McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

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McLaughlin looks ahead to 2013

Lane Tech's Jack McLaughlin is a mix of contradictions. He is a North Sider who is a White Sox fan. He wears No. 24 because of Joe Crede, not Willie Mays. He is a pitcher with pinpoint control, not an overpowering fastball. And though he understands that baseball is his future, he won't disavow a commitment to his friends and teammates to play football."I always loved playing football and I made a commitment to both sports," he said. "I started at quarterback last year and the team looks to me to lead them. I plan on sticking with my commitment. It's a matter of honor. But I know my future is baseball."Lane Tech coach Dean Stavrakas appreciates McLaughlin's loyalty."He is one of the finest young men I've had the privilege of coaching. But if he really works hard this winter, he will be the best known name in Chicago as a senior," he said.Stavrakas wants him to beef up and skip football this fall. The thought of one of the best baseball players in the state running with a football against 300-pound linemen and 225-pound linebackers is a scary proposition."He wants to do it," the coach said. "I've been talking to him about not doing it. He should spend the off-season conditioning and trying to get a shot at a Division I college and the major leagues. Colleges are looking at him. If he threw 90 miles per hour, that would open eyes, too."McLaughlin doesn't register 90 mph on a radar gun yet. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander averages 82-84 mph. He plans to pitch every weekend this summer for Academy Elite. His goals are to add 6 to 7 mph to his fastball and add another pitch, maybe a slider or sinker, to his fastball, curveball and changeup."I want to add something that goes down and in to a right-handed hitter but looks like a fastball," he said. "I love the feeling of just making kids look terrible while I'm pitching. I like to dominate. I love when the ball is in my hand and everyone is looking at me to make a pitch. I like being the center of attention."McLaughlin can't wait for the 2013 season. Lane Tech closed its 2012 campaign with a 21-14 record, losing to Simeon 2-1 in for the Public League championship, and to Maine West 7-1 in the regional opener. Considering the Indians got off to a 3-9 start, they finished in a blaze of glory.Next year? McLaughlin returns with 20 other underclassmen, including designated hitter Mike Henry, center fielder Matt Delaney and first baseman Walter Nolan-Cohn.But 2012 could have been better. McLaughlin said the 2-1 loss to Simeon "summed up the whole year. There are no words to explain it. We worked hard all season for that game. But we just didn't pull it off," he said."I was happy with my performance. I gave my team a chance to win. But I tip my hat to (Simeon pitcher) Shane Brown, who pitched a great game, too. I have one regret, a 3-ball, 2-strike changeup in the first inning against Blake Hickman. I left it high and in and he hit it to left for a run-scoring double. It turned out to be the difference in the game."Next year's goal is to qualify for the state finals for the first time since 2001. With a new 4 million baseball stadium scheduled to be opened for the 2013 season, there is renewed excitement at Lane Tech. As a senior, McLaughlin hopes to re-establish the winning tradition and regain the respect that the program once commanded."I hope to attract interest (from college and major league scouts) over the summer," McLaughlin said. "I began to realize what my potential was last year, when I lost 2-1 to New Trier in the sectional semifinal. They were seeded No. 4 and we were seeded No. 14. They had Charlie Tillson, who was a major league draft choice. He was my only strikeout of the game."McLaughlin made an error on Tillson's bunt in the first inning. Tillson stole second and third and scored on a fly ball."They had no respect for us at all," McLaughlin said. "We stuck with them the whole game. Their pitcher is at Illinois. I was a sophomore and held my own. It said to me that I can do this at a high level. With our great tradition, teams should have more respect for us."McLaughlin finished with a 7-6 record and a 1.78 earned run average with
69 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 66 23 innings."He doesn't throw hard. The key is his control, down and in and down and away on everything, rarely high," Stavrakas said. "He has command of his fast ball, curveball and changeup. He can throw any of them at any time for a strike. If only he'd stop playing football and concentrate on baseball..."McLaughlin is listening.

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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