Fire's depth being tested in busy stretch

773978.png

Fire's depth being tested in busy stretch

The Fires bench is being tested now, no doubt about that.

Faced with his clubs third game in seven nights, coach Frank Klopas left attacking midfielder Sebastian Grazzini home for Saturdays road match against the Columbus Crew, starting Rafael Robayo in his place. He also gave Frederico Puppo a start up top in place of Dominic Oduro.

None of those moves worked out very well, as the Crew scored twice in the first half and then held on for a 2-1 victory. That result pulled the Crew (5-4-3) into a tie with the Fire (5-4-3) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, suggesting theyll be battling each other for a playoff berth for the remaining two-thirds of the season.

And that might not be the only battleground for the long-time rivals. If both win their third-round matches in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, theyll collide in that competition on June 5 at Toyota Park. Thats entirely likely, as both face minor league opponents on Tuesday. The Fire face the Michigan Bucks, a member of the Premier Development League, in Pontiac, Mich., while the Crew take on the Dayton Dutch Lions.

As for Saturdays match, the Fire disappointed the 600 loyal fans who piled into 10 buses for the trip to Columbus a journey paid for by the club. The Crew, on a roll with a 3-0-2 record in its last five games, were like the Fire playing its third match in seven nights.

Columbus scored twice in the first half. Klopas then replaced Puppo and Marco Pappa with Oduro and Orr Barouch at the outset of the second half. The new combination generated some chances, but a header by rookie defender Austin Berry in the 71st minute was the only goal the Fire could muster.

"The fight, the character of the guys in the second half was tremendous," said Fire captain Logan Pause. "The guys who came on, the subs, were fantastic. Weve got a group of capable guys, not just our first 11."

Chances are Klopas will have to go deeper into his bench on Tuesday, because the changes on Saturday werent entirely satisfactory.

"We looked a little bit tired at times," said Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich, speaking on Klopas behalf after the match. "The guys battled through that. Mentally they were very strong. We could have gotten 2-2."

Instead the loss was the first to an Eastern Conference opponent in more than a year (a 1-0 defeat at Philadelphia on May 21, 2011 was the last).

The Fire will be playing its fourth game in 10 nights in its first Open Cup test of 2012. The club has made the 99-year-old tournament a high priority since winning the title in the epic inaugural season of 1998. The Fire has won the Dewar Cup four times and lost in the finals twice, the last being a 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders last season.

All amateur and professional teams registered with the U.S. Soccer Federation are eligible for the Open Cup, and those not in MLS have to battle through preliminary rounds before getting a crack at the big-leaguers. The Bucks got their chance with a dramatic 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds.

The Riverhounds are in the United Soccer Leagues Pro Division, and the match was played in Bridgeville, Pa. Still, the PDL club advanced thanks to Stew Givens goal in second-half stoppage time. Givens was the PDLs defender of the year in 2011.

Though the Fire have a sterling 28-9-3 record in Open Cup play, the club hasnt won the summer-long tourney since 2006 when Dave Sarachan was the head coach. The other titles came in 2000 and 2003. In 14 seasons the Fire has reached the Open Cup semifinals eight times.

Carlos Rodon plays catch but timeline for return still uncertain

Carlos Rodon plays catch but timeline for return still uncertain

Carlos Rodon played catch in front of Don Cooper on Monday afternoon but only added to the intrigue surrounding his health when he declined to talk to the media.

On the 10-day disabled list with a biceps strain, the White Sox said Rodon continues to make progress in his rehab program. Cooper said the third-year pitcher felt and looked fine as he played catch in left field. But neither he nor manager Rick Renteria offered many more details on when Rodon may return or even when he could throw off a mound.

"He looked like he played catch good," Cooper said. "His throwing program is progressing. He felt fine. He threw the ball fine. That's kind of where we are at. He threw fine and move on to the next."

Rodon is in town for several days to be observed by the White Sox. On Friday, general manager Rick Hahn described the visit as a "routine follow-up visit." But other than making sure they're cautious with Rodon, the club hasn't been able to offer a specific timetable for their prized pitcher.

"I can't tell you in detail what the program is," Renteria said. "I know it involves throwing and making sure he's getting treatments and making sure it's taken care of, the issue he had with his biceps. We know it's getting better."

But the improvement hasn't made the situation any easier to deal with. When they started him on a delayed program this spring, the White Sox had Rodon pegged for 33 starts and 200 innings. As of now, there's no certainty when he'll make his first turn and the calendar is nearing May.

"He's frustrated," Cooper said. "He wants to get through this, through all of it. We are just there to try to make sure he's doing things right and there's progression.

"Well, I mean we've already taken a lot of caution. He's important to us now and in the future. We wouldn't rush with him or anybody."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

jimmy-butler-0424.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

In the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, CSN's David Kaplan is joined by the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh and the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns to discuss the Bulls falling to a 2-2 series tie with the Celtics.

The guys predict how the first-round playoff series will end and talk about how Isaiah Canaan will fare as the starting point guard in Game 5.

Then, the panel discusses whether Matt Davidson should be in the White Sox lineup more and who will still be playing on the South Side when the White Sox rebuild is done.

Finally, the panel discusses a couple of contract extensions for Pat Fitzgerald and Chris Collins at Northwestern.

Take a listen to the episode below: