Fire trigger option on Grazzini

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Fire trigger option on Grazzini

For the short term, at least, the Fire will be without Argentine midfielder Sebastian Grazzini for Friday night's road match against Sporting Kansas City.

"He won't make the trip to this one," Fire coach Frank Klopas said after Thursday's training session in Bridgeview. "He hasn't trained. Hopefully he'll be ready for the next one."

That would be Tuesday at Houston.

Grazzini's future with the Fire has been clouded the past few weeks, but Javier Leon, managing director of Andell Sports Group, cleared up some of the mystery on Thursday. Andell Sports Group operates the club for owner Andrew Hauptman.

The Fire signed Grazzini to a one-year contract midway through last season. That contract carried with it the club's option to keep him through the end of this season. In a weird series of developments, Grazzini told reporters two weeks ago that he wanted to stay with the team after his contract expires on Sunday but that he wanted a more lucrative deal. The Major League Soccer Players Association says he is being paid 50,000 for this season, which makes him one of the lowest-paid players on the club.

A week later, after discussions with Grazzini, his representatives and Andell staffers, Grazzini admitted that he didn't understand the terms of his contract. He played well in a 59-minute stint during the club's 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday, then showed a t-shirt saying "Thanks, Chicago" as he left the field. Some took that to mean he was bidding the club a fond farewell.

That apparently wasn't the case. Grazzini practiced with the Fire on Thursday but cordially declined a media interview afterwards. Leon and Klopas did all the talking on the matter.

"The Grazzini option has been triggered," Leon said, "and we expect him to be with us at least until the end of the year - and hopefully further than that."

Leon and Klopas insisted that the Fire always planned to exercise the club's option on Grazzini's services, which was part of a contract proposed by the players' representatives.

No announcement was made until Thursday, however, and the Fire signed well-regarded Brazilian midfielder Alex a month ago - an indication that a replacement for Grazzini was in place. Alex joined the Fire for training two weeks ago and will be eligible to play for the first time at Kansas City. Klopas said Alex will make the trip and that "he's an option" to take Grazzini's role in the first XI.

Leon acknowledged that the Fire's failure to make an announcement on exercising the option on Grazzini created speculation but blamed that on Grazzini.

"A month ago he came to us and said there were family issues he wanted to address and maybe he could go back to Argentina," said Leon. "So, we have been working with him to make him understand the commitment he's made to us. In our minds (exercising the option) was a done deal, but he asked us to explore the possibilities. That's why we didn't make an announcement. It was more semantics than anything else. There never was an issue about us picking up his option."

He also admitted that there were talks about the terms of Grazzini's contract, but Leon said, "We explained that we never negotiate a contract during the season." The existing pact expires after this season.

Leon wouldn't elaborate on Grazzini's "family issues" but the player did miss two days of training this week - the reason Klopas cited for leaving him off the travel roster. Leon said the family issue is "evolving."

"When you're dealing with family situations, there's always some difficulties," Leon said. "We want a Grazzini that is 100 percent. We're hoping the issues will be resolved and he'll be a happy player. We explained to him that he has to be 100 percent in."

Meanwhile, the club trimmed its roster in anticipation of picking up a player or two now that the international transfer window has opened. Kheli Dube, a forward acquired from the New England Revolution in this year's re-entry draft, was released and defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe was traded to Real Salt Lake for a 2014 draft pick. Neither Dube nor Watson-Siriboe appeared in a first team match this season.

The new players brought in at the start of this season have been only mildly successful. There have been reports that Uruguayan forward Federico Puppo, who has also been slow in adjusting to a new team, is furthered hampered by an ankle problem now and that Rafael Robayo, a backup midfielder, wants to return to his Colombian club.

Leon disputed the latter report.

"Robayo is interesting," he said. "He had a tremendous career in Colombia and wants to play more here."

There is no indication that will happen any time soon, though Klopas has not named a replacement for Grazzini at Kansas City. Klopas is hoping another forward, or perhaps a midfielder, can be added to the roster soon. Two names that have been mentioned are Andriy Shevchenko, the 35-year old Ukrainian striker who is hoping to move to Major League Soccer, and Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald.

Leon is not expecting "major changes" and is leery about bringing in established stars after the bad experiences with Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo two seasons ago. Both were brought in as Designated Players, which allows MLS teams to sign international players that put the team over the salary cap; neither stayed with the Fire after that campaign ended.

"One of the lessons we learned from the past is that it's not about one player. It's about the team," Leon said. "But we'll evaluate everything."

"You're always hoping a guy can come in and have an immediate impact," Klopas said, "but you've got to be realistic. The history of our club shows that it takes some time. There's an adjustment period for players coming in."

In addition to Grazzini and the injured Puppo, the Fire will be without defender Gonzalo Segares on Friday. He will serve a one-game suspension for the red card he drew in the Columbus match.

Larkin senior Christian Negron out for season with torn ACL

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Larkin senior Christian Negron out for season with torn ACL

Larkin forward Christian Negron, a major contender for the All-Area team this season, will miss his senior season with a torn ACL.

The bouncy 6-foot-6 forward has been a major force in the area since his varsity debut as a freshman for the Royals as he averaged 16.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, 3 assists and 2.2 steals per game last season.

Negron is coming off of a strong summer in which he played with the Puerto Rican national team during the U18 FIBA Americas. Leading in the team in scoring and rebounding, Negron averaged 13.4 points, 13.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game including 23 points and 13 rebounds against the gold-medal winning United States.

While Negron's local high school career is likely over, he had a great three seasons at Larkin and he still has a bright basketball future if he is able to recover. Considered a three-star recruit by Rivals.com, Negron recently cut his list to five schools as he is looking at Bradley, DePaul, Loyola, Oregon State and UAB.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

White Sox manager Robin Ventura declines to discuss future amid speculation about return

The uncertainty surrounding Robin Ventura’s future will drag on a little longer.

The White Sox manager — who doesn’t yet have a contract offer for 2017, according to a baseball source — said Wednesday afternoon that he intends to wait until the current season is complete to discuss what’s next.

Ventura’s fifth season at the helm concludes on Sunday and according to USA Today report, the door has potentially been opened for a sixth. But Ventura didn’t broach the topic during Wednesday’s pregame media session and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn wasn’t available for comment. Hahn has previously said he’d wait for the season to end to talk and is expected to address the media on Monday, according to team officials.

“I appreciate all the concern,” Ventura said. “But like I’ve said all year long, I’m waiting until the end of the year. Rick and I always have discussions, but I’m waiting until the end of the year. 

“I’m not going to get into it. But I’ve always felt, especially this year, that I’m going to wait until the end of the year. 

“That’s just the way I like to do it.”

The White Sox are headed for their fourth straight sub-.500 record under Ventura unless they win their final five games. The club has only posted a winning record in Ventura’s first season (2012) and they’re 373-432 overall during his tenure.

The USA Today report suggested the decision on whether or not Ventura would return in 2017 is up to him. Ventura said he likes his job and also is aggravated by it. He’s disappointed with the team’s failures in 2016 after a 23-10 start and wouldn’t discuss whether or not he was interested in managing were the team to go into rebuild mode. Ventura also said he’s more focused on the club’s day-to-day operations.

“I enjoy the job,” Ventura said. “Right now we’re dealing with rain and trying to figure out how we’re going to do this. I’m figuring out how to get to the end of the year right now. That’s the biggest concern, and making sure everybody finishes it on the way that they should professionally.”

Outfielder Adam Eaton supported Ventura and said his even-keel management style is effective. Eaton said he’d welcome Ventura back. But Eaton also knows the decision isn’t his to make.

“I’ve always enjoyed Robin,” Eaton said. “I’ve always backed Robin. I think he’s a tremendous manager, people person, communicator. So for me I’ve enjoyed my time with him. I’d welcome him back. I’d love to have him back, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the higher-ups again.”

Ventura’s one concern is that the issue distracts from his players’ preparation over the final five games. Given everything else that has occurred this season, from the Adam LaRoche saga in spring training to Chris Sale’s suspension in July, Ventura wants to avoid adding another distraction. It’s one of the main reasons he has pushed off talking about his future.

“It was quite a ride,” Ventura said. “It really was. You just deal with it when it happens. Like I said, every team has its challenge and this one is no different. We had some unique ones, I would say this year. You handle it, you handle it inside the clubhouse and that’s my job.”