Friedrich expected to return Saturday

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Friedrich expected to return Saturday

The Fire hasnt made a formal announcement yet, but all indications are that veteran German defender Arne Friedrich will be back in the starting 11 for Saturdays home match against the Columbus Crew.

Friedrich hobbled off 29 minutes into a May 12 home match against Sporting Kansas City with a right hamstring strain and both club and player have exercised caution in determining his return to action.

Though the Fire managed a 2-1 win against SKC while Friedrich was in the lockerroom for initial treatment, the club missed him immediately after that. He missed five Major League Soccer matches, and the Fire lost three of them. A quick exit from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup also came while Friedrich was sidelined and second-year man Jalil Anibaba and rookie Austin Berry manned the central defender spots.

Friedrich rejoined the team for training while MLS was on a two-week break for international matches and considered playing when the league season resumed on Sunday against the New York Red Bulls. After conferring with coach Frank Klopas, the team opted to keep Friedrich off the game roster and allow him another week of training and rehabilitation to regain his fitness.

"The most important thing is that my hamstring is getting better," Friedrich said. "I have to do whats best for my body and my conditioning. I cant do my best for the team if Im not ready."

Now, however, Friedrichs return seems imminent as the Fire tries to gain revenge for one of the defeats suffered when he was out. Columbus beat the Fire 2-1 on May 26, spoiling a road trip for about 600 Fire fans. The club footed the bill for that trip, and owner Andrew Hauptman went a step further after the return home. He presented those loyal fans with a gift a new megabandera that was unfurled at Toyota Park during the rousing 3-1 win over the Red Bulls.

"We need to build on that and get ready for Columbus, another tough match," said Klopas.

The Fire (6-5-3) and the Crew (5-4-4) are in a battle for the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though plenty of time in their 34-game seasons will remain after Saturdays matchup.

In addition to Friedrichs return, the Crew has something else to worry about. The Fire didnt have Chris Rolfe in the previous meeting. He was nursing a sprained left ankle, but the New York game suggested hes capable of doing some damage against the only MLS club from his home state of Ohio.

Rolfe, who went to college at Dayton, scored the Fires final goal against New York and set up another score one which was called off by a bad referees call. Prior to his three-year stint playing in Denmark Rolfe had six goals and three assists in 15 matches for the Fire against the Crew. Thats almost as effective as hes been against the Red Bulls over the years (seven goals, two assists in 14 matches).

"First of all, Chris is a finisher," said fellow forward Patrick Nyarko, who set up Rolfes goal after scoring the first one himself. "Hes done that throughout his career. Hes quicker than a lot of people think. Hes got great feet and works hard. Hes also a two-way player. Were excited to have him back, and were looking forward to having him help us into the playoffs."

The Fire won both meetings with the Crew in 2011 and owns an 11-5-7 edge in home games against Columbus.

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Sense of stability evident among Bears hierarchy going into pivotal year of major unknowns

Specifics such as whom the Bears will draft at No. 3, or 36, or somewhere in between weren't going to be gleaned from this week's conversations with Bears Chairman George McCaskey, GM Ryan Pace or head coach John Fox. But more interesting, and important, too, are some the the more strategic takeaways from visits with the hierarchy most involved with Bears football fortunes.
 
More significant than anything regarding a player or position is the stability of the core, meaning Pace's and Fox's position under McCaskey. Because that ultimately affects draft choices, signings and myriad elements extending beyond the 2017 season. And some of all that involves understanding McCaskey's vision and history.
 
Realize: Pace was McCaskey's second GM hire in barely three NFL years. The first one of Phil Emery was an abject failure, as was the accompanying coaching hire. The absolute last thing McCaskey wants to be forced by circumstances into doing is replacing another general manager. Brother Michael lost his berth as president due to making the NFL's charter franchise into a laughingstock because of a botched coaching hire; Brother George has no wish to continue the kind of high-level turnover that both reflect, cause and perpetuate dysfunction, and losing.
 
Against that backdrop, one trail of breadcrumbs leads to a strong sense that Pace is secure in his job, barring something going epically wrong. McCaskey was clear that he approved of and likes the direction the Bears are moving under Pace, to the point of having Pace in a video directed to the fanbase. If Pace were on some sort of hot seat, McCaskey and the organization do not make him a short-term face of the franchise while they hope for a player to emerge as that "face."
 
McCaskey could not put a whole lot more pressure on Pace than the latter gets as part of his job and wanting to stay in Chicago for more than football reasons.
 
