Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA

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Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA

The Fire will have a new face in its lineup Friday night when it takes on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. Austin Berry will man a central defenders spot while making his debut in Major League Soccer.

Berry might seem a liability as the Fire (2-2-2) tries to recover from last Saturdays 2-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders. He was the Fires first-round selection in Januarys MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville and the only reasons hes playing is because Cory Gibbs is recovering from knee surgery and Jalil Anibaba is serving a one-game suspension.

Still, Berry feels hes ready for his first big chance as a pro player.

"I had a strong preseason, and Im getting better every day," he said following a training session in Bridgeview this week. "I feel confident."

Experience-wise, of course, he lacking. Berry has played only in three reserve team matches and a friendly against his college team since coach Frank Klopas finalized his regular season roster. Berry, though, feels hes better prepared than it might seem.

"In college I had some opportunities to train with teams at the next level, so that made me sure about what it would be like," said Berry, "so there were no surprises for me. I knew what I had to work on."

A three-sport athlete in high school, Berry became a student of soccer while at Louisville and was invited to train with the Fire Premier Development side as well as stints with the Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and Sounders of MLS and a club in Sweden.

"All those 10-day training sessions were good preparation for me before stepping into this preseason," said Berry, "and just being out (at Fire training) every day has helped my technical ability. But its not just technical ability, its making the right decisions on the field."

Berrys biggest adjustment was to the faster speed of play in MLS, and he believes playing beside German veteran Arne Freidrich will ease his transition to MLS game action on Friday.

"Organization and communication have always been one of my strong suits," said Berry, "and itll help having Arne beside me. Hes a world-class player whos big on communication."

With Klopas unable to communicate with the club while at the Home Depot Center (he will make the trip with the club to Los Angeles), the Fire will be coached by assistants Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich on game day. Both are former Chivas USA assistant coaches, having worked with that club when Preki was its head coach.

Chivas USA (3-5-0) is coming off a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids last Saturday. The Goats, as the team is called, has a defender, Rauwshaun McKenzie, who grew up in the Chicago area and played for Chicago Fire Premier in 2007. Orr Barouch, a Fire reserve, was with Chivas in a similar development program before turning pro with Mexican club Tigres prior to being acquired by the Fire.

The match with Chivas USA will be the first of six MLS tests for the Fire in May, and the teams first game in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will be on May 29, with the opponent and site yet to be determined.

Ben Zobrist leads Cubs’ home run derby win over Nationals

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Ben Zobrist leads Cubs’ home run derby win over Nationals

Don’t touch Ben Zobrist right now. The guy is straight fire.

Zobrist continued his recent hot streak in a big way Friday, belting two home runs as part of the Cubs’ home run derby against Nationals ace Max Scherzer in an 8-6 win over the team with the second best record in baseball.

Zobrist, who entered the day hitting .325/.431/.600 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in his previous 11 games, went 2-for-2 with a pair of homers, a pair of RBIs, a pair of walks and a trio of runs scored Friday. In his last three games, Zobrist has four home runs and 11 RBIs.

After the Nationals tagged John Lackey for a pair of runs in the first two innings, the Cubs’ offense wasted little time in coming to the starting pitcher’s aid. Zobrist walked and was along for the ride when Tommy La Stella bashed a two-run, game-tying homer in the second inning. An inning later, Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist clubbed back-to-back jacks. Rizzo’s danced around the foul pole and was upheld on video review, while Zobrist’s made it three straight days with a home run for the second baseman.

In the bottom of the fifth, Zobrist broke the game wide open, following Jason Heyward’s double and Rizzo’s walk with a three-run blast that made it 7-2. Dexter Fowler picked up an RBI with a single in the sixth.

All in all, the Cubs’ 4-5-6 trio of Rizzo, Zobrist and La Stella combined to go 5-for-8 with four home runs, seven RBIs, six runs scored, a triple and four walks.

Lackey silenced the Nationals following those early runs, but the Cubs’ bullpen was roughed up in the eighth, Clayton Richard and Justin Grimm surrendering two runs apiece in that four-run frame.

The Cubs exacted revenge on Scherzer, who in his first start against them as a National League pitcher last season struck out 13 over seven shutout innings. Scherzer fanned seven hitters Friday but yielded seven runs on seven hits, four of which were home runs, in just five innings.

