Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

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Fire sign Friedrich for 2013

The Fire hasnt finished work on its 2012 season yet, but the club already took its first big step towards preparing for 2013 on Wednesday with the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich.

Friedrich, 33, was the Fires Defender of the Year this season and made it clear in the waning days of the campaign that he wanted to play one more season in Bridgeview. He didnt have to do that. He undoubtedly would have had other options, but -- for whatever reason -- he didnt want to play across the pond again.

"This is what I told everybody in the past, before I came to America," Friedrich said after the Fire was eliminated from the Major League Soccer playoffs last week. "I would never again play in Europe.

He did plenty of that quite well in the past, as a member of Germanys third-place finishers in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals. He had 82 caps for Germany before playing his last match for Wolfsburg in his countrys Bundesliga.

Friedrich signed with the Fire on Mar. 7 and made 23 appearances in the 34 MLS regular season matches. His presence helped make Austin Berry, his central defender partner, a favorite for MLS Rookie of the Year. They were key players in helping the Fire limit opponents to 41 goals in 34 games. That tied the Fire for second-best defensively in the Eastern Conference.

Slowly but surely Javier Leon, the Fires president of soccer operations, will build a team for next season, but Friedrich is a good start. His signing might mean the departure of Cory Gibbs, who suffered a serious knee injury in the third game of the season and underwent surgery. He still isnt in full training, as his postseason workouts this week have been inside with a focus on fitness.

Leon, in a statement announcing Friedrichs re-signing, said "Building continuity at the center back position is a priority for 2013."

The quick re-signing of Friedrich was in sharp contrast to last season when another veteran, Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo, didnt sign a new contract until January. Pardo, like Friedrich, was happy with his first season in MLS and made it clear he wanted to return for another season. The Fire wanted him, too. It just took longer for that to happen.

Friedrich sounds like hes planning to play just one more year, but thats always subject to change.

If this years back line of Friedrich, Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Gonzalo Segares remains intact, the Fire will be in good shape defensively for next season. The lineup in front of them might not resemble this years nearly as much, however.

The Fire needs an attacking, playmaking midfielder. The club did some winning after Sebastian Grazzini returned to Argentina after a midseason contract dispute but was never as good. Coach Frank Klopas did some lineup patching, but it didnt work in the last six matches when the Fire stumbled to a 1-4-1 finish (counting the season-ending 2-1 home loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Fires first postseason appearance since 2009).

Klopas will keep his players on hand for workouts through next Thursday, Nov. 15. Leon is also expected to make a visit from his offices in California as the offseason administrative work continues.

The Fire could lose a veteran or two in the MLS entry draft in early January and will add a player -- at least temporarily -- when the winner of the Dec. 14-15 open tryout in Bridgeview is chosen.

That player is guaranteed a week in the first phase of preseason training, expected to begin in Florida in mid-January. The MLS SuperDraft, on Jan. 17 in Indianapolis, will also bring some fresh talent to the camp.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) to talk Bulls. 

The panel breaks down the trade with Oklahoma City and question whether the team is better or worse now. 

Later, the guys talk about the Blackhawks' trade for Tomas Jurco and also break down the upcoming Daytona 500. Finally, Telander discusses his five-part series chronicling the Orr High School basketball team as they excel on the court and try to survive off it. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”