Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

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Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

The Fires opponent in a Sunday road match has had a rocky season, and the focal point of it was a Chicago legend. Peter Nowak is no longer the coach of the Philadelphia Union, but hes a factor in what has transpired in the clubs third season.
Last season the Union was a playoff team, the Fire was not. Now the Fire is closing in on a playoff berth while Philadelphia is struggling, and the circumstances surrounding Nowak are a big reason why.
Nowak was the first Fire captain. A former captain of the Poland national team, Nowak led the Fire to a shocking sweep of the Major League Soccer and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups in the clubs inaugural 1998 season. He retired as a player after four more campaigns with the Fire, then went into coaching.
He was as successful as a coach as he was a player. Nowak guided D.C. United to the MLS Cup in 2004, making him the only person to win that trophy as both a player and a coach. He then worked as an assistant to first Fire coach Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team and coached the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad before the Union made him its first coach.
The Union entered MLS in 2010 with Nowak as the manager (head coach) and executive vice president. The club was 8-15-7 in its first season and then made the playoffs after going 11-8-15 in 2011.
So far, so good for Nowak still a popular guy in Chicago soccer circles.
This season, though, has been something else. Despite last seasons successes Nowak opted to rebuild the Union. That led to the trades of striker Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver, captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA and forward Danny Mwanga to Portland. All three were popular players in Philadelphia, and Nowaks own popularity there declined after the Union started 2-7-2, scoring only eight goals in those 11 games.
Not only did the fans become disenchanted with Nowak, but Philadelphia chief executive officer Nick Sakiewicz had issues as well. They escalated when European media reports had Nowak applying for the vacant head coaching job with Scottish Cup winner Heart of Midlothian.
Though Nowak denied those reports Sakiewicz, tired of the controversies that had hampered his team all season, fired him on June 13. Sakiewicz only cited "philosophical differences" for the firing, but Nowak sued the Union for wrongful termination and unpaid severance money. Subsequent legal documents accused Nowak of hazing and other questionable practices. He was also dropped as coach of the MLS All-Stars for the mid-season match against Englands Chelsea.
With Nowak out, Sakiewicz put assistant coach John Hackworth in charge of the Union on an interim basis. The club has done better under him, going 5-4-0, but Philadelphia is still ninth of the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. Only Toronto FC, the Fires 2-1 victim in its last game on Saturday, is behind the Union.
Theres a couple of other interesting ties between the Philadelphia saga and the Fire. The Unions last match was a 2-0 loss to the expansion Montreal Impact last Saturday on the road. The Impact is coached by Jesse Marsch, who played with Nowak in the Fires midfield and coached with him in the U.S. national team program.
Marsch has become a coach-of-the-year contender after guiding the new team to a 9-13-3 record and sixth place in the East (the Fire is fifth, five points head of the Impact and holding the final playoff position). Fire coach Frank Klopas, of course, played with both Nowak and Marsch on the first Fire team.
The current Union roster includes Bakary Soumare, who left the Fire under strange circumstances after being a finalist for MLS Defender-of-the-Year in 2008 and an MLS All-Star in 2009. Soumare, played in 63 matches for the Fire from 2007-09 and was part of the Fires last playoff team. His departure reportedly came after a fight with then-head coach Denis Hamlett during the halftime of a game. Hamletts contract wasnt renewed after the 2009 season.
Soumare, who spent the last three seasons primarily with French side Boulogne, has not played for the Union since Philadelphia acquired him on June 26. He had been nursing a right knee injury, but the Union listed him as probable for Sundays match.
Nowak wasnt with the Union when it visited the Fire on March 24 for the Toyota Park opener. The Fire won 1-0 on a Dominic Oduro goal while Nowak remained in Philadelphia with reported flu-like symptoms. Nowak remains fourth on the Fires all-time goal-scoring list with 26, trailing Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe and Josh Wolff. Marco Pappa pulled even with Nowak when he scored his 26th in the win over Toronto FC.
The Fire (10-7-5) goes to Philadelphia with a 3-5-3 record in MLS road games this season. Next home match is Aug. 18 against New England. There are 12 matches remaining before the playoffs begin on Oct. 31. The top five teams in each conference qualify for postseason play with the MLS Cup final is Dec. 1.

