Chicago soccer notes: Gibbs retires, Red Stars attempting comeback

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Chicago soccer notes: Gibbs retires, Red Stars attempting comeback

Cory Gibbs solid soccer career came to an end on Monday when the Fires veteran central defender announced his retirement after 12 professional seasons.

Gibbs last 26 games were with the Fire, but he had successful stints with clubs in Europe and made 19 appearances with the U.S. national team. He had three goals and one assist in his matches with the Fire, who acquired him in the 2010 Major League Soccer re-entry draft. His most memorable moment came with his header goal that gave the Fire a 1-0 lead against Manchester United in a 3-1 loss at Soldier Field in 2011.

The career-ender for Gibbs turned out to be a torn meniscus suffered in training on April 4. A starter in the Fires first three matches of 2012, Gibbs underwent surgery on April 10 and didnt play another game. He attempted a return to late-season training, but decided he couldnt make it back to where he had been.

"It was a tough decision," said Gibbs. "After discussing it with the medical staff, my wife and family, its the right time for me to step away from the playing field. Ive done everything in my power to return to the game. However, my latest injury has made it too difficult to play again."

Even if Gibbs had returned to form its doubtful he would have enjoyed his same workhorse role with the club. When he went down Austin Berry was forced into action sooner than anticipated and he responded with a season that earned him the MLS Rookie of the Year Award.

Berry partnered with Arne Friedrich, a player rich in experience with the German national team. They worked well together, and when Friedrich made clear his intention of playing another season with the Fire there wasnt much opportunity left for Gibbs. Second-year man Jalil Anibaba, the starter at right back, proved a solid replacement in the center on the few days when Friedrich wasnt available.

Though the Fires season ended with a playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 31 the Fire continued to train until Nov. 15. With preseason training having begun in January, that concluded a long stretch of soccer for the players but even then the work wasnt over for at least two of them.

Anibaba and Berry were invited to train with Europa League champion Atletico Madrid, an experience certain to benefit the two young defenders. Anibaba reported to the Spanish La Liga side on Nov. 18 and will train with that team through Dec. 2. Berry began his stint in Spain on Nov. 25 and will train through Dec. 9.

Their opportunities stemmed from a strategic alliance the Fire established with Atletico Madrid and six other clubs on four continents in 2011.

Soul ready for home debut

While the Fire is done playing for awhile, soccer the indoor variety is about to return to Chicago. The Chicago Soul faces the Rochester Lancers in their first home game on Dec. 7 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.

The Soul is the latest in a long line of Chicago indoor teams, following the Sting, Vultures, Shoccers, Power, Storm and Riot. Most didnt last long, but the Power ruled the National Professional Soccer League in 1990-91. Fire head coach Frank Klopas had his first head coaching job with the Storm and the Riot was founded by Peter Wilt, the Fires first general manager.

A one-time popular Chicago player, Manny Rojas, coaches the Soul. He was a mainstay with the Sting. Rojas has endured a difficult start in his first professional coaching job. The Souls first seven games were scheduled on the road. In the first six the Soul was 2-4, and the seventh is against the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday, Dec. 1.

While the Soul is Chicagos latest entry into the Major Indoor Soccer League, the circuit is growing and has three well-established members the Baltimore Blast (leading the league at the moment with a 7-0 record), Wichita Wings and Wave. When the Riot was representing Chicago with home games at The Odeum in Villa Park the circuit had just five teams. Now it has seven, the others being the Syracuse Silver Knights, Missouri Comets and the Lancers.

Red Stars go big-time again

The Chicago Red Stars will be back for another attempt to establish a top-level womens pro league. This third try at doing it is being led by the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation and also has significant involvement from the soccer associations of Canada and Mexico. Its the third time in 12 years that a top-level womens league has been created. That first two attempts were thwarted by financial problems.

Particulars on the latest circuit, to begin play in March or April, are sketchy. All that USSF president Sunil Gulati would announce was the participation of the Red Stars and seven other teams. Besides the Red Stars returning teams from previous unsuccessful league ventures are the Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash and Sky Blue of New Jersey. Other franchises will be located in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and Washington D.C.

The Red Stars have issued no specifics, either, though preliminary reports on the still-unnamed circuit say the team wont play at Toyota Park, as was the case the first time around. MLS stadiums wont be used for the womens games, though the Portland franchise will be operated by its MLS counterpart.

Most significant thing, so far, about the latest attempt at a womens league is on the financial side. USSF will pay for scheduling, promotion and websites as well as the salaries of up to 24 U.S. national team players. The Canadian federation will sponsor up to 20 players and Mexicos will pay for up to 12.

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

Ex-Bear Brandon Marshall an early favorite at NFL owners meetings

PHOENIX – Brandon Marshall never needed a whole lot of encouragement to step before a microphone but the NFL, which sometimes wished he'd put a sock in it, has now invited the former Bears wide receiver to speak up.
 