"Keep building through the draft," McCaskey said during the recently concluded owners meetings. "I told Ryan he should get ripped every time around this year, this time of year ever year for not being more active in free agency. And that's because we're developing our own guys and rewarding our own guys."

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The breadcrumbs from there lead to Fox's situation. Start with the thought that coaches operate for the present and GMs for the future. Not exactly true; GMs balance present and future.
 
But every indication, verbal and otherwise, has been that Fox was very much on board with the major makeover at one spot in particular — quarterback — and a coach with down to possibly a final season pounds the table for win-now material, particularly at that position. And when the Bears didn't re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, which may not have appeared to be benchmark non-move but was, at least one Bears coach was apoplectic at not staying a course with a quarterback who delivered 300 passing yards and zero turnovers in his brief Bears "career."
 
Fox, however, was clearly comfortable with giving the quarterback wheel a spin with Mike Glennon, and ultimately so is his staff. Because it is part of program plan.
 
Consider this scenario: The Bears rebound to a respectable seven or eight wins; not spectacular but the NFC North is the only division in either conference to send two teams to the postseason , meaning that Fox's Bears likely put up a couple wins over good teams, which can be construed as the "progress" that McCaskey referenced this week.
 
Meanwhile, Pace has a third draft with impact players, the Kevin Whites, Eddie Goldmans and others come back from injuries, the Bears go into the 2018 offseason and land Kirk Cousins or have Glennon be what they'd hoped, and the Bears are what McCaskey envisions: a challenger with an arrow pointing up.
 
All theoretical or hypothetical, but Pace has a plan that McCaskey knows and endorses, and best guess is that he gives his GM, and coach, time to have it play out.
 
"We have confidence in Ryan and John," McCaskey said, imposing only "progress" and "results" as his conditions. "We want to build through the draft. Ryan said that in his interview when he said he was interested in coming to the Bears. And we like how he has stuck to that plan."
 
Maybe that was the most significant tell; McCaskey has seen progress apart from the record: "Yeah," he confirmed. "Yes sir."

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

First goal with Blackhawks 'a release' for Tomas Jurco

Tomas Jurco's reaction to his first goal on Monday night was as much celebration as a little bit of relief. The forward, acquired by the Blackhawks about a month ago, had had a few great scoring chances in recent games but just couldn't capitalize.

Finally, he got that first of the season against Tampa Bay.

"It's kind of a release, you know?" Jurco said on Wednesday. "I've had a lot of good chances and it would just never go in for some reason. Obviously I'm very happy that it went in and hopefully this is the start of, I would say, more luck for me."

Looking for consistency in his own game as well as a consistent spot in the lineup, Jurco was looking for a boost of confidence. Getting that first goal could be part of it, as a bit of a weight disappears with that zero in the goal column. 

"That's a hurdle that can be in the back of your mind a lot and all of a sudden it could be a nice release," coach Joel Quenneville said of that first goal. "He's progressing in our team game, technically. Whether it's his pace of play or going to the right areas quickly, we're looking for progression. We saw it [Monday] night and I think he'll continue to get better off that. But certainly that should help him get confidence as we go along here."

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Jurco's been around the net, something the Blackhawks always encourage, for most of those scoring opportunities. Perhaps some of that puck luck wasn't quite there. But Jurco is gaining confidence in recent games, and getting that goal could boost it that much more.

"I've always said, especially in my case, scoring helps that confidence come easier. It brings that fun to the game," Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe if you're not feeling it or not playing with high energy, at a certain point in a game when you score, for some reason you get that jolt, you get that jump. For [Jurco], he's been playing well when he's been in, and no doubt that scoring a goal like that can help boost confidence and help him find his game, which we know he has and will continue to show."

The scoring hurdle has been cleared and Jurco is gaining confidence. Will he carve out a consistent spot in the lineup? Quenneville has some options through the bottom six. That, coupled with the Blackhawks playing inconsistent hockey lately and missing that four-line rotation, Jurco's been one of several who have been in and out of the lineup. But Quenneville said on Wednesday, "I don't see making constant changes once the [playoffs] begin." If Jurco keeps getting chances and capitalizing on a few, and if he ends up as part of a rotation that's successful again, he could stick.

Jurco waited a little bit for that first goal. He hopes it's just the start.

"You know eventually it's going to go in but it was just frustrating. Another game and another and another with good chances and it just wouldn't go in. So it's a big release," Jurco said. "Hopefully I'll keep going, keep producing."