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.

Bayern Munich, AC Milan players show changing perception of MLS

Bayern Munich, AC Milan players show changing perception of MLS

Every time a European team comes over to the United States, the players are asked about the growth of Major League Soccer and the sport in this country.

Occasionally a player will say something interesting, which is why these types of stories continue.

On Tuesday, a day before the Bayern Munich-AC Milan preseason game at Soldier Field, Xabi Alonso and Holger Badstuber of Bayern and Riccardo Montolivo and Gianluigi Donnarumma of Milan took part in a panel to discuss American soccer and the development of technology in the sport.

All four players talked about how the sport is growing in the U.S. and that they hear MLS is improving, but Alonso had a slightly more in-depth perspective thanks for a former teammate.

“I recently spoke with Stevie Gerrard (of the LA Galaxy),” Alonso began. “Maybe people tend to think the level is not as high, but he really thinks that it’s very demanding. The players are really strong.”

As much as having players like Gerrard, who is 36 years old, in the league feeds into the “retirement league” stigma that MLS continues to wear around its neck, other players around the world will listen to his opinion of the league. Alonso played with Gerrard at Liverpool from 2004-2009 and hearing Gerrard say the league is quality will increase the chances of more well-known players joining MLS. As much as the retirement league stigma can be a negative, Gerrard speaking praise about the league to other players can possibly offset that stigma.

The second part of Alonso’s quote is not as positive about MLS.

“Of course what is different is the system of the competition,” Alonso continued. “Sometimes they lose a game and it doesn’t really have that impact, but for sure it’s becoming more popular for European players, for worldwide players to come to the States to play. That’s great news I think.”

The fact that MLS has playoffs to determine its most prestigious trophy is foreign to, well, foreigners. Leagues all around the world give the league title to the equivalent of the regular season winner and have cup competitions, both domestic and continental, to create playoff-type drama. On top of that 60 percent of MLS teams make the playoffs, which devalues the regular season. Apparently, this hasn’t gone unnoticed in other parts of the world.

While players like Alonso and Montolivo have become more familiar to American soccer fans because of the increased access to games in recent years, that goes both ways. Not only are the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serie A being shown in the U.S., but MLS is being shown in Europe.

“They are on German television, some games you can watch there,” Badstuber said. “I think it’s good. I think that old players from Germany are going to go to the States, too, after their career in Germany because it’s a different culture, it’s a new life and they can learn a lot. This is a fact that players want to go to the States.”

The players are also aware it’s not just older players that have come over. Montolivo brought up Sebastian Giovinco, the 2015 MLS MVP who Montolivo has played with on the Italian National Team.

“Major League Soccer is definitely improving in trying to bring players not at the end of their careers, when at full strength,” Montolivo said through a translator. “For example, Giovinco came at 27 and he came to win.”

These players were at a promotional event so they weren’t about to trash MLS and make enemies of American soccer fans. Still, there was more substance to these quotes than you probably would have seen maybe five or seven years ago. Perception is reality and the perception of MLS does seem to be improving abroad.

30 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

30 Days to Kickoff: St. Viator

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. You can view Edgy Tim's other football previews here.

School: St. Viator

Head coach: Dave Archibald

Assistant Coaches: OL Jackson King, RB Al Panzeca, WR Casey Lynde, DC/DB Dan Fitzpatrick, LB Jason Churak, DL Kyle Jenkins, Def. Assistant Bob Lamick, K-Fr. Dan Hall, DFO Mr. Mike Tubridy

How they fared in 2015: 1-8 (0-7) East Suburban Catholic Conference. St. Viator failed to qualify for the 2015 IHSA state playoff field.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Lions get back to their winning ways this season?

Names to watch this season: TE Cole Kmet, LB Austin Ruetschke

Biggest holes to fill: The Lions have just four starters back on defense this fall including just one starter on the defensive line in senior Anthony Barcal.

EDGY's Early Take: New head coach Dave Archibald comes to St. Viator from Wisconsin Lutheran and can hopefully bring some new life into the Lions after struggling last season. St. Viator has experience in the offensive skills and that group be asked to produce early and often this season. 

Bears first-month foes already adapting

Bears first-month foes already adapting

As the Bears check into Bourbonnais, they'll certainly face their own health, roster, and depth chart challenges between now and the Sept. 11 opener in Houston. In fact, they've already been confronted with a thinning of veteran depth on the offensive line, with the retirements of Manny Ramirez and Nate Chandler. Keeping what they still have in good health will be key over the next six weeks. The last thing they want to face is the pre-Week 1 juggling they were forced into a year ago, when the main camp drama concerned Kevin White's health.

Since late last week, three of the Bears' first four opponents have been either forced to, or have chosen to, adapt on the fly before they were even settled into their dorms.

The big one, of course, involves that first foe, the Texans. As much as we probably shouldn't put anything past J.J. Watt that's physical in nature, it's hard to believe he'll be ready for the Bears after back surgery last week. And even if he somehow is, they'll likely catch a break in that he won't be in three-time Defensive Player of the Year shape.

[SHOP: Gear up for the 2016 season, Bears fans!]

On a lesser scale, when the Bears travel back to Texas two weeks later to take on the Cowboys, Rod Marinelli won't have last year's second-round pick Randy Gregory at his disposal after the former Nebraska standout entered a substance abuse rehab facility today and will be slapped with a 10-game suspension. Granted, Gregory didn't do much last year as a rookie and was going to miss that game anyway due to a previous violation. But his latest incident puts him on that same waiting list fellow linebacker Rolando McClain is on, and promising third-year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence will be three-quarters of the way through a season-opening suspension of his own. Poor Rod.

Finally, the first division rival the Bears will see in week four, Detroit, added some skill, toughness, talent, and, yes, "experience" to its offense by reaching terms with free agent Anquan Boldin Tuesday. No, he and Marvin Jones don't make up for Calvin Johnson's retirement, but Boldin is 12th all-time in receptions (1,009) and 17th in career receiving yardage (13,195). He makes the Lions better and more dangerous than they were when the week began.

Join Chris Wednesday at 2 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet when we bring you live coverage of the opening training camp press conference in Bourbonnais of General Manager Ryan Pace and Head Coach John Fox.  You'll also hear from quarterback Jay Cutler as the team checks into Olivet Nazarene University ahead of Thursday morning's opening practice.