The NFL extended an invitation for Marshall, whose time in Chicago ended in some measure because of his insistence on pursuing the media portion of his career, to address the league higher-up's ostensibly as part of a communications bridge-building. Marshall jumped at the chance.
 
"They thought it was important for a player to come up and give a player's perspective and talk about the relationship between owners and players," Marshall said on Monday at the outset of the NFL owners meetings. "I think it's evident that our relationship could be so much better."
 
Marshall has been part of Showtime's "Inside the NFL" in recent years, flying to New York to participate in taping the show, and ultimately accepting a trade from the Bears to the Jets in 2015, which obviously cut down on his commute. The Jets released Marshall earlier this month, after which Marshall signed on with the Giants.
 
He told owners this week, "If we want our game to continue to be on that [positive] track, that it's on being super successful and being a pillar in our community and being a thread in our community, we have to make sure our relationship as players and owners is good."

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]
 
The immediate response was more than a little positive: Per San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York:

https://twitter.com/JedYork/status/846400103472480256
 
Marshall predictably welcomed the forum and wants to see it expanded.

"I'd like to see more players be more involved in our owners meetings," Marshall said. "And not only at the owners meetings, but any time we're talking football, we should have players at the table. Commissioner Goodell is always open-minded. He always has that open-door policy. So I think he'll continue to listen and continue to evolve this part of our business."

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

PHOENIX — The Bears next play a team named "Raiders" in 2019, having just played them in 2015 at Soldier Field. Whether the Bears' schedule of opponents will say Oakland Raiders or Las Vegas Raiders is still fluid, but the Raiders are leaving Oakland sometime in the next several years after the expected vote Monday at the NFL owners' meetings.

Leaving a press conference at which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Raiders owner Mark Davis and a couple other league figures formally announced the foregone conclusion of the Raiders moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, a Cleveland media counterpart fell in beside me and remarked, "Well, at least that's one story you won't have to worry about covering in Chicago."

Maybe yes, maybe no.

The NFL game presents endless spurts of the byzantine and bizarre, so my colleague — who saw his Browns bolt from their lakefront to Baltimore one dark upon-a-time — might be premature with his effort at comfort. Besides, nobody to my knowledge ever took the temperature of Decaturites when their town lost the Staleys to Chicago (at least the Bears kept a Staley as a mascot). And a deal had been worked out, later abandoned, to move the Bears to Hoffman Estates in the mid 1990s, something that had been preceded by then-chairman Michael McCaskey shopping the franchise to various suburbs, low-lighted by a flirtation with Gary, Ind., to something that concept drawings labeled "Planet Park."

Hizzone Da Mare once told George Halas that if Papa Bear took his team out of the city, the "Chicago" part of its name wasn't going with it. And son Richie blustered regarding Gary, "Let them move to Alaska."

Well, I mean, then again, hey, if Juneau or Fairbanks can come up with the requisite relocation fees.

And you can only wonder how many members of Raider Nation are feeling that way about the Raiduhs, that they can go to Alaska (or Gary) for all they care.

The vote approving the Raiders' move to Las Vegas (presumably the league toned down any anti-gambling rhetoric for the day) was believed to be 31-1, with only the Miami Dolphins saying nay. But the side issues were everywhere and somewhat more entertaining, given that the deal was a fait accompli ever since the city of Oakland failed to deliver enough of a stadium package to keep its Raiders where they'd begun under Al Davis when the AFL was formed in 1960.

It was difficult not to chuckle as Mark Davis opined that he thought his late father "would be proud" of moving the team to the self-appointed entertainment capital of the world. True that; Al moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, to a second location in that market subsequently, and then back to Oakland in 1995. Definitely a legacy to be proud of.

And one for Goodell, too, who summarized, "You know that our goal is to have 32 stable franchises for each of those teams and the league," meaning stable financially, not necessarily geographically. "We're all disappointed for Oakland and their fans," Goodell managed to say.

The Raiders do have one-year options on their lease in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and Davis said that if their Las Vegas facility isn't completed for the Bears' 2019 visit (OK, he didn't say "Bears," that was me), an extension might be in order.

Some observers are waiting for a reaction statement from jilted Oakland mayor Libby Shaaf, who got a thanks-but-no-thanks public letter from Goodell this weekend and sent a last-minute one for the league to delay its vote on the Las Vegas move, which the league didn't do. Somehow the thought of the Raiders asking Oakland to do something for them in their time of need is something worth buying a ticket to.

In the meantime, the move proceeds as expected, adding another mystery to the NFL firmament: moving a team to a significantly smaller sports market from the one it already occupied; moving not one but two teams into the Los Angeles market that had been abandoned by the Rams, Raiders and even Chargers (one of the teams now returning there); those sort of things.

How viable the Las Vegas market is for NFL football is something that'll play out over the next number of years. For now, good seats still available ... in Oakland.