Fire, Aston Villa prepared for competitive match Saturday

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Fire, Aston Villa prepared for competitive match Saturday

Itll be hard for Saturdays match against Aston Villa to match up with the Fires international friendlies of 2011 a rousing 3-1 loss to Englands Manchester United before 61,308 at Soldier Field and a 1-0 defeat against Mexicos popular Guadalajara Chivas before a near-sellout (18,224) at Toyota Park.

The Man U matchup proved to be something special. The Fire, struggling badly at Major League Soccer play at the time, scored first and won the hearts of the crowd before succumbing to one of soccers legendary clubs with reserves on the pitch. That match couldnt be topped, but any time Chivas visits its a popular attraction.

Aston Villa doesnt have the Chicago following that Man U and Chivas do. Still, the Villans have a rich history as one of the oldest clubs in Europe. Aston Villa was founded in 1874 and has won 19 domestic titles, including seven in England's first division and seven in the FA Cup.

Since its first season in 1998, the Fire have played 19 such international friendlies against clubs from England, Mexico, Italy, Germany, France, Scotland and Poland. The Fire are 6-10-3 in those matches but 2-1 vs. EPL teams. Prior to losing to Man U, the Fire defeated Derby County 1-0 at Soldier Field in 1999 and whipped Everton 2-0 at Toyota Park in 2008.

Needless to say, the Fire are happy to take a break from MLS action for another crack at an English Premier League team, and Aston Villa will be playing in Chicago for the first time (7:30 p.m., CSNChicago.com live stream).

"Games like this are always exciting," said Fire coach Frank Klopas at Fridays pre-game press conference at a downtown Chicago hotel. "We get to face a team from one of the best leagues in the world. Its a great opportunity to see how weve improved, and it gives our fans a chance to see an historic club with some real quality players."

Remember, though, that its still an international friendly. The Fire are or should be in mid-season form while Aston Villa is only two weeks into preseason training for its next EPL season.

"Aston Villa is not fit like us," said Fire defender Arne Friedrich. "Our problem is that weve got to mix up our team a bit. We havent played this lineup before, so itll be a tight game."

Klopas wouldnt say just what his lineup will be, but hell rest any regulars with injury problems and use the match to see what young players could be helpful in the second half of the MLS campaign.

"Well put out a competitive team," promised Klopas. Friedrich, the veteran German center back, will play because he wants to improve his fitness. Alex, the Brazilian midfielder who joined the Fire last month, should play big minutes because hes still adjusting to a new team.

Young defender Hunter Jumper and two players with offensive potential who have been basically reserves so far Rafael Robayo and Orr Barouch could improve their playing time for the rest of the season with a good performance on Saturday. The Fire are coming off a 1-0 road loss to the New York Red Bulls in MLS play on Wednesday.

Aston Villa will be playing the second of a three-game tour against MLS clubs. The Villans defeated the Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Wednesday and will visit the Portland Timbers next Tuesday.

"The heat was really hard for us in Philadelphia," said Villa manager Paul Lambert, "and itll be the same here. Itll be another test, and we have to be ready. (MLS) is very strong. It has real good players. Its a league you shouldnt under-estimate. Its players are getting better, and there is no such thing as an easy game."

Friedrich participated in many such international friendlies while playing in Europe, but most of those were in his teams preseason. Thats not the case with the Fire.

"You cant compare, because were in the middle of our season and dont need (these kinds of matches)," he said. "Wed have some problems if these other leagues were in their seasons, because their teams are tactical, better educated. Itll be very good to see if we can compare with these teams or not."

Aston Villa is coming off a down season, having finished 13th in the EPL standings. Still, its roster includes Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given and England striker Darren Bent as well as Eric Lichaj and Brad Guzan, who were part of the Fires Premier Development League program before moving to Europe.

Saturdays match will kick off a big weekend for international soccer in Chicago. On Sunday Italys AS Roma and Polands Zaglebie Lubin will collide in another international friendly at Wrigley Field. Roma just signed U.S. national team player Michael Bradley, son of first Fire coach Bob Bradley.

