Fire overcome by disturbing events

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Fire overcome by disturbing events

There were two disturbing things about the Fires match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, and neither involved the fact that the Major League Soccer franchise was eliminated by a team of kids from the Premier Development League.

No, the fact that the Fire got knocked out of the 99-year old summer-long tournament so early isnt that big a deal. Though the Fire takes the Open Cup competition more seriously than most MLS clubs and has won the Dewar Cup four times in 15 years, an early exit isnt that unusual.

The Fire is 5-5-1 in third-round matches (thats when the top eight MLS clubs begin in the competition each year). In 1999 the Fire coming off its sweep of the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its rousing inaugural season was put out of the Open Cup by the Rochester Rhinos 1-0. In 2002, the Fire was knocked out by the Milwaukee Rampage, also by a 1-0 margin, and in 2007 the Carolina RailHawks put the Fire out by the same score. Those three losses came on the road.

In 2010 the early knockout came at home, with the Charleston Battery doing the honors at Toyota Park.

So Tuesdays 2-1 setback at the hands of the Michigan Bucks shouldnt be disturbing. The Fire was playing its fourth match in 10 nights, and coach Frank Klopas started only two players who were in his first 11 in Saturdays 2-1 MLS loss at Columbus. Captain Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo didnt even make the trip. Neither did Marco Pappa, who was on national team duty for Guatemala.

Usual starters Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko made the trip but didnt play. Dominic Oduro didnt take the field until the 84th minute. At least the reserves received some much-needed playing time.

What is disturbing, though, is that Fire surrendered the first goal still again. The club has made that mistake nine times already in the MLS season. The teams 5-4-3 record shows the team has the gumption to battle back, but consistently falling behind never is a good thing.

Neither is the U.S. Soccer Federations policy for scheduling U.S. Open Cup matches. Theres no problem with coin tosses determining the home team, but never should a match be played indoors. Thats what the Fire had to do during its loss to the Michigan Bucks. Soccer, the 11-a-side version, is an outdoor sport. The Fire doesnt play indoors. In my book, the games shouldnt be played on artificial surfaces, though that was the case when the Fire used North Central College in Naperville as its home field a few years back when Soldier Field was undergoing a renovation and Toyota Park was still in the planning stages.

Having MLS teams play on the road against opponents in lower leagues is, in general, a good thing. It promotes the sport beyond MLS cities. The Fire-Bucks match was played at Ultimate Sports Arenas in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac and drew an estimated crowd of 2,000. Detroit doesnt have a professional soccer team, but surely there must have been an outdoor field suitable for such a significant match.

The Fire wasnt the only MLS team to be eliminated from the Open Cup by lower level opponents on Tuesday. If the Fire had won it would have faced the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park in its next match but the Crew lost, too. The Dayton Dutch Lions ousted the Crew.

Also bowing out of the Open Cup was the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy, the defending MLS champion. The Carolina RailHawks, winless in North American Soccer League Division II play this season, beat the Galaxy 2-1.

The Fire goes back to MLS play on Saturday with a road match against the New England Revolution, and the Revs were also knocked out of the Open Cup on Tuesday. They blew a 3-0 lead and lost in a shootout to the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer League Pro League Division III.

Other MLS losers on Tuesday were the Houston Dynamo (to the San Antonio Scorpions), FC Dallas (to the Charlotte Eagles), and Real Salt Lake (to the Minnesota Stars). Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United, the San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA and the Colorado Rapids won to give MLS a presence in the fourth round and the last two third-round matches are Wednesday night.

The Seattle Sounders, who beat the Fire in last years Open Cup final, are seeking a four-peat in the competition with the NASLs Atlanta Silverbacks the first opponent. The Portland Timbers are also in action, against California FC, an amateur club.

As for the Fire, the club can use a break. The Fire doesnt play at Toyota Park until June 17, when the Red Bulls visit. Therell be a big match in the Chicago area before that, however, and its sure to draw a big crowd to Soldier Field. The national teams of Mexico and Bosnia-Herzegovina collide there in an international friendly on Thursday.

Looking at the Brett Anderson deal and what the future holds for Cubs' pitching

Looking at the Brett Anderson deal and what the future holds for Cubs' pitching

The Cubs already have a clear vision for their 2021 Opening Day lineup, when the images of superstars like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant can be plastered next to the iconic marquee at a fully renovated Wrigley Field. 
 
But the Cubs don't really have a five-year window for pitching, given all the medical risks, the weaker spots in their farm system and a team built around big-name hitters. It's more survival mode, getting through a spring training lengthened by the World Baseball Classic, past the All-Star break and into October.
 
A blurry picture is coming into focus for 2017 – an industry source confirmed that Brett Anderson was in Chicago on Tuesday to undergo a physical – yet this uncertainty is still the fastest way to derail the next championship parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue.
 
If healthy, Anderson would be a relatively low-risk, high-reward gamble for the defending World Series champs. Yahoo! Sports reported that the $3.5 million agreement includes incentives that could boost the deal's overall value to $10 million. 
 
The Cubs need a sixth starter as a hedge against Mike Montgomery stalling during his first full season in a big-league rotation, or John Lackey feeling his age this year (38) or the stress from throwing almost 3,000 innings in The Show.  
 
The Cubs know the history of nine-figure contracts for pitchers is littered with bad investments, and Jon Lester's left arm has already made it through 14 playoff rounds and accounted for nine straight seasons with at least 190 innings. Kyle Hendricks is a cerebral Cy Young Award finalist who doesn't have that much margin for error and will need to keep making adjustments and being unpredictable. 
 
As much as Jake Arrieta tries to meditate and stay in the moment, every pitch he fires this year can be viewed through the prism of his looming free agency. 
 
"We love Jake," team president Theo Epstein said after the Cubs settled on Arrieta's one-year, $15.6375 million contract, avoiding an arbitration hearing with the Scott Boras client. "We'd love for him to be around for a long time. But it's not the first time a talented core player has gone into the last year of his deal. It won't be the last time. It doesn't always mean the player's leaving. 
 
"I'm sure at the appropriate time we'll have confidential conversations and see if now is the time to get something done, or we put it off until later. He knows how we feel about him. Years and dollars are always complicated. But I'm sure we'll take a stab at it."
 
The bottom line is the Cubs could be looking to replace 60 percent of their rotation next winter. Maybe Tyson Ross recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, returns to his All-Star form at some point during a one-year pillow contract with the Texas Rangers and proves worthy of a long-term commitment. 
 
Perhaps the Cubs again target the star pitchers they once tried to lure out of Japan, with Yu Darvish positioned to become a free agent after this season and Masahiro Tanaka able to opt out of the final three years ($67 million) of his megadeal with the New York Yankees.       
 
All along, the Cubs planned to flip young hitters for pitching. The same aggressive mentality that pushed Epstein's front office to send an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres) to the Yankees for rental closer Aroldis Chapman – and secure one season of Wade Davis without worrying about Jorge Soler living up to his enormous potential for the Kansas City Royals – will be in play if the team needs a rotation upgrade at the trade deadline this summer. 
 
"We were in that phase for three-plus years where we were really single-minded about acquiring young talent," Epstein said during Cubs Convention in mid-January. "I remember at this very panel we'd talk about that and some of the questions were: Why are you trading all these players that we've heard of for guys we've never heard of?
 
"That was tough in one way, but those trades are a little bit easier for us to quote-unquote ‘win' those deals, because you're trading players who are at the end of their contracts. You're getting young prospects. We went out of our way to work really hard to make sure we hit on those trades – and luckily we did. 
 
"But now we're in a phase where we have such a good team, when we have holes – and we're going to have holes, last year to get Chapman midseason, going forward we really have to address starting pitching – we're going to be on the other end of some of those trades.       
 
"We're going to aggressively try to get really talented major-league players. It's always extremely painful for us to make some of those trades where we send prospects for established players. Those trades are hard to win. You're more likely to quote-unquote ‘lose' those trades. 
 
"But the bottom line is we're not up here to pad our resume and make trades that we can look back on and say that we ‘won' those trades. We're up here to win World Series. And if those deals help us win World Series, that's what it's all about."
 
Maybe Anderson helps the Cubs get back to the postseason for the third straight season, something this franchise hasn't done since the 1907 and 1908 teams won back-to-back World Series titles.    
 
Anderson will turn 29 on Feb. 1 and led the majors with a 66.3 groundball percentage in 2015, when he went 10-9 with a 3.69 ERA in 31 starts and still accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  
 
Anderson's medical file includes: Tommy John surgery on his left elbow (2011); a strained right oblique (2012); disabled-list stints for a stress fracture in his right foot (2013) and a broken left index finger (2014); plus surgical procedures on his back (2014 and last March).    
 
Anderson also has perspective as someone who grew up around the game. His father, Frank, is the University of Houston pitching coach and former head coach at Oklahoma State University.  
 
Whether or not Anderson stays healthy, the Cubs are at a point where they will have to keep thinking bigger and bigger.
 
"We're always going to be committed to young players," Epstein said. "It's in our DNA to trust young players, to grow with young payers. But as painful as it is…you sometimes have to move those guys to make sure your major-league team has a legitimate chance to win the World Series.
 
"We're not doing it recklessly. It's not something that we want to do. But when you have a team that's really good – and you have a chance to win the whole thing – we think it's our obligation to make those deals from time to time."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What's Dwyane Wade's future with the Bulls?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: What's Dwyane Wade's future with the Bulls?

Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and Brian Hedger (nhl.com) join Kap on the panel.  Dwyane Wade talks about his future with the Bulls. Will he exercise his player option and return next year if the Bulls’ struggle continue? The guys talk NBA with CSNChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill.

How can Stan Bowman help Jonathan Toews at the deadline? And Dabo Swinney compares Deshaun Watson to Michael Jordan.