Fire acquires Lindpere; announces preseason schedule

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Fire acquires Lindpere; announces preseason schedule

The Fire has been relatively quiet this offseason, but that changed in a hurry on Friday when the club acquired Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere from the New York Red Bulls for an international roster spot.

Lindpere will bring experience to a Fire midfield that struggled last season after Sebastian Grazzini left the club to return to Argentina in midseason. Lindpere started his professional career with stints at several Estonian clubs beginning in 1997. He also performed for his countrys national team.

His career blossomed when he moved first to CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria and then to Tromo IL in Norway before he joined the Red Bulls in 2010. In addition to Lindperes signing, the Fire announced its preseason schedule on Friday.

Prior to that, the major offseason developments included the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich for another season; the acquisition of Brazilian forward Maicon Santos, from D.C. United, and the loss of defender Dan Gargan, to the San Jose Earthquakes, in the re-entry draft; and the departure of two-year club president Julian Posada.

MORE: Posada to step down as Fire president

The Fire made the only selection in the first stage of the re-entry draft in picking up Santos. One other member of last years Fire, goalkeeper Jay Nolly, wasnt re-signed or claimed in the re-entry draft. Hes now a free agent. More substantial developments are in the offing, with a new player acquisition and the winner of Decembers open tryout to be announced early next week.

RELATED: Fire lose Gargan in Phase 2 of draft

On Friday, the club, preparing for its 16th season, became one of the last in MLS to announce its preseason plans. Players will gather at Toyota Park on Jan. 18 for two days of medical exams. Theyll depart for the first phase of preseason training on Jan. 20, with 10 days of workouts to be held again at Ave Maria University, on the outskirts of Naples, FL.

The sessions in Florida include matches against Florida Gulf Coast University at Ave Maria on Jan. 27 and the first battle with an MLS opponent on Jan. 30, when the Columbus Crew shows up at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

RELATED: Fire select Maicon Santos in MLS re-entry draft

After returning to Chicago for a brief break, the players will resume preseason training in Ventura, Calif., from Feb. 2-10. Highlight of the workouts there will be a match against San Jose at Oxnard College, with the date still to be determined.

For the third straight season the Fire will conclude the preseason in the Carolina Challenge Cup Feb. 23-24 in Charleston, S.C. The Fire will be joined in that four-team round robin competition by the Houston Dynamo, an MLS Cup finalist the last two seasons; the host Charleston Battery, champion of the United Soccer League in 2012; and the Vancouver Whitecaps, an MLS rival.

The Fires last match of 2012 was a 2-1 loss to the Dynamo at Toyota Park in the first game the MLS postseason. It was also the Fires first playoff game since 2009.

Before the Fire begins training, forward Chris Rolfe will join about 30 other MLS stars at Soccer Night in Newtown on Jan. 7. Its being held in support of the victims of the tragic shooting in that Connecticut town that devastated the nation days before Christmas.

The first regular season match is Mar. 3 against the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Thats a week earlier than the 2012 season openers. The Fires home opener is Mar. 9 against the New England Revolution.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks give up season-high seven goals

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Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Toronto Raptors tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

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