Offseason heating up for Fire as draft's second phase nears

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Offseason heating up for Fire as draft's second phase nears

The Fire was the only club to make a selection in last weeks first stage of Major League Soccers re-entry draft. More of the circuits 19 teams are sure to participate in Fridays second phase.
Maicon Santos, a forward for D.C. United, was picked by the Fire last week. Clubs picking in the first phase must give the selected player a 5 percent pay raise over this current contract. In the second phase clubs and players can negotiate a contract and teams can even draft the players they put on the original list.
That means the Fire could still keep goalkeeper Jay Nolly, midfielder Corben Bone or defender Dan Gargan. They werent claimed in the first stage, Gargan being a last-minute addition to the list of available players announced by the league.
Thirteen of the 52 players on the leagues initial list withdrew from the re-entry process just before the draft began. Some, most notably the Fires Gonzalo Segares, reached a contract agreement with their former team just before the drafting began.
Among the players still on the list for the second phase are Juan Pablo Angel and Danny Califf of Chivas USA, Conor Casey and Tyrone Marshall of Colorado, Julian DeGuzman and Kevin Hartman of FC Dallas, and Ramiro Corrales and Khari Stephenson of San Jose. Former Fire players Chad Barrett (Los Angeles) and John Thorrington (Vancouver) are also available in the draft.
MLS started conducting a re-entry draft in 2010, and the Fire acquired defender Cory Gibbs that time. A starter until knee injury sidelined him last March, Gibbs announced his retirement last month. The Fire has the No. 11 pick in this years second phase of the re-entry draft.
While that draft is in progress the Fire will begin its fifth annual open tryout at the Bridgeview Sports & Soccer Dome. About 150 players will participate on Friday, and the clubs technical staff will invite the most promising ones back for another session on Saturday. After Saturdays selection the staff will name one player to participate in Januarys first phase of preseason training.
Pari Pantazopoulos, winner of the open tryout in 2011, survived three stages of preseason training and spent the full season on the roster. He made his debut with the first team in a U.S. Open Cup match against Rochester and also got playing time in an international friendly against Englands Manchester United. Pantazopoulos, however, didnt make the roster for the 2012 campaign.
Red Stars names coaches
The Chicago Red Stars, preparing for a return to the new, still unnamed womens professional league, will retain Rory Dames as head coach. He joined the Red Stars after their first venture into a womens major league but helped the club to the Womens Professional Soccer League finals in 2011 and the WPSL Elite Finals last season. The Red Stars also won the 2012 U.S. National Cup.
Dames first assistant will be Stephanie Foster, a former Northwestern star who coached her alma maters team from 2006-11. Also on the staff will be second assistant Christian Lavers and goalkeeper coach Trae Manny.
Soul elevates Marojevic
Manny Rojas was replaced as head coach of the Chicago Soul, a new team in the Major Indoor Soccer League, this week after his team got off to a 2-7 start. Novi Marojevic, a mainstay with three Major Indoor Soccer League clubs the Chicago Storm, Rockford Rampage and Chicago Riot has replaced Rojas.
Marojevic will make his head-coaching debut on Friday when the defending MISL champion Milwaukee Wave visits the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates. Milwaukees visit will mark only the second home game for the Soul.
MLS names SuperDraft hopefuls
The MLS SuperDraft will be held Jan. 17 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis and the players up for selection there will participate in a combine Jan. 11-15 at Central Broward Regional Park in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., prior to the selection process. The combine is again being held in conjunction with the National Soccer Coaches Association Convention.
MLS announced 54 collegiate players who will participate in the combine. They include goalkeeper Luis Soffner of NCAA champion Indiana and two Notre Dame mainstays midfielder Dillon Powers and forward Ryan Finley.

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

The start of preseason brings the return of hope for the Fire

A year ago there was hope surrounding the Fire. Hope that general manager Nelson Rodriguez, entering his first offseason with the club, and new coach Veljko Paunovic could spark a turnaround at the club. Those new faces, coupled with an overhauled roster, meant there was hope that things could be better.

Rodriguez and Paunovic had not yet failed with the Fire so there was still that hope that they had a magic touch.

That eroded as the season unfolded and the team’s shortcomings were quickly apparent. The reworked defense seemed to be improved, but the midfield was typically overwhelmed.

Now, after the Fire finished last in Major League Soccer for the second consecutive year, that innocent hope that a new coach and general manager bring is gone. Fans have seen Rodriguez and Paunovic fail and, even though they inherited a team that was not an easy one to turn around, there will be more skepticism.

This year there is hope again, but instead of coming in the form of new management, it comes in the form of accomplished players. Juninho (a three-time MLS All-Star and three-time MLS Cup winner), Dax McCarty (an MLS Best XI selection in 2015) and Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goalscorer in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2015-16) on paper make the Fire a better team. Can they mesh into a cohesive team that will actually perform better in matches?

“You’d like to think so,” Rodriguez said on Monday at the team’s media day at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch on the North Side. “It’s an inexact science, or at least for me it is. I know others will be more brash and saying it’s all there and all the pieces are together. Until they’re on the field, until they’re in the hotel rooms, until they’re off the field at team meals you never really know.”

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Rodriguez did say that this group is “very different” than last year’s.

“You can talk about all these clever ways to change culture, but the best way to have a winning team is to have winners as part of your team,” he said. “With those four guys (including goalkeeper Jorge Bava) at least we’ve added certified winners.”

So with two former MLS All-Stars arriving in central midfield, arguably the team’s biggest weakness last season, and a proven goalscorer, the pieces are there for the Fire to be better. Now it’s up to Paunovic to put the pieces together in a winning way.

“Obviously we have high expectations because we believe we did this job so far in offseason by the acquisitions that we had and the guys that are still to come,” Paunovic said. “It’s going to be a better team, more competitive.”

Even with the additions, the roster isn’t finished yet. Two trialists are in camp with the Fire, right backs Drew Beckie and Boyd Okwuonu. Beckie is a 26-year-old Canadian who played the 2016 season with the Carolina Railhawks in the North American Soccer League. Importantly, Beckie has a green card and would not count against the Fire’s international roster spots.

Okwuonu, 23, was drafted by Real Salt Lake in the second round of last year’s draft but was not retained. He has represented the U.S. at youth levels, including as a part of the Olympic qualifying team last year.

Right back has been an opening on the roster since Rodrigo Ramos’ loan was not renewed and no player has been added to fill that spot yet so those two could be fighting for a contract. Rodriguez said further additions to defense and midfield are still possible.

“Preseason is going to tell us where we have to improve,” Paunovic said. “Of course, theoretically we all know that there are a couple of spots still to reinforce and a couple of spots that we have to improve. For us now during all this time we are open to all the possibilities.”

The roster appears to be better, but even Rodriguez admitted he had hope last year.

“I was confident last year and the results of last year were bitterly disappointing and utterly unexpected by me," he said. "I have to believe our roster is better, whether that roster comes together the way we imagine, time will tell.”