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.

Fire hoping to build on Houston win

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Fire hoping to build on Houston win

The Chicago Fire slogged through the first third of the season with just two wins, but the 1-0 win against Houston on Saturday offered some hope.

That hope comes not just in the result, but in the way the Fire played.

The 20 shots was the most for the Fire this season and the seven on target was second to only the season opener. It was probably the Fire's best performance of the season when adding in the solid defensive performance that was absent back on March 6.

There are still things that the Fire need to improve on though. The Fire probably should have converted more of those chances and the Dynamo had 62.9 percent of the possession.

“I’m absolutely sure that at some point of the season all the pieces will come together," coach Veljko Paunovic said during Tuesday's conference call with media. "We will start performing much better and we will have more offensive outcome and obviously we have to keep our defensive good performance."

So now that the Fire had a decent performance and result, the question becomes can the team build on it?

“I think we have to build on this win," goalkeeper Sean Johnson said after the game. "I think any type of positivity in this time you have to grab and you have to run with it."

It must be said that Houston is down near the bottom of the league's standings and the Dynamo are now 0-6 on the road. With that in mind, beating Houston should have been more of an expectation, but if it gives a confidence boost to the Fire that may be all that matters.

It won't be as easy against Portland, the defending MLS Cup champions. However, a win against the Timbers would start to make the MLS standings less cringe-worthy for Fire fans ahead of the Copa America break.

"We believe that winning the game against Houston will help us to come to this game with more confidence, better prepared and that’s something that we have to work on this week," Paunovic said. "We believe that actually it’s a great moment for us to finish the first part of the season winning against a very good team, at least have a very good performance.”

On the injury front, Paunovic said that David Accam is still at full strength and ready to return after being suspended for the Houston match. Gilberto is still nursing a minor hamstring injury, but has been training with the team. Michael Harrington and Collin Fernandez are nearing returns, but may still be out Saturday. John Goossens will be out Saturday, but Paunovic said he expects him to be back after the break.

White Sox try to slow down skid as they battle the Royals on CSN

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White Sox try to slow down skid as they battle the Royals on CSN

The White Sox take on the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. 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.

Thursday’s starting pitching matchup: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Danny Duffy

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

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with White Sox Pulse.

Cubs don’t see Cardinals as ‘big brother’ in rivalry anymore

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Cubs don’t see Cardinals as ‘big brother’ in rivalry anymore

ST. LOUIS – Jake Arrieta’s breakdown of his performance sounded like something out of the maybe pile for Joe Maddon’s next T-shirt idea: “I picked a good day to be sh---y.”

The Cubs ace then messed with a reporter who asked a follow-up question after Wednesday’s 9-8 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, wondering if Arrieta would study anything in particular after giving up four runs in a regular-season start for the first time in 11-plus months…or stick with the same routine.

“Well,” Arrieta said, “I’ll probably, maybe, throw left-handed or underhand.”

Arrieta may have some underlying issues with his timing and command, but the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner is still 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA. By Year 5 of the Theo Epstein administration, and Maddon’s second season in the dugout, the Cubs now have first-division problems. 

Whatever turbulence the team with the best record in baseball may have experienced during a 4-5 road trip through Milwaukee, San Francisco and St. Louis, the Cardinals scored eight runs on Arrieta Day and still lost. While the Cubs have already won two series this season at Busch Stadium before Memorial Day weekend, after eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs last October.    

“For the first three-and-a-half years when we were in Chicago, it just felt like they were the big brother,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They controlled the game. They controlled what was going on, the tempo of the game. They were the more talented team, the more experienced team. 

“Now we’re two very good teams playing. And whoever plays better that night is going to win the game. I think there’s something really refreshing about that when you come in here. We know we’re good. We know they’re good.

“We know that there’s a lot of good teams in the National League and we match up well with them.”

The Cubs ambushed St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez for six runs in the second inning, getting the kind of bounces the Cardinals are used to seeing here.

Jason Heyward’s two-out, two-run double hit first base and bounced up the right-field line, and maybe luck will change for the $184 million player who turned down the St. Louis core. Ben Zobrist is still on fire, getting two hits that inning, including a bases-loaded, two-run single that skipped in between diving first baseman Matt Adams and diving second baseman Kolten Wong.

“I wouldn’t say (things) are shifting,” said Kris Bryant, who blasted what turned out to be the game-winning homer, a three-run shot off Seung Hwan Oh in the sixth inning. “It’s just really competitive baseball. Lately, we’ve come out on top. They play us hard every game. It’s going to make for a lot of fun games in the future.”

When it looked like the Cardinals might stage one of their last at-bat comebacks, Hector Rondon didn’t buckle in front of a sellout crowd (45,465). The Cubs closer roared back after allowing back-to-back singles to begin the ninth inning, striking out Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk swinging and knocking down the ball pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko hit back to the mound for the final out and his eighth save. The Cardinals are now a third-place team that’s one game over .500 at 24-23.

“Of course, I totally think they’re going to be there at the end,” Maddon said. “They’re really good. They have a very good offensive club. They need to get their pitching straightened out. They have a good bullpen. And they just play hard. They play hard every second of the game.

“You can never walk away from that. They have some really good players in skill positions. They’re going to get (shortstop Jhonny) Peralta back, I think, at some point, and that’s going to make a big difference for them. And then the problem’s going to be: Where do you put (Aledmys) Diaz?

“They have some nice problems on the horizon.”  

The Cubs (31-14) now have an eight-game lead over the Cardinals in the division and a 9-3 combined record against St. Louis and the Pittsburgh Pirates, the other two heavyweights in the Central.  

“It’s going to be close to the end,” Arrieta said. “The Pirates and the Cardinals – these guys are going to continue to win games, in and out of our division. We just have to do our job to try and separate that gap when we have the ability to do so, because we know they’ll be close on our heels to the very end.”