Fire hang on for 1-0 victory over Sporting KC

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Fire hang on for 1-0 victory over Sporting KC

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas knew that Sporting Kansas City would be pushing the issue on a sweltering night at Livestrong Sporting Park, and his team was ready to capitalize when the right opportunity presented itself.

Marco Pappa led a counter-attack the length of the field in the 58th minute, initiating a nifty give-and-go play with Chris Rolfe and slamming home the return pass for his fifth goal of the year, giving the Fire a 1-0 victory and their third straight win.

"You look at a play like that, they're pushing the numbers forward," Klopas said afterward, his shirt drenched in sweat. "The ball just came out and we had transition numbers. I know Marco finished it off, but Chris handled the break very well."

The Fire (8-5-3) have won three straight for the first time all year, and they still haven't lost to Sporting KC (9-5-2) on the road since the 2007 season, despite getting outshot 27-10.

Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson saved all five shots on target for his second shutout.

"They got one opportunity and capitalized on it, and at the other end, Sean Johnson was a beast," said Sporting KC forward Teal Bunbury, who had one of several excellent changes to score a tying goal during a flurry of shots in stoppage time.

The first came when Bunbury spun and fired from the wing, and the ball sailed just wide of the goal. Soony Saad had another chance from close range that Johnson managed to save, and Chance Myers nearly netted the tying goal with his own shot just before time expired.

"We had 27 shots. It's not like what we're trying to do didn't happen. We just didn't stick it in the back of the net," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. "It was pretty even in the first half. I thought we were all over them in the second half. We made a mistake on the run-out play - we had too many guys forward and nobody back, and they executed it very well."

Sporting KC and Chicago are going different directions in the Eastern Conference race, though both of them are still within striking distance of D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls.

Sporting KC was coming off a victory over the Dayton Dutch Lions to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, but still stumbled in its return to MLS play. Vermes' squad was playing for the fifth time in 14 days, a run of games that includes a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia.

Chicago built on its victory over the Red Bulls and a 2-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew, when it went a man down and still managed to hang on down the stretch.

It was a good thing no red cards flew on Friday night - it was hard enough dealing with the near-record-setting temperatures that have scorched the Midwest, and forced many players to double over and both coaches to carefully consider their substitutions.

Brazilian midfielder Alex Monteiro De Lima - known simply as Alex - made his debut for Chicago in the 65th minute. The former striker for Swiss club FC Wohlen had a couple of chances in front of the Sporting KC goal late in the second half but was unable to convert.

Pappa didn't have the same trouble on his breakaway, and it wound up being the difference.

"Obviously it was a great win, and we knew it would be a great match," Klopas said. "Sporting Kansas City is a great team, and we knew it would be difficult to come in here and get points."

Match stats
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One year later, White Sox have clear direction, no longer 'mired in mediocrity'

One year later, White Sox have clear direction, no longer 'mired in mediocrity'

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been one year since Rick Hahn uttered those three magic words to signal that the White Sox would soon begin a massive rebuild: mired in mediocrity.

Disappointed by another season of middling play despite a roster led with top talent but short on depth, the general manager suggested the White Sox needed a new direction last July 21.

At the time, Hahn only noted that the White Sox were no longer interested in acquiring short-term pieces and they would re-evaluate their future. Ten days later, the front office began a thorough overhaul that has since seen the completion of four franchise-altering deals for young, controllable, top-flight talent by trading reliever Zach Duke to the St. Louis Cardinals for Charlie Tilson. The White Sox sped their rebuild up incrementally in December and have since traded away Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Tommy Kahnle, Todd Frazier and David Robertson. The series of moves has made it easily apparent where the White Sox are headed.

“It just make it official that it’s a rebuild,” infielder Tyler Saladino said. “You know you’re not in between or what are we going to do? It establishes what’s going on here for everybody.”

The White Sox received a boatload of criticism when the nonwaiver trade deadline passed last Aug. 1 and only Duke had been traded.

