Gargan hopes to play vs. Rapids

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Gargan hopes to play vs. Rapids

Its not a sure thing that Dan Gargan will be at his usual right back spot for the Fire when the club visits the Colorado Rapids on Sunday. The veteran defender was slowed during the training sessions leading into the match by a sore left toe.

But, perhaps more than any other regular season match in Major League Soccer, Gargan wants to play in this one. The fact that Gargan spent the first four seasons of his MLS career with the Rapids is one thing. But this goes deeper than a player wanting to show off against a team that released him in April of the 2008 season.

In this case theres bragging rights on the line with Jeff Larentowicz, a defensive midfielder for the Rapids. Plenty of former teammates have squared off in MLS over the years, but the Gargan-Larentowicz connection goes back much further than most. They started playing together as students at Clark grade school in Philadelphia, then continued on as teammates at Chestnut Hill Academy, where they helped that school rule the Inter-academic League -- the oldest private school league in the U.S. -- as both juniors and seniors.

"Not just sports but, looking back, we had English class and math class together. We spent countless hours together, said Gargan. "And this wont be the first time weve played against each other. But its still special every time. Itll be a fun game for me.

Actually, they were rivals even in their high school days when they werent playing for Chestnut Hill.

"We werent on the same club team, said Gargan, who played for the Coppa youth team while Larentowicz captained Delco Arsenal, which won U.S. Youth Soccer Assn. national titles in 2002 and 2003.

Youth soccer was strong in the Philadelphia area at that time. Two other MLS veterans, Bobby Convey and Chris Albright played for arch-rival Penn Charter in high school matches, and Convey was Gargans teammate with Coppa in club play. Last week Gargan squared off with Albright when the Fire defeated the Philadelphia Union 1-0 for its first victory of the season.

After high school graduation in 2001 Gargan played at Georgetown while Larentowicz performed for Brown. Though Chestnut Hills strong program produced lots of Division I soccer players, only Gargan and Larentowicz are still playing. Gargan is 29, Larentowicz 28.

Gargan was drafted 43rd overall by the Rapids in 2005, and he played in 49 matches for them from 2005-2007. They released him early in the 2008 season, and he signed with Chivas USA two weeks later but personal problems led to him retiring three weeks later without playing a game.

He restarted his career in 2009, playing for the Puerto Rico Islanders of the United Soccer League. Toronto FC brought him back into MLS in 2010, and he started 37 times for that club before being traded to the Fire for defender Dasan Robinson on July 28 of last year. Gargan was a key late-season acquisition, starting nine times in a strong stretch run that saw the Fire barely miss the playoffs.

Larentowiczs career is similar. He was the 45th pick in the 2005 MLS supplemental draft by the New England Revolution and stayed with the Revs through the 2009 season. They sent him to the Rapids in a five-player trade prior to the 2010 season. Hell return to the Rapids lineup Sunday after serving a one-game suspension for drawing two yellow cards in the previous match.

Gargan and Larentowicz trained together briefly after Larentowicz was traded to the Rapids, and Larentowicz stood up in Gargans wedding in January. Both their families still live in the Philadelphia area.

Both also know about the altitude in Denver that has been known to bother visiting teams.

"In the time I was there I was in the best shape of my life, said Gargan. "When Id come out for practices I felt I could run for days. Once you hit altitude you feel it. Its crazy how quickly you get dehydrated. Playing in it (on a daily basis) is definitely a benefit, and the teams in Colorado havent taken as much advantage of it as they should.

The Fire hopes the Rapids wont take advantage of it in this the third game of the season. Its a key one, based on what transpired last season. As was the case in 2011, the Fire is off to 1-0-1 start. Last years Game 3 started a tailspin in which the Fire didnt win again for three months. The club doesnt want that to happen again.

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

Quick Hits from Blackhawks-Stars: Another slow start but better finish

It wasn't pretty, but the Blackhawks found a way to pick up another two points and improved to 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and 18-3-1 over their last 22.

With Minnesota's loss to Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have taken an eight-point lead for first in the Central Division and are only two points away from the Washington Capitals for home-ice advantage throughout the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's take a look at Quick Hits from the 3-2 shootout victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night:

What Worked: The finish and shootout. While the Blackhawks scored the game's first goal, it was another slow start by a team that has had a few of those over the last several outings and has preached working on turning in more of a complete effort. They recorded only 14 shots on goal in the first two periods, and it took more than six minutes after Patrick Kane's goal to record their next one.