The offensive outburst — a regular occurrence on the North Side this season — was more than enough for Lackey. He struck out 11 hitters, matching a season high and recording his 2,000th career strikeout in the process.

The Cubs have taken the first two games of this headline-grabbing four-game set between two first-place National League clubs. It was consecutive win No. 5 for the Cubs, who beat up on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game sweep earlier this week.

Well-traveled Khaly Thiam settling in with the Fire

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Well-traveled Khaly Thiam settling in with the Fire

Khaly Thiam's still young soccer career had already taken him to multiple countries and continents. When he joined the Chicago Fire earlier this week he added another country and continent to that list.

The Fire officially added the 22-year-old Senegalese midfielder on loan on Wednesday. His first training session with the team was on Thursday. The club hopes he will be available in the May 11 match in Vancouver, pending getting his visa to go through in time.

“I am getting on with everybody," Thiam said. "It is football and everything, but this team they are really great guys. I am friendly with the coaches, the players, everybody is helping me to integrate into the team.”

Thiam learned English through a private teacher in Senegal and speaks with a British accent, but said he wasn't able to practice the language until he moved to Europe. He first joined the Novara Primavera, the Italian Serie B club's youth and reserve team. He then moved to Hungary, where he had been since 2012.

“I first went to Italy for one tournament there," Thiam said. "One month in the Primavera with Novara when I played this tournament. Then I went to Hungary for a first division team. From there I got my first professional contract.”

The Fire acquired Thiam's MLS discovery rights from the Columbus Crew. If Thiam starts 12 matches or the Fire make the move permanent, the Fire will send general allocation money to the Crew. If neither of those happen, the Fire will give the Crew a second round pick in the 2017 draft.

Thiam has not yet been able to check out Chicago or explore and he won't have much of a chance for a while either. The Fire leave for a three-game road trip on Tuesday and will not return until after the May 18 match at the New York Red Bulls.

After growing up in Africa and beginning his professional career in Europe, coming to the U.S. is another new adventure for Thiam. Thiam took the chance to join the Fire after hearing good things about MLS.

“I came here for the soccer because now I see the soccer is building up and the level is coming up," he said. "I came here to see what was going on here.”

Thiam will be a welcome addition to a Fire midfield which has struggled to keep possession, the Fire are currently last in MLS in that category. He also comes at a time when the roster is dealing with a number of nagging injuries in the midfield and attack ahead of a crowded schedule featuring two midweek games in the next two weeks.

David Accam and Alex Morrell worked out separately from the rest of the team on Friday. Gilberto, who has a hamstring injury, did some running on the side. Matt Polster, who missed the 1-1 draw against D.C. United on April 30 with a calf injury, left practice early.

“Gilberto, Morrell, Polster they are in the final phase (of recovery)," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "Accam also, but we also have to work on Accam’s fitness because he was out longer. We have to take care of his fitness. We don’t want any new issues with him. We have to be smart and manage the load, minutes and everything once he is ready."

John Goossens was not at practice and could still be out for a few weeks after suffering a sprained LCL just before the D.C. match.

Ex-Pitt running back Chris James announces transfer to Badgers

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Ex-Pitt running back Chris James announces transfer to Badgers

Wisconsin landed a Power 5 transfer running back Friday.

Like the Badgers need another running back.

Former Pittsburgh ball carrier Chris James, a Chicago native, announced on Twitter that he's coming to Madison, re-teaming with Paul Chryst and the coaching staff that recruited him to the Panthers a few years back.

James was a four-star recruit coming out of Notre Dame College Prep in 2014, ranked by Rivals as the No. 22 running back in that class. He was recruited to Pitt by Joe Rudolph, currently the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, and picked the Panthers over the Badgers and offers from a host of other Big Ten teams including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue.

James rushed for 437 yards on 87 carries, scoring four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014. Last season, he rushed for 253 yards on 56 carries.

Per NCAA rules, James will have to sit out the upcoming season, but he'll have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2017.

That's good news for the Badgers, who will see two thirds of their three-headed running back monster — Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale are seniors, Taiwan Deal is a sophomore — depart after the 2016 campaign.