Fire's loss sets up critical match against DC United

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Fire's loss sets up critical match against DC United

Saturday was a strange night for Chicago soccer.

Arguably the best-played match of the season at Toyota Park was staged in an ideal soccer atmosphere, but it didnt involve the Fire. The citys Major League Soccer club was in Boston, playing a bad game in a bad setting at a crucial point in the season.

Toyota Park welcomed the top two teams in the current FIFA Womens World Rankings, and it drew a sellout crowd announced at 19,522. The stadiums seating capacity is 20,000 and the Fire drew 20,563 against the Los Angeles Galaxy in its lone sellout of this season, but forget the seeming contradiction in numbers. The Olympic gold medalists from the U.S. played Germany to a 1-1 draw before a most-attentive packed house in Bridgeview.

The Fire, meanwhile, went into its last road match of the MLS regular season against the New England Revolution with the chance to take over first place in the Eastern Conference. Putting on a performance that captain Logan Pause admitted was "kind of blah," the Fire took a 1-0 loss that damaged its playoff positioning.

Not only that, but the atmosphere in New England reflected the problems still plaguing 17-year old MLS. One of its charter teams, the Revolution announced a crowd of 25,534 not bad numerically, but that left Gillette Stadium only one-third filled. The home of footballs New England Patriots is clearly not suited for soccer.

The Fire-New England match was played on artificial turf clearly marked for a National Football League game. The field was also too narrow for an MLS match. The Revs need a new home field, one like most every other team in the league.

Those long-range issues aside, the Fire (17-11-5) put itself in a precarious position for this Saturdays regular season home finale against D.C. United (17-10-6). United climbed ahead of the Fire and into second place in the Eastern Conference by beating the Columbus Crew 3-2 in another Saturday night matchup.

The loss in New England, coupled with Sporting Kansas Citys scoreless draw against New York, killed the Fires chances of finishing in first place in the Eastern Conference. Now the Fire could finish as high as second or as low as fifth, depending on the last round of regular season matches.

Finishing second or third would mean a spot in the two-game Eastern semifinal series, to be played Nov. 3 or 4 and Nov. 7 or 8. Finishing fourth or fifth would mean a one-game knockout match on Wednesday or Thursday on the home field of the No. 4 seed to determine the last team in the conference semifinals.

The five Eastern playoff teams were determined over the weekend, but not the order of finish. SKC (17-7-9) needs a draw in its last match at home against the Philadelphia Union to clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference playoffs. D.C. United (17-10-6) could keep its hopes alive for the top spot with a road win in Bridgeview. New York (15-9-9) sits in the fourth spot with only a Saturday road match at Philadelphia remaining. Fifth-place Houston (14-8-11) concludes at Colorado on Saturday night.

Though theres plenty of uncertainty regarding the postseason, theres no doubt that the Fire must play better the rest of the way than it did under the less-than-ideal circumstances in New England.

"We really just needed to raise our energy level. Thats really what it was about. We just came out flat in the first half," said goalkeeper Sean Johnson. That resulted in the Fire giving up the first goal for the 20th time in 33 matches a revealing statistic that must be improved for the big matches ahead.

The Fire has been a bad team on artificial turf, going 2-9-2 on such surfaces over the last three years, so it wasnt surprising the club struggled in its latest adventure off grass. Coach Frank Klopas didnt want to risk injury to Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, on the New England field with a playoff berth already assured. Friedrich was a healthy scratch.

"We dont play on turf much, and we come here and the field is smaller, the bounce is different, we dont practice on turf," said Klopas. "Its different.Its not like we came here underestimating anyone.We just werent that share in the final third when we had opportunities to be so."

Klopas brought Dan Gargan in at right back and moved Jalil Anibaba into the middle against the Revs. Friedrichs absence had little to do with the disappointing outcome, as the defenders limited New England to one shot on goal a 25-yarder by 17-year old Diego Fagundez in the 17th minute. Fagundez was one of several youngsters used by coach Jay Heaps as New England (8-17-8) wound down its disappointing season.

Fagundez goal snapped a 196-minute scoreless streak for New England. The Revs became the first Eastern team to win a season series from the Fire, which has won season series against SKC, New York, Houston, Columbus, Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto. The Fire came out a 4-2 loser in its lone meeting with D.C. United, an Aug. 22 battle on Uniteds field.

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Honda Road Ahead: Bulls continue playoff push against Cavaliers, Hawks

Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue break down the Bulls' upcoming schedule in the latest edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

TNT Bulls are back this week as the team heads into a crucial stretch. 

Currently, the Bulls sit half a game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and with just eight games remaining on the schedule, each contest is essentially a must-win. 

So, yes, Thursday would be a great time for Jimmy Butler and company to summon their TNT alter ego. The Bulls have sealed 18 straight victories when playing on TNT Thursday, an improbable feat considering those games are usually reserved for two of the NBA's best. 

To continue that run, they'll have to down Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are also fighting for playoff positioning -- albeit at the top of the conference. Good thing the Bulls have a tendency to get up for big games. 

"The Bulls play up and down to their competition," Bulls Pregame and Postgame analyst Kendall Gill said. "They've been doing that the whole season." 

After Cleveland, the Bulls get set to battle another playoff squad, the Atlanta Hawks. 

Watch the video above to see Schanowski, Gill and Perdue break down the matchups. 

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Charlie Tilson will spend another three weeks in a walking boot and is likely out until at least the end of May.

The White Sox outfielder has been wearing the boot ever since he re-aggravated a stress reaction in his right foot earlier this month. Tilson is also rehabbing a torn hamstring that required surgery last August and ended his 2016 season early.

The White Sox later downed the San Francisco Giants 4-3 at Camelback Ranch. Catcher Roberto Pena had a two-out, two-run single in the ninth.

“It’s likely going to be a little bit of a process from there,” Tilson said. “One of those things you have to listen to your body. Like I said, it may take more time than I would like. But the ultimate goal is to be sustainable and get myself back to where I need to be.”

The White Sox top options for center field remain veteran Peter Bourjos and prospect Jacob May. They also could use Leury Garcia in center, manager Rick Renteria said.

Center field is one of several open roster battles with only three full days to go in camp. The team is off on Thursday before playing a pair of exhibition games at Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday.

“We’ll figure it out, and it could be in the next couple of days,” Renteria said. “We just have to allow it to play out and then make a determination at that point.”

The White Sox also have two spots up for grabs in the back of the bullpen. Michael Ynoa, who is out of options, non-roster invitees Anthony Swarzak, Cory Luebke and Matt Purke, and rookie Zack Burdi are vying for jobs. Rookie Juan Minaya is likely to start the season on the disabled list.

Rule 5 draftee Dylan Covey, who pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings on Saturday, could figure into the team’s plans even more if Carlos Rodon starts the season on the disabled list. Covey is expected to start for the White Sox on Wednesday against the San Diego Padres.

Sunday’s starter James Shields said he’s ready for the regular season after throwing five innings. Shields allowed three earned runs and eight hits, walked three and struck out two.

He finished the Cactus League with a 3.45 ERA in 15 2/3 innings.

“Overall I felt good and I’m ready to move on,” Shields said. “These last couple outings I’ve been trying to work on my two-seam fastball. Today it was a little erratic, but overall felt pretty good.”

Nate Jones struck out two in a scoreless inning pitched. David Robertson, Blake Smith and Dan Jennings also pitched a scoreless inning.

Jose Abreu doubled and walked in four trips. Melky Cabrera singled twice in three trips.