But they finished on a positive note yet again, and went 2-for-3 in the shootout thanks to Kane and Artemi Panarin, who potted the game winner. Kane said after the game that he tried his move on Scott Darling during morning skate and it worked. So he went with it tonight in an effort to snap a mini shootout drought and he did.

What Didn't Work: Controlling the puck. The Blackhawks seemingly have the puck more than their opponent does almost every game, but it doesn't reflect in the shot department because they often look for the perfect pass or shot and fail to record one at all. They had 50 shot attempts with 26 of them on goal compared to the Stars' 64 attempts with 44 on goal. They know they must get better at that.

Star of the game: Corey Crawford. After allowing four goals on only 10 shots in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vancouver, the Blackhawks netminder bounced back in a huge way. He matched a season-high with 42 saves, and recorded his 30th win of the season.

He Said It: "He played amazing tonight. Reason we won the game. Hats off to him, he's done that a lot this year. For a goalie it's probably tough to show up every night, even the goals he let in last game you can't put all the blame on him, but he was outstanding tonight." — Kane on Crawford's performance

By the Numbers:

167 — Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked one shot in the win, and it was enough to set a new career high in that department, previously established during the 2010-11 campaign (166).

15 — Trevor van Riemsyk assisted on Marian Hossa's goal in the third period, giving him a career-high 15 points on the season in 50 games. He had 14 points in 82 games last year. He also extended his point streak to three games.

6 — With the victory, Crawford has earned at least 30 wins in six of his seven NHL seasons as a full-time starter. The only time he didn't reach that mark was during the lockout-shortened year in 2012-13 when he went 19-5-5.

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to have the best rotation in baseball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Jake Arrieta is a Cy Young Award winner who won't get the Opening Night assignment. John Lackey is a No. 3 starter already fitted for his third World Series ring. Kyle Hendricks led the majors with a 2.13 ERA last year and won't start until the fifth game of this season.  

Do you feel like this is the best rotation in baseball?

"We're up there, yeah," Arrieta said after homering off Zack Greinke during Thursday afternoon's 5-5 tie with the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. "I think on paper – and with what we've actually done on the field – it's tough to not say that.

"We like the guys we have. People can rank them, but time will tell. Once we get out there the first four or five times through the rotation, I think you can probably put a stamp on it then, more so than now. 

"But, yeah, we stack up just as well as anybody out there, for sure."  

Arrieta made it through five innings against the Diamondbacks, giving up three runs and eight hits in what figures to be his second-to-last Cactus League tune-up before facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 4. 

The New York Mets blew away Cubs hitters with their power pitching and game-planning during that 2015 National League Championship Series sweep. The Washington Nationals are trying to keep Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg healthy and already watched Tanner Roark deliver for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. 

The Cubs dreaded the idea of facing Johnny Cueto in a possible elimination game at Wrigley Field last October. The Los Angeles Dodgers almost became a matchup nightmare for the Cubs with lefties Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill during the 2016 NLCS.

But slotting Hendricks at No. 5 – five months after he started a World Series Game 7 – is a luxury few contenders can afford. 

"That just speaks to our length in the rotation," Arrieta said, "and being able to keep relievers out of the game, longer than most teams. That's a big deal, especially when you get into July and August. 

"Obviously, Kyle could be a 1 or 2 just about anywhere. Not that he's not here. We've got several of those, which is a good problem to have. It's going to be favorable for us when there's a No. 4 or No. 5 guy in our rotation going up against somebody else's. Our chances are really good, especially with our lineup." 

Arrieta talked up No. 4 starter Brett Anderson as "a little bit like Hendricks from the left side" in terms of his preparation, cerebral nature and spin rate, a combination that makes him an X-factor for this rotation and an organization starved for pitching beyond 2017. 

The if-healthy disclaimer always comes with Anderson, who played with Arrieta on the 2008 Olympic team and has been on the disabled list nine times since then. Coming out of high school, Arrieta initially signed to play for Anderson's father, Frank, the Oklahoma State University coach at the time, before going in a different direction in a career that wouldn't truly take off until he got to Chicago. 

"We're all looking forward to seeing how we pick up where we left off," Arrieta said. "Judging by what we've done this spring and the shape guys are in and the health – I don't see any reason we can't jump out to an early lead like we did last year and sustain it throughout the entire season."