Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

708362.png

Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

Arne Friedrich played in 82 matches for Germanys national team. Despite his star-studded career in Europe, his debut with the Fire on Saturday came against a bunch of college kids.

Not surprisingly, Friedrichs superior skill was clearly evident as he lasted 88 minutes in a 1-0 victory over the University of Louisville, a squad that included Fire first-round draft pick Austin Berry on its roster last season. On Saturday Berry played beside Friedrich in the middle of the Fires back line.

Though Fire coach Frank Klopas used 21 players, this match -- designed to keep the team fit during a bye week -- was all about Friedrich. He didnt play in the Fires first three Major League Soccer matches because his fitness wasnt up to snuff. Hes expected to be ready for Sundays home game against the Houston Dynamo, however.

"This is my target," said Friedrich. "(Saturday) was my first game after six months. Im about 70 percent, but to be 100 percent I need some games."

Not only did Friedrich, 32, play his first game for the Fire, it was also his first game of any kind in the United States.

"I played against the United States when I was with our national team," he said. "And I saw only two MLS games because in Germany it was hard to get it (on television)."

Friedrich feels he needs to improve his fitness and get to know his teammates better on the field, but otherwise his adjustment to a new city hasnt been difficult.

"Its been no problem. From the first day I liked this city and the people very much," he said. "And I got lucky with the weather.

His first match was played in beautiful conditions on the Toyota Park practice field, and that encouraged about 200 fans to turn out. A group of Section 8 supporters was particularly vocal while standing on a hill behind the south goal. Friedrich was almost as vocal on the field.

"The most important thing is for us to know each other," said Friedrich. "Sometimes weve got to talk more on the pitch, but this takes time. I want to help this team with my experience. The target is to get to the playoffs, and when we get there anything can happen."

Klopas called Friedrichs performance "solid" and said hed be ready for the Houston match.

"We pushed him as much as we could in this game," said Klopas. "It was an easy game for him. Its important for someone to be vocal like that, with the experience to guide you."

Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Dan Gargan didnt play against the collegians, and only Marco Pappa played the full 90 minutes. He scored the lone goal with an 18-yard blast off his left foot in the 12th minute.

Gargan, nursing a left toe injury, jogged along the sidelines before the match. Jalil Anibaba, who started beside Gibbs as a central defender in the first three matches, moved to Gargans spot on the right side but Klopas would give no indication what lineup hell use against the Dynamo.

Sean Johnson figures to return in goal after missing preseason and the first three MLS matches while spending time training with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 team in its bid to qualify for the Olympics. Klopas held him out of the last MLS match because he hadnt seen much game action lately, and the last of those appearances didnt go too well. Johnson came on as a reserve against El Salvador in the last match of Olympic qualifying and allowed a tying goal in stoppage time. The tie advanced El Salvador and eliminated the U.S. in the tournament.

Klopas said Johnson has shaken off that negative experience, but feels last years starting netminder isnt game-sharp yet. He played the first half and Paolo Tornaghi the second against Louisville. Johnson played all 90 minutes for the Fire reserves in a 2-1 loss at Colorado on Monday and will likely play in the reserves next match, on Tuesday at Sporting Kansas City, before Klopas decides on Sundays starter.

"His attitudes been very good in training," said Klopas, indicating that Johnson has shaken off the letdown vs. El Salvador.

"You just have to move on with your career," said Klopas. "You cant hold on and let that bother you. Whether youre a goalkeeper or not, you learn through difficult moments. Sean has learned from that."

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The leading candidate to be the team’s starting center fielder, Charlie Tilson has been temporarily shut down after he suffered a stress reaction in his right foot.

Tilson suffered the injury while running in a workout on Friday and had an MRI performed on Saturday. A team official said Tilson’s injury isn’t as severe as a fracture but he’d be sidelined for 10 days, at which point he’d be re-evaluated. Acquired last July, the White Sox rookie was already rehabbing from a torn left hamstring that ended his 2016 season early.

The White Sox acquired the New Trier High School product from the St. Louis Cardinals last July in exchange for left-hander Zach Duke. Tilson was immediately called up as the White Sox intended to try him out in center field the rest of the season. But Tilson suffered a season-ending injury in his major league debut while tracking down a fly ball and had surgery several days later.

Tilson had made good progress in his rehab and was a full participant in a hitter’s camp at Camelback Ranch last month. Earlier this week, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tilson was a top candidate to take over as the club’s starting center fielder if he was healthy.

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL: 'He's a special player'

Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is putting up video-game numbers in the Ontario Hockey League.

He ranks first among all players with 49 goals and 104 points, and has done so in only 50 games. That's an average of more than two points per game.

DeBrincat, the Blackhawks' second-round draft pick (No. 39 overall) in 2015 thanks to the Andrew Shaw trade, became the Erie Otters' all-time leading goal scorer earlier this year and on Saturday, he tied Brad Boyes for second on the team's all-time points list with 309. The only player he's chasing now is teammate Dylan Strome, who has 329 and counting.

Connor McDavid, who ranks fourth in Otters history with 285 points, was there for DeBrincat's rookie season when he scored 51 goals and 50 assists. The 20-year-old Oilers captain very much still pays attention to the Otters, and isn't surprised by the heightened success of his former teammate.

"He’s having another amazing season," McDavid said. "No surprise there."

It was easy to suggest DeBrincat's numbers were inflated because he benefited from having a player like McDavid centering his line. But McDavid insists that wasn't the case.

"Honestly, we helped each other," McDavid said. "It was not a one-way street by any means. He finds a way to score goals. My year they were saying, 'Oh, he was just playing with me.' Then the other year, he’s playing with (Strome). He’s playing with Stromer again. To score 50 three seasons in a row is absolutely incredible no matter who you’re playing with or what you’re doing. Absolute credit to him."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The numbers back it up, too.

DeBrincat's points per game average has increased in each of the last three seasons: 1.53, 1.68 and 2.08, a significant jump from his second to third season. It's especially impressive when you factor in that he's scored only eight of his 49 goals on the power play this year after combining for 34 goals on the man advantage in his first two. 

Initially, McDavid was a little skeptical when informed that newly-signed winger DeBrincat, who's now listed as 5-7, 170 pounds, would be his new linemate. It didn't take long for that to change.

"He kind of just came out of nowhere," McDavid said. "I remember us signing (him) and looking, and it said he was 5-2, 140 pounds, whatever. The GM at the time, Sherry Bassin, said 'I found you a new winger.' I’m like, ‘That guy is going to play with me?’ Sure enough, he comes in and we kind of have that chemistry right away.

"He knows where the net is. He finds a way to score basically every night. He’s got a great shot. He’s one of the feistiest guys I’ve ever played with. It’s really remarkable about what he’s been able to do."

Size is surely to be the biggest concern for DeBrincat at the NHL level, but players such as Cam Atkinson (5-7), Johnny Gaudreau (5-8) and Mats Zuccarello (5-7) are proving that you can be among the league's best despite being undersized. And the game is evolving into more of an up-tempo style where teams built on speed is becoming the new norm.

DeBrincat's willingness to stick his nose into dirty areas combined with his offensively-gifted ability is a big reason why McDavid believes his former linemate will succeed at the highest level.

"I think well," McDavid said when asked how DeBrincat's game will translate into the NHL. "He’s just got such a drive and such a nose for the net that I don’t think he’s going to be stopped. He takes on guys much bigger. I don’t really know how he does it.

"Especially when he was a rookie and I was playing with him, he’s going into scrums against guys that are 6-5, and you’re on the ice thinking, ‘How the hell am I going to help you?’ He definitely picks his fights. He’s a special person and special player."