Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

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Fire welcome back Johnson, Friedrich

A two-week break from league games this early in the season may not be ideal, but itll be useful for the Fire in the aftermath of its first loss of the Major League Soccer campaign.

The Fire (1-1-1) didnt play its best in a 2-0 road loss to the Colorado Rapids on Sunday, and coach Frank Klopas wont likely be fielding the same team in the next match -- against the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park on April 15.

During the break the Fire will get two key players, goalkeeper Sean Johnson and German defender Arne Friedrich, ready for action. Neither has played in a game yet, though both proven players have been in training for at least a week.

Johnson had a busy offseason, training with English Premier League member Everton for 12 days prior to joining the U.S. under-23 team on its failed attempt to qualify for the Olympics. While Johnson, who had a promising second season as the Fires starting netminder in 2011, went through some high-quality training sessions, he didnt see much game action. Klopas didnt want to rush him into that against an MLS opponent.

Friedrich, who has played 82 matches for Germanys national team, figures to be a mainstay central defender once hes ready to play. Like many European-based MLS players, Friedrich was competing on a different calendar than MLS players and needed time to round into game shape. Klopas didnt want to risk injury to a 32-year-old player by putting him in meaningful combat too soon.

Both Johnson and Friedrich, though, figure to benefit from low-key matches before Houston comes to town. Johnson played all 90 minutes of Mondays reserve team match in Denver, which was won by the Rapids 2-1.

Friedrich didnt play in that one but could see action when the University of Louisville tests the Fire in a friendly at 10 a.m. on Saturday on the Toyota Park practice field. Another reserve match is on tap for April 10 at Sporting Kansas City. Once those matches are completed, Johnson and Friedrich figure to be ready to go and right back Dan Gargan, who didnt make the trip to Colorado because of a left toe injury, should be healthy enough to return to the starting 11 as well.

Johnson figures to replace Paolo Tornaghi, who was decent overall in the first three games but not in top form at Colorado. Friedrich could make his Fire debut as a replacement for Jalil Anibaba.

Klopas moved captain Logan Pause to Gargans spot at Colorado and gave Colombian newcomer Rafael Robayo his first start in the midfield. Robayo was also the first man subbed out, with Daniel Paladini taking over for him in the 61st minute. Pause didnt go the route, either. Orr Barouch, seeing action for the first time this season, took over for him in the 83rd as Klopas looked for an offensive spark that might produce a tying goal. Barouch couldnt provide it this time, as he had in several games last season.

Klopas other sub was new Uruquayan forward Federico Puppo, who scored the Fire goal in Mondays reserve team match. He couldnt help on Sunday, however.

"That game was there for the taking," lamented Pause. "It was really an unfortunate result, starting the game off well and coming into halftime at zeros. In the second half we kind of lost our shape and discipline and ended up getting punished."

Klopas didnt like what he saw, either.

"It really wasnt a great game -- sloppy on both sides," he said. "For the first half we looked sluggish. On top of that we gave up two goals that weve never given up. Its a game we need to look at, forget and move on."

Getting whipped in Denver shouldnt be a surprise to the Fire. This loss was eerily reminiscent of games in the past. The first Colorado goal was scored by Omar Cummings, his sixth in seven career matches against the Fire. The Fire has won only once in six matches (1-2-3) in the Rapids current home at Dicks Sporting Goods Park and has only three wins in 18 games played between the teams in Denver (3-9-6) since the Fire entered MLS in 1998.

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

Bears numbers don't indicate 3-13, yet still lie

In doing some post-season wrapping up of my Nerdy NFL Notebook as we begin turning the page to the 2017 season, part of it involves compiling where each team finished in big-picture team offensive and defensive categories: overall ranking (total yards), as well as team rushing and passing ranks on both sides of the ball.

So if the Bears wound up ranked 15th overall in total yards gained and allowed, they should've finished…oh, 8-8, right? It adds to the deception of some of the deeper issues that focus on a lack of playmakers, which tied into their inability to make plays when it matters most. In John Fox's 9-23 start, 18 of those games have been decided by six points or less. They've won just six of those games. 

Offensively, the Bears ranked higher in total offense than five playoff teams: Kansas City (20), Detroit (21), Miami (24), New York Giants (25) and Houston (29). They wound up 17th in rushing offense, better than four teams who advanced: Seattle (25), Green Bay (26), New York Giants (29) and Detroit (30). And their 14th-ranked passing offense ranked better than the Giants (17), Kansas City (19), Dallas (23), Miami (26), Houston (29).

On the other side of the ball, they'd be even better off before allowing 109 points over the final three losses. Their total defense ranked better than Detroit (18), Green Bay (22), Kansas City (24), Atlanta (25), Oakland (26) and Miami (29). After being gashed for 558 rushing yards the last three games, they fell to 27th in the NFL against the run (better than only 30th-ranked Miami). But the seventh-ranked pass defense, despite collecting a measly eight interceptions (among only 11 turnovers), was better than nine playoff teams: Miami (15), Pittsburgh (16), Kansas City (18), Detroit (19), the Giants (23), Oakland (24), Dallas (26), Atlanta (28) and Green Bay (31).

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What do all the hollow numbers indicate? A lack of complementary, opportunistic football, playmakers on both sides of the ball, a minus-20 turnover ratio, and a lack of quality and continuity at the quarterback position — to name a few. All of those playoff teams have more impact players (or kept more of their impact players healthy) than the Bears in 2016.

While some of the numbers aren't that bad to look at, and some even raise an eyebrow, there's still a deep climb from the most significant numbers: 3-13.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Fremd's Grace Tworek

This week's Wintrust Athlete of the Week is Fremd senior Grace Tworek. 

Tworek has led the Vikings on and off the court this season. Last week, the Harvard commit put up a career-high 29 points in a win over Wheeling. 

Learn more about Tworek's success in the video above.