One report indicated that the White Sox asked for a “king’s ransom” for Sale, who remained with the club even after his second volatile outburst of the season produced boxes full of slashed throwback jerseys and a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property. A grade-based ESPN article assigned Hahn an ‘F’ for the failure to begin the rebuild before the deadline. Two weeks later, a reported schism in the front office between Hahn and Kenny Williams over the club’s direction prompted chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to call CSN’s David Kaplan to inform him that his decision makers were “in lockstep” and the team’s decision would be easy to detect soon enough.

And just like that it was.

The White Sox switched managers in October, hiring development-oriented Rick Renteria only a day after Robin Ventura walked away. A month later, Hahn spelled it out again at the GM meetings that the White Sox intended to get younger.

And then the exodus began. First went Sale. Then Eaton. There was a brief interlude as the club signed Cuban free agent Luis Robert for $52 million in May. But the exits have since continued with the trades of Quintana, Frazier, Kahnle and Robertson.

“The fact that they've been able to do as much as they have in this short period of time is kind of impressive,” Renteria said. “We're sad to see a lot of the guys (go) that were here with us because they were good White Sox. But everybody knows the direction we're going in and we still go out there and play to try to get a ballgame every single day, so that's part of the process.”

First baseman Jose Abreu said he understands the process and has bought into what Hahn and Co. are selling. Abreu looks at the organization as a whole and believes the White Sox, who now possess 10 of the top 68 prospects in baseball, according to MLBPipeline.com, are in better shape than they were a year ago. So even if the team is headed for an ugly final two months, Abreu believes it’ll be worth it.

“We all know that in this process you are going to rough moments and you’re going to feel sometimes like things aren’t going the way they are supposed to go, especially with the trades,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “But if you see now we are a much better organization, especially with all of the young talent we are getting. That’s part of the process too. You are pointing up to the future. All of those positions are for the future, and we are looking for good things to come.”

Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list

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USA TODAY

Fire homegrown player Collin Fernandez makes USL top prospect list

As Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League have partnered, the USL has become a more viable league for player development.

Each year the USL showcases some of the young talent in its league with the USL 20 Under 20 series posted to the league’s website, rankings the top 20 USL players who are 20 years old or younger. It’s the closest thing to MLS prospect rankings you’ll see.

This year, Fire homegrown midfielder Collin Fernandez made the list at No. 18. Fernandez has been playing on loan with the Tulsa Roughnecks this season and is getting positive reviews for his play.

The scouting report on his 20 Under 20 bio, which came via TopDrawerSoccer.com, called this a breakthrough season for Fernandez:

Deployed in a deeper midfield role instead of an attacking midfield spot, Fernandez has been able to adjust to the USL and let his passing ability shine. Fernandez is in the top five for Tulsa’s passes and passing percentage, as the move deeper in the lineup allows him to get on the ball and help his side transition from attack to defense. While he’s more of a slight build, the experience this season has shown that he can stamp his authority against bigger, older players.

Fernandez, 20, struggled to get playing time in his first two years of professional soccer. In 2015 and 2016 he made just three combined appearances that totaled 14 minutes. Fernandez was on loan with Saint Louis FC, another USL team, for much of 2016, but injuries and time with Peru’s under-20 national team prevented him from being available to St. Louis on a consistent basis.

This year, Fernandez has made 13 starts and another appearance off the bench for 1,134 minutes played. He has a goal and a pair of assists.

“What’s been good about Tulsa is they saw and (coach) David Vaudreuil saw Collin in a way that we didn’t so he’s played more as an eight, which is something that we hadn’t considered, and he’s done well,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said in May. “So it’s made us rethink how we look at Collin, so that’s been good.”

Another player the Fire had on loan in Tulsa was Joey Calistri. Calistri was recalled to the Fire this week and had good things to say about Fernandez’s play.

“He’s been playing really well,” Calistri said. “He’s been playing holding mid for us and he did a great job. He’s up and down. He can cover a lot of ground. He’s like a little pitbull out there. He’s a good player. He’s good in the middle, a lot of energy out there and he definitely helped Tulsa do very well.”

Fernandez had an impressive assist in a game on July 13: