Fire draw, will host Houston in elimination round Wednesday

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Fire draw, will host Houston in elimination round Wednesday

The good news is the Fire is awaiting its first playoff match since 2009. The bad news is the Fire goes into Wednesday nights meeting with the Houston Dynamo with absolutely no momentum.

Its still possible for the Fire to wins its second Major League Soccer title, the first coming in the clubs inaugural 1998 season, but the road couldnt be much more difficult. If the Fire gets by the Dynamo, the next task will be a two-game home-and-home series against Sporting Kansas City, clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.

The first game of that conference semifinal series would be at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Toyota Park if the Fire gets by Houston and thats a big if.

Sadly, it didnt have to be this way. Had the Fire won its last regular season game, its playoff outlook would have been much brighter. The Fire would have been second in the East and have a week to prepare for its first opponent. But, the Fire didnt win, the last match ending in a 1-1 draw against D.C. United before a sellout crowd (20,017) in Bridgeview.

That result left United (17-10-7, 58 points) solo second behind Sporting Kansas City (18-7-9, 63). The Fire (17-11-6, 57) finished tied in points with the third-place New York Red Bulls (16-9-9, 57) but the Red Bulls owned the tiebreaker with 57 goals scored to 46 for the Fire.

Thus, D.C. United and New York will join SKC in getting a weeks rest before their first playoff match. Both will have some momentum going, too. United finished the season 5-0-2 and after its best player, Dwayne DeRosario, was lost with a knee injury. The Red Bulls needed to win their last game against Philadelphia to avoid the knockout match and got it with a resounding 3-0 CHECK victory a few hours before the Fire and United took the field in Bridgeview.

"Our conference was so tight, said Fire coach Frank Klopas. "This (match vs. United) wasnt the last game for us. Its behind us. Were still in a very good spot. We wanted a week to prepare. Thatd be better than a quick turn-around like this, but at least we dont have to travel. Our goal from the beginning was to be in the playoffs, and we are."

True, but having to play (and win) an extra game wont help the Fires chances of going deep into the postseason. Unlike most of this uplifting season the club finished it on a downer, going 1-3-1 in the last five matches. Two of the defeats were against Philadelphia and New England, conference rivals who had long since been eliminated from postseason contention.

And, as for settling for a draw with D.C. United, the Fire had only itself to blame. There were plenty of chances to win that one.

The Fire scored first, an electrifying 25-yard blast by Patrick Nyarko in the 16th minute. That was a promising start, since the Fire had never lost a match under Klopas when it scored first. That streak is still alive at 22 matches (17-0-5). The Fire also has a history of playing well in home finales, going 9-4-1 in its first 14. The Fire still hasnt lost a regular season home finale since 2005, but those stats are basically meaningless now.

A Fire breakdown in the 50th minute allowed Lionard Pajoy to head in the tying goal for United, but the Fire had plenty of opportunities to get it back. The club put nine shots on goal, many in the waning moments.

"We had four chances. Youre lucky if you get that many in a months worth of games," lamented forward Chris Rolfe, who was honored before the match as the Fires Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot winner for scoring the most goals.

Dominic Oduro put one shot high and another off the right post after entering the match in the 68th minute. Alvaro Fernandez, Sherjill MacDonald and reserves Alex and Guillermo Franco also had opportunities, too, but couldnt convert.

"Im proud of the effort of the group, said Klopas. "Theyve been consistent and put everything on the field. We took some risks, and you feel good about the chances youve created."

But theres a big difference between good chances and finishing them off. Klopas called a rare day-after-game Sunday training session to begin the Fires preparation for Houston. Though the Dynamo (14-9-11, 53 points) was a full four standings points behind the Fire, Houston was till comfortably in the playoffs after building a five-point advantage on sixth place Columbus.

The Dynamo may have the disadvantage of traveling to Wednesdays match, but should be well-rested. Coach Dominic Kinnear knew his club couldnt improve its position in its late Saturday night match against Colorado, so he gave his usual reserves plenty of playing time in a 2-0 loss. The key players who will take the field on Wednesday had only limited playing time against the Rapids.

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Creating WR depth while waiting for Kevin White's emergence

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Creating WR depth while waiting for Kevin White's emergence

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Seventh in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Alshon Jeffery is on to Philadelphia after striking a one-year deal with the Eagles. For an offense that has let go of Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and Jay Cutler since the arrival of John Fox and his coaching staff in 2015, the search for replacement firepower has seldom been more urgent.

The splash from Cameron Meredith (14 games, 66 receptions) was a significant bright spot from the dismal '16. Bears are still waiting for some impact — ANY impact — from Kevin White after making him the No. 7 pick of the '15 draft and seeing his two NFL seasons end with broken leg bones. White was leading the Bears with 19 catches through four games last season when he was lost for the year, so some very guarded optimism is allowable.

"Kevin is going to have to step up, stay healthy, and he knows that, and he's motivated," said GM Ryan Pace. "We're excited about a handful of guys and we still have the draft ahead of us, too."

The free-agency addition of Eddie Royal in '15 was intended to bring an immediate infusion of veteran savvy and production at the nickel spot. Both his seasons were gutted by injuries, with a total of 70 receptions, the second-lowest two-year total of his nine-year career. Royal had foot surgery in December and is expected to be released when sufficiently healed.

This offseason was marked by a commitment to upgrading wideout speed, coming in the forms of Markus Wheaton from Pittsburgh and Kendall Wright from Tennessee.

"Markus is a deep threat receiver," Pace said. "[In] 2015 he was Top 10 in reception average. I really like his makeup and his toughness going all the way back to Oregon State, but he's a guy who can really run and gives us that element in our offense that I think that we need, speed. Unfortunately, he had a shoulder injury last year that happened kind of early in the season and then eventually needed surgery on it. But he's fully cleared now and we feel good about that now."

Pre-draft depth-chart'ing starters

WR - Kevin White

WR - Cam Meredith

WR - Markus Wheaton/Kendall Wright

Reserves: Dres Anderson, Josh Bellamy, Daniel Braverman, Rueben Randle, Eddie Royal, Deonte Thompson

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Bears draft priority: Low/moderate

Names were added to the pool of options but none of the stature of Jeffery, and until the aggregate proves to better than simply average, the Bears will always look to add impact points-producers when the options present themselves. Rarely has their receiver corps had so many unprovens going into a season.

The organization believes White's run of bad luck is due to change and reduced some of the positional urgency with the offseason additions. Wheaton signed a two-year deal, Wright for one year, Meredith has had just one meaningful season and White is a virtual "rookie" for the third straight year.

Pace has drafted a wideout in each of his two drafts, White in '15 and Braverman last year. Braverman played three games without a catch and will be in another intense competition for a roster spot. Best guess would be a late-round wideout with abilities to enhance the return game.

Keep an eye on ...

Kenny Golladay, Northern Illinois — Caught 160 passes over two NIU seasons. Fits Bears' template for size (6-4, 218) and had private workout with them.

Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska — Bears staffed his workout and could find a spot as a practice-squad player able to fill nickel role.

Chad Williams, Grambling — Private workout for Bears, had huge production and may be a value late-round pick for development.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

5'10" | 214 lbs.

2016 stats:

103 CAR, 596 YDS, 9 TD | 40 REC, 392 YDS, 4 TD

Projection:

Second round

Scouting Report:

"Ascending, competitive runner who has flashed explosive NFL talent at various times over the last two seasons. A committed runner with excellent balance who finds yardage that isn't blocked for him. While he has never logged 20 carries in a single game, he has the talent to play on all three downs if he can prove his durability." — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles