Fire end home schedule Saturday with D.C. United

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Fire end home schedule Saturday with D.C. United

Home field advantage is one thing, and the Fire has enjoyed its best season ever playing at Toyota Park. The Fire is 11-3-2 there going into Saturdays last regular season match against D.C. United.
Like most matches in the last two months, this one is huge for the Fire and the expected return of Pavel Pardo might mean more than the good vibes provided by the clubs impressive record on its home turf.
The Fire hasnt been the same since Pardo injured a hamstring in a 2-1 road win against Toronto FC on Sept. 12. He sat out the next game, a 3-1 home win vs. the Montreal Impact three days later, and then suffered a left calf injury at the Fires next training session. The Fire is a mediocre 3-3-0 in the six games that the 36-year old Mexican midfielder missed.
Daniel Paladini was a decent replacement, especially offensively where he contributed two goals and two assists. Still, the Fire could have used the steadying influence that Pardo brought in the first 27 matches, 26 of which he started.
Pardo played for Mexico in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups, appeared in over 300 matches for one of his countrys premier clubs teams Club America, and was on Stuttgarts championship team in the German Bundesliga in 2007. Losing a player with that kind of resume couldnt help but hurt, and the Fire lost road matches to two teams that had long been eliminated from playoff contention the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution while Pardo was sidelined.So, the Fire (17-11-5, 56 points) has lost three of its last four matches and cant afford another letdown against D.C. United (17-10-6, 57 points), though both are already guaranteed spots in Major League Soccers postseason competition.
"Our goal was to be in the playoffs, so now its important where you finish (within the Eastern Conference)," said Fire coach Frank Klopas. "Its very important to have home-field advantage and not to play that extra game...We have to get the three points at home that will put us in second place."
Pardo returned to full training on Tuesday and went through the Wednesday and Thursday sessions with no setbacks. Klopas wont commit to starting him on Saturday but is hopeful Pardo will be available for selection."Its always good to be on the field with the whole team and training at 100 percent," said Pardo after one of this weeks workouts. "Im happy to be coming back, and hopefully I'll be fully ready to play on Saturday."If the Fire does win in Saturdays matinee match it will climb back into the second spot and wont have to play in the one-game knockout match on either Wednesday or Thursday between the teams that finish fourth and fifth in the East. United is second and the Fire third heading into the last weekend of the campaign.The history between these teams is interesting. D.C. United was the premier team when MLS started, winning titles in 1996 and 1997 and going to the MLS Cup final again in the third season of 1998. That coincided with the Fires first season, and the Fire pulled off a monumental upset en route to sweeping the MLS and U.S. Open Cups. The Fire hasnt been that successful since, and D.C. United hasnt aged gracefully either.United is in postseason play for the first time since 2007 and the Fire is there for the first time since 2009. The Fire hasnt defeated D.C. United at Toyota Park since 2006, its first season in Bridgeview. The Fire is winless in their meetings there since then (0-3-3).As was the case with the Fire, just getting back to postseason play was a big deal for United and their road back was an unlikely one. United got red hot after its best player, Dwayne DeRosario, was lost with a knee injury. United is 5-0-1 since the star forward-midfielder went down.D.C. is the only team to score four goals against the Fire this season, doing it in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium in their only previous meeting on Aug. 22. DeRosario had a goal and an assist in that matchup. Originally thought to be out for the rest of the season, United coach Ben Olsen is holding out hope that DeRosario might be able to play if his club goes deep into the postseason.Regardless of that possibility, the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth based on the results of this weekends matches. The New York Red Bulls (15-9-9, 54 points) could move up by beating Philadelphia and the fifth-place Houston Dynamo (14-8-11, 53 points) could wrangle a home game in the knockout match with a road win at Colorado and the right set of outcomes in the other matches.The wild card, knockout match will be played on Wednesday or Thursday. The playoff format switches to two-game home-and-home series for the conference semifinals (No. 3 or 4 and 7 or 8) and the conference finals (Nov. 17 or 18). The MLS Cup final will be played Dec. 1 on the home field of the team with the higher seed.As part of the regular season finale festivities the Fire will have pink touches to their attire in support of breast cancer awareness and will also announce its award-winners. Media members did the voting for Most Valuable Player and Best Defender. My picks were goalkeeper Sean Johnson for MVP and Arne Friedrich for Best Defender.Johnson was a clear-cut winner for MVP in my book, with Patrick Nyarko his closest competition. The choice of Friedrich was more difficult, as Austin Berry deserves a boost for what I consider a Rookie-of-the-Year season. My reasoning was that Friedrichs steadying influence was also a big reason for Berrys solid play.

