After stuttering through the first seven matches of the season, reinforcements are on the way for the Chicago Fire.
Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam will join the team later this week on a loan deal with an option to buy. The move is pending league approval although the official announcement is expected soon.
The deal was in the works more than a month ago, but Thiam needed to finish his season with Hungarian team MTK Budapest before joining the Fire. MTK wrapped up its season on Saturday and finished fourth in the Hungarian league, losing out on a Europa League berth on the final match of the season.
“He is going to join us this week," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said during his weekly conference call. "He is going to do physical and medicals. He’ll be here and he’s very important for us. We believe the addition of Thiam is very important to increase our competitiveness with all his qualities, especially he is very good on the ball. He is very good also in aerial duels and his presence on the field is very important. With him we will increase our competitiveness in the team and of course within the league.”
The Fire can use the help immediately after having four players miss out on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United due to injury. David Accam is expected to be available against Vancouver on May 11, but odds are he won’t be able to start, especially on a turf field. Matt Polster, John Goossens and Alex Morrell were also out injured against D.C.
Thiam, 22, is a box-to-box midfielder who on paper would seem like a good fit to line up next to Polster as one of the two central mids in Paunovic’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This season for MTK, Thiam made 31 appearances, 27 starts, and scored two goals.
“He can play in different positions in the midfield," Paunovic said. "He can play in different systems. So far we were using 4-2-3-1 as our basic system, standard. In that system he can play either together with another midfielder (or in other roles). He’s going to increase that competitiveness. We can also switch to a 4-3-3, 3-5-2. Being adaptable he can play in different systems and roles, that’s something we value a lot."
He started his professional career in Hungary, playing the past four seasons in that league. He totaled 72 appearances and seven goals in that time.
Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez played in Hungary before joining the Fire this offseason. A few weeks ago when the rumors started swirling, Alvarez was asked if he had heard of him. For what it's worth, Alvarez recalled him right away and described Thiam as a nice player, who was "tidy" on the ball.
Artemi Panarin has been named a 2016 Calder Trophy finalist, annually awarded to the "most proficient" player in his rookie season in the National Hockey League.
Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere and Edmonton's Connor McDavid rounded out the top 3.
Panarin, 24, led all rookies this season with 77 points — 30 goals, 47 assists — in 80 regular-season games. Seven of his 30 goals turned out to be the game-winner, which also ranked No. 1 among first-year players.
The last player to record at least 77 points during his rookie season was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin when he compiled 85 points in 2006-07.
Panarin had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history, with only Steve Larmer putting up more points (90) in 1982-83.
He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register four-point games in back-to-back contests when on April 1 against Winnipeg — two goals, two assists) and on April 3 against Boston — one goal, three assists.
Panarin also became the first rookie in franchise history to record multi-goal games in consecutive appearances — on Jan. 5 and 6 against the Penguins — since 2005 (Pavel Vorobiev).
Gostisbehere had 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular-season games this season with the Flyers. His 46 points ranked No. 1 among rookie defensemen despite getting called up to the NHL in mid-November.
McDavid had 48 points in 45 regular-season games this season with the Oilers. He missed three months with a collarbone injury, but ranked first among rookies in points per game (1.07).
If you were bothered by the lack of a costumed character roaming the sidelines at Illinois football and basketball games, your troubles are over.
University of Illinois chancellor Barbara J. Wilson announced during a campus meeting Monday that the school is beginning the process of choosing a new mascot, according to a report from the Champaign News-Gazette's Julie Wurth.
Mind you, this isn't signalling the return of Chief Illiniwek, who wasn't a masoct anyway, the university classifying the Chief as a symbol. No, this is something new, and the result would figure to be more in the vein of the cartoonish figures celebrating touchdowns and crowd surfing at football and basketball games.
Wilson endorsed the recommendation from an Illinois Student Senate ad hoc committee that recently urged the campus to move forward with a mascot. She met with the group on Friday.
She plans to form a committee of 10 to 12 people that will draw up a process and a timeline. It will include representatives from all the stakeholders involved — students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.
Wilson, who had already signaled her support for the student effort, said last week that any new mascot would embody the values and traditions of the campus.
Chief Illiniwek was retired in 2007 amid concerns that the costumed performer was offensive to Native Americans. The Illinois marching band still plays the music the Chief used to perform to, and people wearing the costume have appeared in the stands during games while the music played. All that, of course, is unofficial, and while many Illini alumi and fans continue to hope the university will bring back Chief Illiniwek, they will have to settle for whatever this new mascot ends up being.
Certainly, Wilson seems aware that this is a sensitive subject for many.
UI's Wilson on mascot: "It's not going to be easy going forward ... there are lots of opinions on this." #illini— Julie Wurth (@jawurth) May 2, 2016
Illinois is currently one of just three Big Ten schools without a costumed mascot, Indiana and Michigan being the others. Iowa boasts Herky Hawkeye, Maryland has Testudo, Michigan State has Sparty, Minnesota has Goldy Gopher, Nebraska has Herbie Husker (and Li'l Red), Northwestern has Willie Wildcat, Ohio State has Brutus Buckeye, Penn State has the Nittany Lion, Purdue has Purdue Pete, Rutgers has the Scarlet Knight and Wisconsin has Bucky Badger.