LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener


LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

Saturday, March 19, 2011
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.

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between Cubs and World Series: ‘To be the best, you got to beat the best’

Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.

Complete Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 6 coverage on CSN

Complete Cubs-Dodgers NLCS Game 6 coverage on CSN

Tune in to CSN at 6 p.m. for a postseason edition of Cubs Postseason Live as our crew gets ready for Game 6 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Be sure to flip over to CSN immediately after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postseason Live.

Saturday's starting pitching matchup: Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 3.72 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

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