Pappa returns to Chicago as Fire prep for Red Bulls

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Pappa returns to Chicago as Fire prep for Red Bulls

The Fire have lost three straight matches across all competitions, and the absence of midfielder Marco Pappa likely was a factor in that disappointing turn of events.

Pappa is a mainstay of Guatemalas national team, which is involved in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying competition. He left the Fire after playing 45 minutes in 2-1 loss at Columbus on May 26 and didnt play in a 3-2 defeat to the minor league Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup May 29 or a 2-0 defeat at New England June 2.

Then the Fire and the rest of Major League Soccer went on a two-week break while the start of World Cup qualifying was in progress. Only Pappa was involved in that among Fire players. He played the first half of Guatemalas 2-1 loss at Jamaica and came on in the second half of a 1-1 draw against the United States on Tuesday.

Pappa is back with the Fire now and will be available for Sundays MLS match against the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park. While the Red Bulls (8-3-2) are off to a fast start in MLS play, the Fire (5-5-3) have lost three of its last four in league play. After the emotional international matches Pappas not sure if hell be on the field for the Fire on Sunday. Coach Frank Klopas will decide that.

"Im feeling good. Im sore like normal and Ive been traveling a lot," said Pappa, who rejoined the Fire at Fridays training session after a four-hour flight back from Guatemala. "I hope I can be ready to play on Sunday."

The Fire certainly need him. After notching the goal-of-the-year in MLS two seasons ago, Pappa followed with a career-high eight goals in 2011. He has three goals and three assists in 12 MLS appearances this season.

Following Sundays match the Fire host again on June 23, when Columbus comes to Bridgeview. Those matches could swing the Fires season, as five of the next seven after that are on the road. Pappas return gives the Fire a big boost.

Internationally, Pappa played a big role in the U.S. match, scoring his countrys goal on a brilliant free kick in the 82nd minute that kept Guatemala in contention in the four-team group competition.

"The World Cup in my country is an important goal, and were trying to win our group," said Pappa, who has played 28 times for Guatemala over the last five seasons. Hes the only MLS player on the Guatemala roster. Most of the others play for clubs in the countrys own pro league.

"We had around 30,000 (spectators for the U.S. match)," said Pappa. "Thats a good number in Guatemala. Last year putting people in the stands was hard, but they really support the national team."

Like the U.S., Guatemala has four more matches in group play and the draw with the U.S. was encouraging.

"For sure we tried to win," he said, "but we were losing and the second half we tried to push the game. We deserved a point, but we have things to improve."

Guatemala has home-and-home matches left with Antiqua & Barbuda, a road match against the U.S. on Oct. 16 and a home battle with Jamaica. The next break for World Cup qualifying is in September, and Pappa hopes the Fire will be in solid playoff position by then.

"We had been getting better each game," he said. "We kept the same group from last year, and we know each other better and better with each game."

Pappa could be facing a former Fire teammate on Sunday. Wilman Conde was a strong central defender for the Fire from 2007-10 when he appeared in 73 matches, was the teams defender-of-the-year in 2009 and a member of the MLS Best XI that season. He left the Fire to play a season in Mexico but returned to MLS with the Red Bulls this season.

Conde hasnt been much of a factor for New York. He hasnt played in an MLS match since March 31 due to a series of injuries, but he did participate in two U.S. Open Cup games and is expected to be available on Sunday. Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls offensive star, might not be ready, though. He missed training earlier this week with a calf injury.

Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender who has missed considerable time with a right hamstring injury, will likely sit again for the Fire but striker Chris Rolfe is ready for his first match in Toyota Park since he rejoined the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark. Before heading overseas, Rolfe had huge game for the Fire against New York, scoring three first-half goals in a 5-2 win on Oct. 23, 2008.

Rolfe needed six weeks to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in training shortly after he returned from Denmark. He played 21 minutes in the loss at Columbus in his first game appearance.

Sundays match will also be noteworthy as the second MLS faceoff of former Mexico internationals Pavel Pardo of the Fire and Rafa Marquez of the Red Bulls.

The Fire has never lost to New York at Toyota Park (5-0-3), the last three overall meetings ending in draws. New Yorks last road win over the Fire came when the club, then known as the MetroStars, won at Soldier Field on May 21, 2005.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.