Fire acquires Lindpere; announces preseason schedule

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Fire acquires Lindpere; announces preseason schedule

The Fire has been relatively quiet this offseason, but that changed in a hurry on Friday when the club acquired Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere from the New York Red Bulls for an international roster spot.

Lindpere will bring experience to a Fire midfield that struggled last season after Sebastian Grazzini left the club to return to Argentina in midseason. Lindpere started his professional career with stints at several Estonian clubs beginning in 1997. He also performed for his countrys national team.

His career blossomed when he moved first to CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria and then to Tromo IL in Norway before he joined the Red Bulls in 2010. In addition to Lindperes signing, the Fire announced its preseason schedule on Friday.

Prior to that, the major offseason developments included the signing of German defender Arne Friedrich for another season; the acquisition of Brazilian forward Maicon Santos, from D.C. United, and the loss of defender Dan Gargan, to the San Jose Earthquakes, in the re-entry draft; and the departure of two-year club president Julian Posada.

MORE: Posada to step down as Fire president

The Fire made the only selection in the first stage of the re-entry draft in picking up Santos. One other member of last years Fire, goalkeeper Jay Nolly, wasnt re-signed or claimed in the re-entry draft. Hes now a free agent. More substantial developments are in the offing, with a new player acquisition and the winner of Decembers open tryout to be announced early next week.

RELATED: Fire lose Gargan in Phase 2 of draft

On Friday, the club, preparing for its 16th season, became one of the last in MLS to announce its preseason plans. Players will gather at Toyota Park on Jan. 18 for two days of medical exams. Theyll depart for the first phase of preseason training on Jan. 20, with 10 days of workouts to be held again at Ave Maria University, on the outskirts of Naples, FL.

The sessions in Florida include matches against Florida Gulf Coast University at Ave Maria on Jan. 27 and the first battle with an MLS opponent on Jan. 30, when the Columbus Crew shows up at IMG Academy in Bradenton.

RELATED: Fire select Maicon Santos in MLS re-entry draft

After returning to Chicago for a brief break, the players will resume preseason training in Ventura, Calif., from Feb. 2-10. Highlight of the workouts there will be a match against San Jose at Oxnard College, with the date still to be determined.

For the third straight season the Fire will conclude the preseason in the Carolina Challenge Cup Feb. 23-24 in Charleston, S.C. The Fire will be joined in that four-team round robin competition by the Houston Dynamo, an MLS Cup finalist the last two seasons; the host Charleston Battery, champion of the United Soccer League in 2012; and the Vancouver Whitecaps, an MLS rival.

The Fires last match of 2012 was a 2-1 loss to the Dynamo at Toyota Park in the first game the MLS postseason. It was also the Fires first playoff game since 2009.

Before the Fire begins training, forward Chris Rolfe will join about 30 other MLS stars at Soccer Night in Newtown on Jan. 7. Its being held in support of the victims of the tragic shooting in that Connecticut town that devastated the nation days before Christmas.

The first regular season match is Mar. 3 against the two-time defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. Thats a week earlier than the 2012 season openers. The Fires home opener is Mar. 9 against the New England Revolution.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

[SHOP: Get your own Jake Arrieta jersey]

This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras make a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

[SHOP: Get your Addison Russell jersey here]

Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox try to sweep Phillies tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Wednesday’s starting pitching matchup: James Shields vs. Jerad Eickhoff

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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