay alert about this kind of situation, de los Cobos said. Against Seattle, we had one mistake in the box, one cross, and this guy OBrian White take advantage about this. Overall, with Cooper, he is better with the head. We need to stay alert, we need to stay close with him.

Gibbs play on the backline will be vital to making those tactics work. After injuring his right groin last week, Gibbs was a game-time decision for the Fire on Saturday. Gibbs played, despite not being 100 percent, and went the full 90 minutes in the loss.

The Fire is set to play three games in eight days, a stretch that ends Sunday at Toyota Park against the Los Angeles Galaxy, and with centerback Josip Mikilic out indefinitely, more injuries to the backline could be detrimental to positive results.

Ive always had the mentality where if I was somewhat ready, Im definitely going to go, Gibbs said. Thats what Ive been brought here to do. Im not trying to sit out. It just feels good to go 100 percent at training again without any qualms.

Gibbs expects to play both Thursday and Sunday. After all, these are the games he plays for.

Even though we have a quick turnaround, and we get back late Friday from Portland, you look forward to get another opportunity in terms of playing big games like we are going to do Sunday, Gibbs said. Its a great challenge for us in terms of testing our morale and testing where we are as a team.

Gibbs said that hell be sad to see the stretch of big-time games stop.

How great would it be if we turned around after Sunday and played Salt Lake? Gibbs said. For me, Salt Lake is on the top of their game, and we strive to play teams in games like that. You look to play these big games. As a team, weve all understood that. And Thursday, in Portland, in their season opener is something were biting for and we cant wait to step on that field Thursday and then turn around Sunday. Not looking past Portland, but knowing that Sunday is going to be another huge one.

The Fire and Timbers will kick off at 10 pm central Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Bulls: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder

Bulls: Jimmy Butler says he no longer wears a chip on his shoulder

The biggest thing on Jimmy Butler—next to his haircut—has likely been the golden nugget-sized chip on his shoulder he proudly wore on his journey from non-entity to All-Star and Olympian.

However, Butler claims that invisible attribute that has taken him to unforeseen heights is gone as he’s two months away from leading a Bulls team that has undergone the most significant roster overhaul in his career.

Perhaps it’s a tacit admission about changing his leadership style, but it’s certainly a change on face value.

“I don’t think I have a chip on my shoulder anymore,” Butler said at USA Basketball practice at the United Center Thursday, one day before an exhibition against Venezuela. “I don’t think I have too much to prove like back in the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t work hard or anything. I just think I go about things a little differently.”

He didn’t actually specify how he’ll do things differently but perhaps the quest for validation that has driven him to insatiable heights and a few questionable moments on the way is over.

With Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose dispatched to New York, followed by the surprising additions of ring bearers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, perhaps he’s feeling more secure about where he ranks on the team masthead.

“I think I have to catch up with them, with the winning mentality,” Butler said. “I think I can learn a lot from those guys. D-Wade, multiple championships. Rondo bringing in his intensity.”

[MORE: Bulls release 2016 preseason schedule]

Wade and Rondo have the championship receipts that Butler doesn’t have, so Butler feels he’ll learn more from them as opposed to worrying about the on-court fit that on paper, doesn’t seem to be ideal.

“I don’t do the analytics and numbers. D-Wade has put the ball in the basket for a number of years,” Butler said. “He’s a great player because of the way he can score. I don’t think you can call him a non-shooter because he can shoot the ball.

“Rondo, call him what you want but he’s effective at what he does. Same thing with myself. You gotta be able to knock down shots.”

Before those new acquisitions, Butler had to deal with the belief he had Rose shipped out as a mark of some type of organizational power, as the two were never fully able to maximize their partnership on the floor to the tune of playoff success or even chemistry.

Then, in a stunning turn of events that seemed to indicate his fingerprints couldn’t be on much of anything, Butler had to endure trade rumors of his own the next day during the NBA draft.

He hasn’t spoken many times this offseason with the exception of summer league and an ESPN media tour in Los Angeles, but the proverbial scars are there and he addressed the rumors.

“That has nothing to do with me, I don’t move guys,” Butler said. “People are gonna think what they’re gonna think. I don’t let it bother me. I know where I stand, I know who I am. It’s one more thing for people to talk about. I don’t pay too much attention to it.”

He has spoken to Rose since the trade, as Rose attended an USA Basketball game in Los Angeles and the two chatted during the contest. And he exchanged texts with Noah after Noah broke the bank for a $72 million deal with the New York Knicks in free agency.

“We’ll always have love for each other because we’re always teammates, we’ve been in the trenches together.”

29 Days to Kickoff: Prospect

29 Days to Kickoff: Prospect

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: Prospect

Head coach: Mike Sebestyen

Assistant Coaches: Brock Collins, Tim Beishir, Tom Whalen, Nick Lussow, Don Sebestyen, Jeff Collier, Lance Burmeister

How they fared in 2015: 3-6 (2-3) Mid Suburban East Conference. Prospect failed to qualify for the 2015 IHSA state playoff field.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Is this the Year of the Knights in the Mid Suburban East?

Names to watch this season: OL Billy Matzek; OL Alex Palczewski

Biggest holes to fill:  Can anyone pick up the slack from graduated RB Bobby Jarosz?

EDGY's Early Take: With 14 starters back (six on offense, eight on defense) from a season ago will Prospect be able to convert that experience into a few more wins and a state playoff bid? If the Knights can find some answers in a few key spots, including the offensive skills department, this team could do some big things this fall.

Bears' first round pick Leonard Floyd leaves practice with illness

Bears' first round pick Leonard Floyd leaves practice with illness

Leonard Floyd provided a scare on the first day of practice at Bears training camp, but the first round pick appears fine.

Head coach John Fox said Floyd, who left Thursday's practice on a cart, is simply battling an illness and was not injured.

The Bears moved up in April's NFL Draft to select Floyd with the ninth overall pick. The outside linebacker tallied 17 sacks at Georgia and was projected to be in the mix as an outside rusher in the Bears' 3-4 defense.