Here it is: Big Ten releases 2016-17 men's basketball schedule

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Here it is: Big Ten releases 2016-17 men's basketball schedule

Big Ten football is just a week away. But it's never too early to start thinking about hoops.

The conference announced the 2016-17 league schedule Thursday afternoon. Games begin on Dec. 27, and the last day of conference play is March 5, 2017.

The Big Ten Tournament shifts to Washington, D.C., this season, with games being played from March 8 through March 12.

Here's a look at the entire Big Ten basketball schedule for the 2016-17 season.

Dec. 27

Illinois at Maryland
Michigan State at Minnesota
Northwestern at Penn State
Rutgers at Wisconsin

Dec. 28

Iowa at Purdue
Nebraska at Indiana

Dec. 30

Northwestern at Michigan State

Jan. 1, 2017

Michigan at Iowa
Minnesota at Purdue
Nebraska at Maryland
Ohio State at Illinois
Penn State at Rutgers

Jan. 3

Wisconsin at Indiana

Jan. 4

Penn State at Michigan
Rutgers at Michigan State

Jan. 5

Iowa at Nebraska
Minnesota at Northwestern
Purdue at Ohio State

Jan. 7

Illinois at Indiana
Maryland at Michigan
Michigan State vs. Penn State (in Philadelphia)

Jan. 8

Northwestern at Nebraska
Ohio State at Minnesota
Rutgers at Iowa
Wisconsin at Purdue

Jan. 10

Indiana at Maryland

Jan. 11

Michigan at Illinois
Minnesota at Michigan State

Jan. 12

Northwestern at Rutgers
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Purdue at Iowa

Jan. 14

Maryland at Illinois
Minnesota at Penn State
Nebraska at Michigan

Jan. 15

Iowa at Northwestern
Michigan State at Ohio State
Rutgers at Indiana

Jan. 17

Illinois at Purdue
Michigan at Wisconsin

Jan. 18

Indiana at Penn State
Ohio State at Nebraska

Jan. 19

Maryland at Iowa

Jan. 21

Illinois at Michigan
Michigan State at Indiana
Nebraska at Rutgers
Penn State at Purdue
Wisconsin at Minnesota

Jan. 22

Northwestern at Ohio State

Jan. 24

Penn State at Wisconsin
Purdue at Michigan State
Rutgers at Maryland

Jan. 25

Iowa at Illinois
Minnesota at Ohio State

Jan. 26

Indiana at Michigan
Nebraska at Northwestern

Jan. 28

Illinois at Penn State
Maryland at Minnesota
Ohio State at Iowa
Wisconsin vs. Rutgers (in New York City)

Jan. 29

Indiana at Northwestern
Michigan at Michigan State
Purdue at Nebraska

Jan. 31

Iowa at Rutgers
Maryland at Ohio State
Wisconsin at Illinois

Feb. 1

Northwestern at Purdue
Penn State at Indiana

Feb. 2

Michigan State at Nebraska

Feb. 4

Minnesota at Illinois
Ohio State at Michigan
Purdue at Maryland
Rutgers at Penn State

Feb. 5

Indiana at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Iowa

Feb. 7

Illinois at Northwestern
Maryland at Penn State
Michigan State at Michigan

Feb. 8

Iowa at Minnesota
Rutgers at Ohio State

Feb. 9

Purdue at Indiana
Wisconsin at Nebraska

Feb. 11

Iowa at Michigan State
Minnesota at Rutgers
Ohio State at Maryland
Penn State at Illinois

