Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

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Fire, Rolfe prepare to face Revolution

Finally the Fire can see how Chris Rolfe might perform in game situations.

Rolfe was no stranger to the Fire when the club signed him. He is the second-leading goal-scorer in franchise history, and he opted to return to Chicago after a three-year stint playing in Germany.

Two days into training with the Fire, Rolfe went down with a sprained left ankle. It took six weeks for the injury to heal, but Rolfe went through a full workout on Thursday and coach Frank Klopas said hell be available for selection in Saturdays road match against the New England Revolution.

The Fire needs the explosive striker after disappointing losses in the last two matches. The five-game road trip that the team took last week was a disaster a 2-1 loss at Columbus on Saturday in Major League Soccer play followed by a stoppage time defeat to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.

In retrospect, the Fire should have refused to play the Open Cup match in an indoor facility. Indoor soccer isnt the sport the Fire plays, and injuries can be factor in such matches. The Fire has had enough of those, with Rolfe and Arne Friedrich the primary examples.

Friedrich, the veteran German defender, remains out with a right hamstring strain and is targeting his return for the June 17 home match against the New York Red Bulls. He has plenty of time to rest until then, since the Fire and the rest of MLS goes on break while international matches take over the world soccer calendar. Only midfielder Marco Pappa will be playing games during that period, which begins after the New England match.

Pappa joined the Guatemala national team last week and missed the Open Cup match. He wont play against New England, either, as Guatemala a perfect 6-0-0 with 19 goals scored and only three allowed was terrific in the last round of World Cup qualifying.

In the present international period, he has a friendly with Costa Rica in Guatemala City on Friday night, then the first two matches of CONCACAF Group A play Wednesday, June 6, at Jamaica and a home match June 12 against the United States.

The only other Fire player away during the international period is Victor Pineda, who will train with the U.S. under-20 squad.

As for the New England match, the Fire (5-4-3) will be bolstered by more than just Rolfes return. Sebastian Grazzini, who didnt play at Columbus or in the Open Cup match, is expected back. Klopas opted to rest him, but he went through a full workout on Thursday before the Fire departed for New England.

Not everyone else is at full strength, but Patrick Nyarko, Dan Gargan and Dominic Oduro will be available. Nyarko had to take shots of the pain reliever Toradol in order to play in the last 10 games. Hes had hip, hamstring and rib problems. Gargan (left foot) and Oduro (hamstring) say their ailments are improving.

New England (4-7-1) also had a tough week, losing 3-2 at D.C. United on Saturday before being eliminated from the Open Cup with a Tuesday loss. With 18 points the Fire is tied in points with fourth-place Columbus in the Eastern Conference of MLS. New England is in seventh place.

Preview: Blackhawks open preseason against Penguins Wednesday on CSN+

Preview: Blackhawks open preseason against Penguins Wednesday on CSN+

Scott Darling and the Blackhawks open up preseason play against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+ at 7:30 p.m. 

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

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Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

As the noted philosopher once intoned, the past is for cowards and losers. Applied to the 2016 Bears, the latter already applies, though not wanting to look at the recent past shouldn’t be taken as evidence of cowardice, just not wanting to revisit pain.

Looking to the future is the obvious only option for an 0-3 football team.

“You’ve just got to go into every week like it’s a new week,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, one of the few encouraging parts of an injury-speckled defense, whose 34 tackles are approaching twice those of No. 2 Jacoby Glenn (19), with four tackles for loss vs. no one else with more than two.

“Every week is a new season regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. You can’t look back, you always have to look forward. Because if not, you won’t give the next team the respect they deserve and have another bad result.”

But the fan base can be excused for expecting a next bad result simply because the Bears have given zero indications that the future will be any better than the immediate past.

That is the signal concern: Who turns this around or, for that matter, even slows the rate of descent?

No Bears team has made the playoffs in a season that began with three straight losses. The 1932 team was winless in its first three, but those at least were scoreless ties. So postseason isn’t a relevant concept anymore except possibly as some sort of punchline.

But one vintage NFL axiom is that things from a game are seldom as bad upon later review than you thought they were at the time (they’re also never as good, either, but good hasn’t shown up yet). And turnarounds do happen.

But those do have to start somewhere. Any Bears season course correction for 2016 has three possible starting points:

A defensive 'village'

The Bears do not have elite talent on defense, meaning that the solution can come only from a marshaling of forces that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

John Fox teams are built on defense, and consensus had the Bears as potentially a top-10 defense before the successive miseries vs. Houston, Philadelphia and Dallas. The Bears have zero defensive star power at this point, which is a problem, by way of understatement.

Fox’s 2011 Denver team started 1-4, then reversed itself and made the playoffs at 8-8 with Tim Tebow as quarterback. (It also had Marion Barber stepping out of bounds and later fumbling away the Bears game, but never mind that for now.) But that team had Elvis Dumervil and a rookie Von Miller combining for 21 sacks. The Bears have a total of four sacks, and players representing 1.5 of those (Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan) are out indefinitely with injuries.

But linebacker Willie Young cut to the chase: “We have to control the running game before we can have fun in the backfield,” he said after the debacle in Dallas with the Cowboys rushing for 200 yards. “I don’t know what was going on. All I could do is ask the guys to give me all you got. One play at a time, just give me all you’ve got.”

That would be a place to start.

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Remember the 'Run and Shoop' offense?

John Shoop might have been the object of ridicule as Bears offensive coordinator. But when he took over after the defection of Gary Crowton to coach BYU, the Bears won two of their last three by running to the point of tackle James “Big Cat” Williams, nicknaming the offense the “Run and Shoop” offense. The linemen loved it initially because Shoop simply loaded up and ran the football and, most important, stayed with the plan.

The point is not to become plodding, which Shoop’s offense ultimately became. But the Bears abandoned the run at Dallas when they trailed 24-3 at halftime, even though they had the ball to start the third quarter and with one defensive stop after a touchdown could have been working to get within one score.

“It could have flipped quickly,” guard Kyle Long said. “One drive, it turns into a seven-point game, and that’s the NFL.”

The need for the Bears to run the football isn’t really worth spending time on. Obvious. The offensive line was built for running the football. But for various reasons coordinator Dowell Loggains has not had success with what was supposed to be the foundation of the offense. The Bears cannot win by being a pass-based team, regardless of whether Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley is doing the throwing.

The Bears will not be blowing out many, if any, teams. Their best option is to wear opponents down in first halves, live with Jordan Howard/Joique Bell/whomever netting 50 to 60 yards in a first half, then turning the two- to three-yard runs of the first half into four- to six-yarders in the second.

Shoop would like that.

Get one win

Playoff chances mean nothing. How good or bad the Bears are means nothing. All that matters is winning, not games, but one game. The next game. As Fox and other players have said, the Bears have not put together one complete game yet. That is not going to happen automatically, but one play, one quarter, one half at a time.

And they know it. “You want to win games,” Freeman said. “There’s no panic. There’s a sense of urgency, that’s for sure. We’ve got to put out this fire and put it out quick, like yesterday or the day before.”