Pappa returns to Chicago as Fire prep for Red Bulls

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Pappa returns to Chicago as Fire prep for Red Bulls

The Fire have lost three straight matches across all competitions, and the absence of midfielder Marco Pappa likely was a factor in that disappointing turn of events.

Pappa is a mainstay of Guatemalas national team, which is involved in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying competition. He left the Fire after playing 45 minutes in 2-1 loss at Columbus on May 26 and didnt play in a 3-2 defeat to the minor league Michigan Bucks in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup May 29 or a 2-0 defeat at New England June 2.

Then the Fire and the rest of Major League Soccer went on a two-week break while the start of World Cup qualifying was in progress. Only Pappa was involved in that among Fire players. He played the first half of Guatemalas 2-1 loss at Jamaica and came on in the second half of a 1-1 draw against the United States on Tuesday.

Pappa is back with the Fire now and will be available for Sundays MLS match against the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park. While the Red Bulls (8-3-2) are off to a fast start in MLS play, the Fire (5-5-3) have lost three of its last four in league play. After the emotional international matches Pappas not sure if hell be on the field for the Fire on Sunday. Coach Frank Klopas will decide that.

"Im feeling good. Im sore like normal and Ive been traveling a lot," said Pappa, who rejoined the Fire at Fridays training session after a four-hour flight back from Guatemala. "I hope I can be ready to play on Sunday."

The Fire certainly need him. After notching the goal-of-the-year in MLS two seasons ago, Pappa followed with a career-high eight goals in 2011. He has three goals and three assists in 12 MLS appearances this season.

Following Sundays match the Fire host again on June 23, when Columbus comes to Bridgeview. Those matches could swing the Fires season, as five of the next seven after that are on the road. Pappas return gives the Fire a big boost.

Internationally, Pappa played a big role in the U.S. match, scoring his countrys goal on a brilliant free kick in the 82nd minute that kept Guatemala in contention in the four-team group competition.

"The World Cup in my country is an important goal, and were trying to win our group," said Pappa, who has played 28 times for Guatemala over the last five seasons. Hes the only MLS player on the Guatemala roster. Most of the others play for clubs in the countrys own pro league.

"We had around 30,000 (spectators for the U.S. match)," said Pappa. "Thats a good number in Guatemala. Last year putting people in the stands was hard, but they really support the national team."

Like the U.S., Guatemala has four more matches in group play and the draw with the U.S. was encouraging.

"For sure we tried to win," he said, "but we were losing and the second half we tried to push the game. We deserved a point, but we have things to improve."

Guatemala has home-and-home matches left with Antiqua & Barbuda, a road match against the U.S. on Oct. 16 and a home battle with Jamaica. The next break for World Cup qualifying is in September, and Pappa hopes the Fire will be in solid playoff position by then.

"We had been getting better each game," he said. "We kept the same group from last year, and we know each other better and better with each game."

Pappa could be facing a former Fire teammate on Sunday. Wilman Conde was a strong central defender for the Fire from 2007-10 when he appeared in 73 matches, was the teams defender-of-the-year in 2009 and a member of the MLS Best XI that season. He left the Fire to play a season in Mexico but returned to MLS with the Red Bulls this season.

Conde hasnt been much of a factor for New York. He hasnt played in an MLS match since March 31 due to a series of injuries, but he did participate in two U.S. Open Cup games and is expected to be available on Sunday. Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls offensive star, might not be ready, though. He missed training earlier this week with a calf injury.

Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender who has missed considerable time with a right hamstring injury, will likely sit again for the Fire but striker Chris Rolfe is ready for his first match in Toyota Park since he rejoined the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark. Before heading overseas, Rolfe had huge game for the Fire against New York, scoring three first-half goals in a 5-2 win on Oct. 23, 2008.

Rolfe needed six weeks to recover from a sprained ankle suffered in training shortly after he returned from Denmark. He played 21 minutes in the loss at Columbus in his first game appearance.

Sundays match will also be noteworthy as the second MLS faceoff of former Mexico internationals Pavel Pardo of the Fire and Rafa Marquez of the Red Bulls.

The Fire has never lost to New York at Toyota Park (5-0-3), the last three overall meetings ending in draws. New Yorks last road win over the Fire came when the club, then known as the MetroStars, won at Soldier Field on May 21, 2005.

Pau Gasol considering skipping Olympics amid Zika fears

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Pau Gasol considering skipping Olympics amid Zika fears

The uncertainty in Brazil over the spread of the Zika virus has Pau Gasol considering not playing in the upcoming Olympics.

The Bulls center, who is set to become a free agent on July 1, spoke with the Associated Press about his reluctancy to travel to Brazil, a country that's been hit by the mosquito-borne virus the last year.

"It wouldn't surprise me to see some athletes deciding not to participate in the games to avoid putting their health and the health of their families at risk," Gasol told the AP.

"I'm thinking about (whether or not to go)," he said. "Just like every athlete, or any other person considering going to Rio, should be thinking about it."

Gasol's absence would be a considerable one for the Spain national team, which earned silver medals in 2008 and 2012.

The virus, which first appeared in Brazil in 2015 and has spread to anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million people, has been a large topic of conversation on the horizon of the Olympic Games, which begin Aug. 5.

The report said Gasol has contacted experts to learn more about the virus before making a final decision.

"We need to understand the seriousness of the situation," he said. "Even though there are some soothing words being said, we know that there are different opinions about the subject."

Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

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Stanley Cup Final preview: Commonalities between Penguins, Sharks

The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins don’t see each other much during the regular season but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a common bond. For each, the chance to end years of frustration – certainly more for the Sharks than the Penguins – is here.

It’s the Stanley Cup Final, and for just the second time since 2010 the Western Conference is represented by someone other than the Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings. Instead, the Sharks are making their first Cup appearance in franchise history. They’re facing a Penguins team that’s back in the final for the first time since 2009, when they beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Cup.

A show of hands: Who had these two in the final when they did their preseason predictions? Not many, if any. Two years ago the Sharks had a 3-0 series lead against the Kings, who came back to beat San Jose in four straight. From the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015, the Sharks took letters off sweaters, missed the playoffs for the first time in 10 years and dismissed coach Todd McLellan. From an outside perspective, it looked like things would get worse before they got better.

As for Pittsburgh, the Penguins have been in the postseason every year since 2009 but failed to return to this stage each time.

So what changed this year for each? Let’s start with the Sharks. As my Bay Area colleague Kevin Kurz pointed out, the Sharks are here for several reasons: A change in attitude and goaltending and finding the right pieces to complement a longstanding core are among them. Removing/renaming captains could have torn the Sharks apart. And while there was plenty of friction and a few verbal jabs at the time, the Sharks stuck together. General manager Doug Wilson made a few key moves, including acquiring Martin Jones from Boston on June 30, 2015 (the Bruins had traded for Jones just four days prior). The backup-turned-starter was excellent.

The Penguins are here due to a lot of the same reasons: They changed coaches and tweaked their lineup around their core. Acquiring defenseman Trevor Daley from the Blackhawks in December proved pivotal. Daley, who didn’t log many minutes with the Blackhawks, fit in immediately with the Penguins. Blackhawks fans who took to Twitter asking, “Why did they trade for Daley?” in July 2015, asked, “Why did they trade Daley away?” in April.

Pittsburgh went with a new goalie, too, albeit for different reasons. When Marc-Andre Fleury was sidelined with a concussion in March, Matt Murray got his chance. And outside of Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Murray is still in there. It’s one more feel-good story from a final that is teeming with them.

The path to the Stanley Cup Final is rarely an easy one. Some teams have had to go through massive changes to get there (please see the Blackhawks just prior to 2010). The Sharks and Penguins had to make their changes as well, from personality to personnel. Both have gone through their turmoil to get here. Now to see who ultimately triumphs.

Road Ahead: Can the White Sox turn things around?

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Road Ahead: Can the White Sox turn things around?

CSN's Chuck Garfien and Bill Melton talk about what's next for the White Sox, presented by Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana Honda dealers.

The White Sox are struggling lately as the team has lost six consecutive games and 14 of their last 18.

It doesn't get much easier for the South Siders as they stay on the road to face the New York Mets and Detroit Tigers this week.

After once leading the American League Central and looking like a complete team, the bullpen is struggling and the team is in a freefall.

Can the team fix things to stay in the division race?

Find out what Garfien and Melton had to say in the video above.