For Fire, 2012 a "year for no excuses"

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For Fire, 2012 a "year for no excuses"

The Fire had never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons at this time a year ago. But with a team featuring plenty of new faces and an early-season coaching change, the Men in Red missed the playoffs for the second straight year, falling just short of the postseason despite a torrid finish.

No player or coach would've used that lack of familiarity as an excuse for falling short of their goals. But it does serve as a fair explanation, especially in light of their 7-2-1 record over the final 10 games of the season. Under Frank Klopas, the team came together but ultimately was done in by the poor start that saw the team notch just two victories through mid-August.

If that momentum from last year's playoff push carries over, though, that playoff drought will be history.

"It's a lot more comfortable for the guys as opposed to last year," winger Patrick Nyarko said. "It helped because we didn't have to start from scratch, so it made it a lot easier."

Defender Cory Gibbs took it a step further.

"This is the year for no excuses," he said. "This is what we've asked for, the cohesiveness. We've kept everybody with the addition of two or three solid players. If we don't get it done this year, there's no reason for it, no excuses.

"We have all the elements in place, we just have to put it together."

Good vibrations are running rampant around Fire training heading into the club's home opener against Philadelphia on Saturday, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet. Chicago came away from a rabid environment in Montreal last weekend with a point, drawing the Impact in the franchise's first-ever home match.

The Fire earned a draw thanks to an equalizing goal by Dominic Oduro, which was brilliantly set up by midfielder Sebastian Grazzini. The score was indicative of how far the Fire have come in the last year -- Oduro was acquired from Houston in an early-season trade last year while Grazzini joined the club in July. Months later, the pair's rapport paid off in the form of a key goal.

"That's a typical example of what happens when you play over time," said Gibbs. "That probably wouldn't have happened with them being together for just this season."

Of course, whatever success may be ahead for the Fire won't come just because the roster is more familiar with each other. Klopas would bristle at that suggestion.

"Everyone's gotta pay the price, the price has to be paid every frickin' day we come here to training," Klopas said emphatically. "If not, then we're not going to get better."

It's early in the season, so no matter where you go, there's going to be positivity. There's going to be high expectations. There's going to be an emphasis on hard work. But Klopas sees an emphasis on all that as his team working on something they can control.

"The ball hits the post, goes in, goes out, I mean, the theme can be no excuses but also for us, it can be to control the controllables," explained Klopas. "That's what we put into work every day, our attitude, our focus, our discipline. Those are the things that really matter, sticking together as a team. Because those we can control. All the other things, you know, it's a game."

This all may seem very rah-rah, but again, it's early. And there's a genuine belief among the Fire they can carry the momentum of 2011 into 2012 and reach the postseason for the first time since 2009.

"With the team we've built and knowing how it felt to win at the end of the year, we know what it takes," Nyarko said. "Guys are confident and absolutely positive we'll make the playoffs."

Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League

Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League

Luis Robert is officially a member of the White Sox organization.

Introduced with much fanfare during a Saturday press conference, Robert strolled out to the pitcher's mound at Gauranteed Rate Field for a ceremonial first pitch wearing a White Sox hat and jersey prior to the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.

But amid the hype and the excitement for White Sox fans, patience will be required. Robert is still a ways away from the big leagues, with general manager Rick Hahn saying Saturday that the 19-year-old Cuban outfielder will begin his journey through the organization in the Dominican Republic with the White Sox team in the Dominican Summer League.

Hahn made a point of mentioning that Robert hasn't played in a baseball game since last summer, meaning it's been nearly a year since the White Sox newest highly touted prospect has taken the field.

“It should be noted he has not played in a game since last July. He’s been preparing for workouts over the last several months. So right now, from Chicago, he’s going to return to the Dominican and begin his development there," Hahn said. "He will prepare to join our Dominican Summer League team in the coming weeks and then we will get all the visas in place and take things from there. His initial assignment will be back to the Dominican as he prepares to work his way through the White Sox organization.

"We’re going to have to be patient with this because he hasn’t played in almost a year now. He has been training now quite frankly more to be a workout warrior than an everyday baseball player. We’re gonna take our time at our complex, get him back playing games regularly and then get him out there. But the fact that he hasn’t played in competition for 11 months now is going to be a factor in how quickly we move him along in '17."

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Scouting reports that have compared Robert to the likes of Adam Jones and Lorenzo Cain, plus the gaudy numbers he posted in the Cuban National Series including a .401 batting average in 53 games during the 2016 season, have generated plenty of buzz. Robert is already one of the White Sox top prospects and one of the higher-rated prospects in baseball on his first day as a pro.

But as Hahn mentioned Saturday, there's still plenty of development for Robert before he's ready for the majors.

"There’s still a fair amount of development for this player," Hahn said. "This will take some time here. But with his raw set of materials and what he’s accomplished in international competition and at the highest league in Cuba at a young age, helps reinforce how you project this player to develop."

Even before Robert's signing, it was obvious Hahn and the White Sox were playing the long game, with top prospects like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech allowed plenty of time before their eventual summons to the big leagues. Robert, again just 19 years old, will take some time, too. But the White Sox are confident it will all pay off.

"Luis Robert is going to be the player that his tools allow him to become and his health and development pace dictates," Hahn said. "We do think he has the potential to be a perennial impact player in the middle of our diamond and lineup for years to come. That’s an important piece to be able to add to the organization."

90 Days to Kickoff: Morris

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90 Days to Kickoff: Morris

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Jul. 31, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 25.

School: Morris

Head coach: Alan Thorson

Assistant coaches: John Courter, Greg Larsen, John Wodziak, Keith Anderson, Derek Johnston, Justin Zink, Matt Seidel, Brian Kasher, Ryan Battersby, Ryan Clauson, Tyler Hartley, Kyle Enervold

How they fared in 2016: 10-3 (3-1 Northern Illinois Big 12 East), lost to Peoria in the IHSA Class 5A semifinals.

[MORE: 91 Days to Kickoff - Ridgewood]

2017 regular season schedule:

Aug. 25 –DuSable

Sept. 1 – @ Washington

Sept. 8 – @ Quincy Notre Dame

Sept. 15 - Rochelle

Sept. 22 - @ Yorkville

Sept. 29 – DeKalb

Oct. 6 - Kaneland

Oct. 13 - @ Sycamore

Oct. 20 - @ Geneseo

Biggest storyline: Can the Redskins once again make a deep postseason run?

Names to watch this season: Senior OL Nathan Korte, Senior OL Nolan Feeney, WR/TE Tyler Spiezio

Biggest holes to fill: Morris will need to find some answers in the offensive skills department.

EDGY's early take: Morris will play its last season in the Northern Illinois Big 12 conference before heading to the Interstate 8 in 2018. If the Redskins can replace some graduated offensive skills players, Morris has a ton of experience, especially on both sides of the line, that could carry them deep into 5A. Also, keep an eye on the Redskins enrollment, which is pushing them closer and closer to Class 4A over the past few years.