Feb. 12

Michigan at Indiana
Northwestern at Wisconsin

Feb. 14

Ohio State at Michigan State
Penn State at Nebraska
Rutgers at Purdue

Feb. 15

Indiana at Minnesota
Maryland at Northwestern

Feb. 16

Wisconsin at Michigan

Feb. 18

Illinois at Iowa
Michigan State at Purdue
Rutgers at Northwestern

Feb. 18 or 19

Nebraska at Ohio State

Feb. 19

Maryland at Wisconsin
Michigan at Minnesota

Feb. 21

Indiana at Iowa
Northwestern at Illinois
Purdue at Penn State

Feb. 22

Michigan at Rutgers
Minnesota at Maryland

Feb. 23

Nebraska at Michigan State
Wisconsin at Ohio State

Feb. 25

Iowa at Maryland
Purdue at Michigan

Feb. 25 or 26

Northwestern at Indiana
Penn State at Minnesota
Wisconsin at Michigan State

Feb. 26

Illinois at Nebraska

Feb. 28

Indiana at Purdue
Maryland at Rutgers
Ohio State at Penn State

March 1

Michigan at Northwestern
Michigan State at Illinois

March 2

Iowa at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Minnesota

March 4

Illinois at Rutgers
Indiana at Ohio State

March 4 or 5

Purdue at Northwestern

March 5

Michigan at Nebraska
Michigan State at Maryland
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Penn State at Iowa

March 8 through March 12

Big Ten Tournament (in Washington, D.C.)

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews named Team Canada alternate captain for World Cup of Hockey

Jonathan Toews was named alternate captain of Team Canada on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Sidney Crosby was named Team Canada’s captain. Crosby, who claimed his second Stanley Cup in June, was also Team Canada’s captain en route to the gold medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

[SHOP: Buy a Jonathan Toews jersey]

Toews, who has been the Blackhawks’ captain since the 2008-09 season, was also alternate captain of Canada’s 2014 Olympic squad. Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens will serve as Team Canada’s other alternate captain.

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

Notre Dame sorting through safety options after Max Redfield's dismissal

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly had to chuckle a bit when asked what he could tell a larger-than-normal media contingent about Devin Studstill, the true freshman and presumptive favorite to replace Max Redfield at free safety Sept. 4 against Texas. 

“We’ll have a true freshman on the road playing against a talented team,” Kelly said with a bit of a laugh that, given the circumstances, sounded a bit nervous.

No matter how confident Notre Dame players and coaches are in Studstill, there’s still that unknown part of leaning on a safety who will play his first college football game in front of an exected sellout crowd of about 100,000 people in primetime at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin. 

Kelly described Studstill as a “natural” as the Florida native took first-team reps away from Redfield during spring practice. Linebacker and captain James Onwualu said Studstill’s transition back into the first-team defense has “gone smoothly” with only a handful of practices left until Notre Dame heads to Austin. 

“He was here in the spring, which helped a lot,” Onwualu. “He came in ready to work from Day 1 and you gotta respect that. He’s been working his craft, working his game and there’s not much of a drop-off. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s still young, obviously, so (we) try to push some knowledge on him and continue to talk the game and show him as many looks (as possible).”

Kelly used “talented” and “confident” to describe Studstill this time around. But it won’t be just him at free safety, Kelly cautioned. 

“I think we’ll have to play a few guys at that position,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he’s going to go out there and take every snap.”

At the top of that list: sixth-year graduate student Avery Sebastian, who broke a bone in his foot in Week 1 against Texas last year and missed the rest of the season. The 5-foot-10, 200 pound Cal transfer, who also missed nearly all of the 2013 season with an injury, started six games for the Golden Bears from 2011-2014. 

In exchange for the experience Sebastian brings to the position, Notre Dame would slide a guy who’s more of an in-the-box strong safety over to free safety. The other options at free safety are freshman Jalen Elliott, a former four-star recruit, and sophomore Nicco Fertitta, who saw action on special teams last year. 

Kelly said there haven’t been any conversations about moving an offensive player to free safety to manufacture more depth.

“We feel like we’ve got enough back there that we’ll be solid,” Kelly said. 

Notre Dame’s defense is peppered with first-time starters, which creates plenty of unknowns heading into the 2016 season. In losing Redfield, a player who Kelly said was starting to put everything together after a few inconsistent seasons, another question mark was added to VanGorder’s defense. 

That doesn’t mean that Studstill and whoever else is back at free safety are destined to fail. Maybe Studstill and/or Elliott clears their first-year hurdles and is a solid player and Sebastian winds up being a reliable option there, too. 

But Notre Dame’s defense very likely was going to be better off with Redfield as a starting safety. 

“Max was an outstanding player, and he was having a great, great camp,” Kelly said. “He had a great spring. He’s athletic, he’s fast. So you’re taking a really good player off your defense. But we’ll be able to plug in a guy there that I think will get the job done for us.”