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

Carl Edwards Jr. couldn't dream up a better pitcher to try to emulate than Mariano Rivera.

Not for a young right-hander who is still getting used to being a reliever with a cutter as his bread and butter pitch.

After picking up his first career save late in 2016, Edwards mentioned how he has been watching video of Rivera. At the Cubs Convention earlier this month, Edwards name-dropped Rivera again in response to a fan question and went into more detail with exactly what he's aiming to accomplish by watching Rivera tape.

Let's be clear: Mariano Rivera is inimitable. He's a once-in-a-lifetime talent and there almost assuredly will never be a better closer in Major League Baseball.

But Edwards knows that. 

"He's great. He's a Hall of Famer," Edwards said. "He goes out there like he has the world in the palm of his hand. He's very competitive; I've never seen him back down. That's one [takeaway] for myself — I'm gonna go out and never back down.

"I don't really get into trying to be like him. I just look more into how he goes about his business. That's something that I can control — how I go about my business."

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Cubs coach Mike Borzello was there with Rivera in 1997 when the now-legendary cutter was born.

It's not fair to compare Edwards' cutter to one of the greatest pitches ever, but his version is pretty nasty in its own right:

The Cubs are still searching for long-term answers in the rotation, but don't have any intentions of moving Edwards back to a role as a starter.

Like Edwards, Rivera began his career as a starting pitcher coming up through the Yankees system. But Edwards actually has a leg up on baseball's all time saves leader: Edwards' first save came in his age 24 season while Rivera didn't tally his first save until age 26 in New York.

Edwards also struck out 13 batters per nine innings in 2016 while Rivera never posted eye-popping whiff totals (a career 8.2 K/9 rate).

As Edwards gets set for what he and the Cubs hope will be his first full season in the big leagues in 2017, his maturation will be important in an age of baseball where relief pitchers have never been more valued.

Rivera pitched in the playoffs nearly every year, routinely working more than one inning and posting ridiculous postseason numbers: 0.70 ERA, 0.759 WHIP and 42 saves while taking home the World Series MVP in 1999 and ALCS MVP in 2003.

The Cubs hope Edwards will be pitching in the postseason on a regular basis, too.

For now, the 25-year-old is still reveling in the glory following the 2016 Cubs championship.

He served as honorary drummer at the Carolina Panthers game in November.

"That was pretty amazing. That's a highlight of my offseason," Edwards said.

He grew up as a Pittsburgh Steelers fan despite being a South Carolina native, but Edwards said he did get a pair of Cam Newton cleats to wear for 2017 when he and Cubs teammates like Addison Russell or Matt Szczur throw the football around in the outfield to get loose.

Edwards was also blown away by the reception from Cubs fans at the Convention — "This is my third year and every year as been better" — but still hasn't fully wrapped his mind around the ending of the 108-year drought.

"Everything happened so quick," he said. "Hopefully in the next couple weeks when I have a break, I can sit down and soak it all in."

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Vote for this week's High School Lites Viewers' Choice Game of the Week

Who wants it more?

We are putting High School Lites, Chicagoland’s top prep sports show, in the hands of area basketball fans in our “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week.” Fans will get the chance to pick one game that the @CSNPreps crew will cover on Friday night. We will send our cameras to the game that gets the most votes; highlights of that game will appear on that night’s “High School Lites” broadcast at 11:00pm. The show also live streams at csnchicago.com. High School Lites will also have broadcast replays at 7:30am and 8:30am the following Saturday. This week, for the first time ever in our “Viewers’ Choice” poll, we will have girls basketball as our focus:

Warren at Lake Forest, 7:00pm

Glenbrook South at Maine South, 7:00pm

Vernon Hills at Maine West, 7:30pm

Poll opens Monday at 12:00pm and closes Thursday at 4:00pm. Here is what fans need to do to vote:

**Follow @CSNPreps on Twitter.

**Note the “pinned Tweet” atop the @CSNPreps feed. Vote for the game you want us to cover.

**Spread the word! 

We will make an announcement on @CSNPreps just after 4pm Thursday with the official results of which game will be covered. And as a reminder, be sure to follow @CSNPreps for updates on the “Viewers’ Choice Game of the Week,” along with other basketball news, scores and highlights this season.