MLS commissioner Don Garber confirms expansion of targeted allocation money

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USA TODAY

MLS commissioner Don Garber confirms expansion of targeted allocation money

Major League Soccer isn’t shy when it comes to creating extra layers of rules within its salary cap.

Last year targeted allocation money became one of the new tools/crazy acronyms. The Chicago Fire used some of that to keep the salary cap hit lower on players like Michael de Leeuw and Johan Kappelhof. Kappelhof and de Leeuw were two of the more productive acquisitions the Fire made in the past year and teams around the league have had similar success stories with the recently infused funds.

Commissioner Don Garber confirmed on Friday in a press conference ahead of Saturday’s MLS Cup that the league will add more TAM for 2017. Garber said each team will receive a total of $1.2 million.

In 2016 teams were given $800,000 to work with. What this does is give teams more flexibility on the league’s soft cap of $3.6 million.

SI’s Grant Wahl first reported TAM's expansion.

Garber didn’t make any big announcements at the press conference in Toronto, site of the Toronto-Seattle final. However, he did say that despite adding two more teams to the league, Atlanta and Minnesota, the playoff format will not change in 2017. A majority of the league, 12 out of 22 teams, will still make the playoffs.

Rick Hahn, White Sox prepared to make more 'painful decisions' if the price is right

Rick Hahn, White Sox prepared to make more 'painful decisions' if the price is right

That Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada have reunited is a nice story, but it won't dramatically change the mindset of the rebuilding White Sox, who earlier this week demonstrated they aren't messing around.

Abreu said in a statement issued by the White Sox on Friday that he's "very happy" about the prospect of again playing alongside Moncada, who played 12 games with the star slugger in 2012 for Cienfuegos in the Cuban National Series. Moncada, 21, is the centerpiece of a four-player package acquired from the Boston Red Sox for Chris Sale on Tuesday, a toolsy infielder who MLB.com has rated as the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

While the concept of Abreu mentoring Moncada has plenty of merit — the first baseman's work ethic is outstanding, and he's beloved by coaches and teammates — don't think the White Sox would hesitate to trade him if someone paid the right price. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn just spent four days at the Winter Meetings discussing how a team that just traded away its best pitcher and position player remains open to listening to all offers and is prepared to do what is must to get the franchise healthy again. 

"We're extremely open-minded on ways to continue the process that we started," Hahn said earlier this week, adding that the White Sox "have to make some painful decisions."

The White Sox have grown tired of never having all the pieces — or even more than a few — to fill the holes created by injury, poor performance, etc. They want to be flush with young talent and essentially have said anything that isn't nailed down at Guaranteed Rate Field is available with the exceptions of Tim Anderson and Carlos Rodon.

The team wants to cash in on the chips it possesses.

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While they don't have a ton, the few the White Sox have could help expedite a rebuild process as the Sale and Eaton trades have shown. Those deals brought back seven players, including three who played at the big league level last season (Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez). Some of those players potentially would start 2017 in the big leagues, and that possibility increases the internal value of Abreu and starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who is equally revered among teammates and coaches for his dedication and team-first mentality. 

Having those young players see firsthand what it takes to excel in the majors from veteran teammates is invaluable. Abreu, who arrived in the United States from Cuba in late 2013, addressed that point in his statement about Moncada, who signed with Boston in 2015.

"Moncada is a five-tool player," Abreu said. "He really has everything needed to succeed, and I know that with the proper guidance of veteran players and coaches with experience he can become an All-Star caliber player."

"He is going to make a huge impact in the White Sox organization, and both the fans and the team will be thankful.

"I already spoke with him to welcome him to the team. I told him that I'm going to be there for him for everything that he needs on and off the field."

In a conference call Wednesday, Moncada said he's "thrilled" to once again play with Abreu. Whether they will hasn't yet been determined.

When asked about Moncada's 2017 starting point earlier in the week, Hahn said the 21-year still needs to develop. Moncada appeared in eight big league games last season for Boston and struggled with contact, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances. But that promotion came after a meteoric rise through Boston's farm system, an aggressive path that included only 45 games played above High-A. Nothing has been announced, but it appears Moncada will receive an invite to big league camp next spring and be seated near Abreu in the clubhouse. 

Still, Hahn sounds like he intends for Moncada to spend much of 2017 refining his approach in the minors. He also has demonstrated he is willing to dig deep and make more painful moves if it betters the team in the long run, all of which means the White Sox wouldn't hesitate to trade Abreu or Quintana if they get what they want.