LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

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LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

Saturday, March 19, 2011
CSNChicago.com
By Alan Ferguson
STATS Writer

It took 15 seasons for FC Dallas to reach the MLS Cup, becoming the last of the leagues charter teams to accomplish that feat. Whether the team makes a return trip might hinge on finding suitable replacements for leading goal scorer Jeff Cunningham and other contributors to last years squad.

FC Dallas will start that search Saturday night when it welcomes the Chicago Fire, who missed the postseason for only the second time in 2010.

Following a record-setting regular season, FC Dallas advanced to its first championship game by eliminating defending champ Real Salt Lake and Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles. The franchise fell just short of another victory at Torontos BMO Field, falling 2-1 in overtime to Colorado.

We want to go a step further and bring home that trophy, and Im confident with the way the team has looked this preseason that we are going to continue playing great soccer, captain David Hernandez told the leagues website.

That defeat concluded a 12-4-14 campaign that saw Dallas set MLS records with a 19-game unbeaten run, a 12-game unbeaten streak away from home and the fewest losses. Cunningham had a team-best 11 goals during that season but his contract was not renewed in the offseason.

Following the 34-year-old forwards departure to Columbus, Dallas signed 18-year-old Colombian striker Fabian Castillo. The team could also rely on homegrown player Ruben Luna, who scored six times in the preseason.

FC Dallas will still have reigning league MVP David Ferreira to direct the offense. The midfielder had eight goals and 13 assists during his second MLS campaign, and scored his teams lone goal in the MLS Cup. The team also brought back Marvin Chavez, who had a strong second half, and added two more midfielders in Andrew Jacobson and 31-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Villar.

FC Dallas, though, wont have All-Star defender Heath Pearce, who was dealt to Chivas USA in the offseason. George John (ankle surgery) and Ugo Ihemelu (sports hernia) are also out due to injuries.

Brek Shea will try to help that unit by moving over from his usual spot in the midfield. The team could also get contributions from Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Jackson Goncalves.

FC Dallas will have a pair of experienced goalkeepers with Chris Seitz, a starter last season for Philadelphia, joining up with MLS all-time wins leader Kevin Hartman.

Hartman will likely be between the sticks against an overhauled Fire team that finished 9-12-9 in 2010. With 36 points, Chicago finished well-behind the postseason cut-off of 46.

To rebound this season, the Fire will have to make up for some key losses. Forward Brian McBride and defender C.J. Brown both retired. Freddie Ljungberg headed off to play for perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic and Mexican forward Nery Castillo is with Aris in the Greek Super League.

That means the Fire will likely rely on midfielder Marco Pappa, who had a team-best seven goals and five assists, and 21-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Chicago, though, might relegate Patrick Nyarko, who had a team-best 10 assists in 2010, to the second team.

Right now, I know who is starting, but I want to wait for the match to say, coach Carlos de los Cobos told the leagues website.

Dallas has retained the Brimstone Cup every season since 2001 and clinched that trophy in 2010 - and a playoff berth - with a 3-0 victory at Pizza Hut Park.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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