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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They may be reeling from two awful losses, but Alex Avila expects he won’t see any let up from his White Sox teammates.
He’d better not.
Whereas they should be in position to close out a sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Sunday, the White Sox are trying to avoid one after consecutive stunning losses, including allowing seven runs in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday in an 8-7 loss.
Asked how they have to respond, the veteran catcher said his White Sox teammates have little choice — play hard or don’t bother showing up.
“The way you stop it is you come back tomorrow and make something happen,” Avila said. “They’re not going to feel bad for us. So you can’t feel sorry for yourself. It’s an extremely tough loss for sure. That’s a game we should have won. There’s been a few games we should have won. The way we’ve been playing have given a lot of people doubt.
“But guys in here, if they have any shred of doubt in their mind of what they can do, even though we’re struggling, don’t even come. No one’s going to feel sorry for you in this game. Even if you’re struggling, battle your ass off. There’s no room for feeling sorry for yourself and doubting your ability and your team’s ability. We’re going through a tough two-week stretch. The good thing is it’s right now at the end of May here. Try to finish these last few games in May strong and take it into June and see if we can make a better month out of it.”
The White Sox appeared to respond well to Friday’s game, one in which they blew a four-run lead, until the bullpen melted down for a second straight day. Even though none of their big run producers came through, the White Sox pulled ahead 7-1 on the strength of home runs by Tyler Saladino and Avisail Garcia.
But then the impossible happened and the Royals rallied to win a game in which their win probability was 0.1 percent after David Robertson struck out Paulo Orlando to start the ninth inning. Robertson only recorded one more out as he allowed six runs and Tommy Kahnle allowed another in an 8-7 loss.
“I’m not surprised or satisfied the way our team has responded to tough losses,” Avila said. “I expect it. No matter what the situation was the game before, I expect each guy in here to be prepared the very next day. If they’re not, then there’s an issue. Guys have been coming to play every single day and doing their homework and getting prepared for each game. If they weren’t, it’d be an issue. But guys have been doing that and we’re kind of going through one of those spells where instead of finding ways to win, we’re finding ways to lose games. Most teams will go through it or have gone through it. I know the first month we were playing great and the Royals weren’t playing well, the Tigers weren’t playing well and Cleveland wasn’t playing well. It was like, ‘Well, we’re going to run away with it,’ and flipped the script. Things can change pretty quickly over the course of a week or two weeks, even a month. That’s my point on why you have to come and make sure you’re prepared — that doubt in your mind about the day before is gone and you have to be ready no matter what because nobody is going to feel sorry for you.”
David Accam is the Chicago Fire's best player and when he plays the team is better.
While that statement should be obvious to anyone who has watched the Fire on a regular basis this year, it is worth mentioning because of how much time Accam has missed this season.
Accam played a starring role in the team's 4-3 loss in the season opener. He had a goal and an assist. The next match he scored early in Orlando before the Fire were forced to defend while playing down a man due to a red card.
Then he got injured. Accam missed six games and the Fire scored four goals in those matches without him. After making two abbreviated appearances during the team's recent road trip, he was unable to play last week at home due to a suspension.
“It’s difficult for me because I’ve been through a lot in the last two months," Accam said. "For me I’m just happy to be on the pitch now and playing. It will take some time for me to get into match fitness and start going, but I’m happy with my performance today.”
Accam scored in Saturday's 1-1 draw against Portland. It was his first start at home since his barnstorming season debut back on March 6. It was also his first 90-minute outing since March 11.
Kennedy Igboananike assisted on the goal. The partnership in the attack between Igboananike and Accam is one the Fire needs to become a fine-tuned weapon for the team to have a successful season.
“I think what we are looking for is to have associations in the team and the two of them work very good together," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We could see that in the first game when David was fit, also in the second game until we had the (red card). Since then David was injured, but David is very important. Not only because of his individual qualities, but he improves our team in how our team feels better on the field and offensively with more potential."
Accam had five shots, two on goal, and Igboananike had four shots, three on goal. Accam thinks the team is starting to improve its on-field chemistry.
“I think so, especially in the front three," the Ghanaian said. "We are creating chances. Last week we created a lot of chances and today, too.
“In the last two games we started to feel the way we wanted to play and for me it’s been much better. We conceded one goal in the last three games and we created I think more than five clear chances so for me it’s getting better.”
Getting a second goal is becoming a thing for the Chicago Fire.
A thing they aren't getting.
The Fire pushed for a go-ahead second goal against Portland on Saturday, but it never came. The team's inability to find a second goal, something the team hasn't scored since the season opener, meant they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against the Timbers.
In a lot of ways, the Fire played better. They outshot Portland 17-8, 6-2 in shots on target, and in the second half had rare extended stretches of possession. But they were still not able to break a halftime deadlock.
"It was just that we didn’t score that second goal, which was very important for us," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "We are building the momentum. We were close to winning this game today and we are happy with the performance.”
The Fire (2-5-5, 11 points) are now 2-2-3 in seven home matches.
Portland (4-6-4, 16 points) took the lead in the 18th minute when Diego Valeri took advantage of a poor Rodrigo Ramos clearance. Ramos' ball got caught up in the wind and stayed near the box. Valeri won the ball back and beat Sean Johnson from a tight angle, sliding a shot just inside the far post.
Almost immediately the Fire leveled the match through David Accam. Accam, making his first home start since the season opener, redirected a Kennedy Igboananike centering pass to tie things back up.
“I know when he goes wide I need to be in the box," Accam said. "I know he has a good left foot also to put that ball in the box so I was in the right position when the ball came in.”
It was Accam's third goal of the season and his first since March 11. Accam and Igboananike created most of the dangerous chances for the Fire, linking up regularly other than the goal.
Another forward who could have joined the attack, Gilberto, was out for personal reasons. The Brazilian had played his best of the year last week.
The Fire had a strong wind at their backs in the second half and used it to keep the ball in Portland's half and extend the lead in shots they took into halftime. Despite being unable to get the win at home, multiple players claimed they are seeing progress in the team's performances.
"I think we’re finally putting full 90s together as a team," midfielder Matt Polster said. "I think during the beginning of the season we were getting used to each other. I think we put in good 65, 70 minutes of a game. As we’re growing as a team now I think we’re putting a full 90 together.”
Now the Fire go on break for the Copa America. The team will not train next week other than a fitness plan given to the players. The next match will be in the US Open Cup on June 15 with both location and opponent to be determined on June 1.
The next MLS match is June 18 at Philadelphia and the next MLS home match will be July 1 against San Jose.