Premier League the goal for Fire's Johnson

823177.png

Premier League the goal for Fire's Johnson

A year ago, Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson caught the eye of legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, making a handful of quality saves against the Red Devils in front of a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field.

On Saturday, Johnson didn't dress for the Fire's international friendly against Aston Villa as manager Frank Klopas wished to rest his banged-up keeper. But even though Johnson didn't get a chance to test himself against another English Premier League squad, chances are he'll get that opportunity in the future.

"I think every player aspires to be in the Premier League," Johnson said on Friday. "Every player wants to play at the top level and be with the best, so its definitely somewhere I think if my career goes where I want it to go, hopefully one day Ill end up there."

Johnson's teammates have his back in supporting his Premier League aspirations, and with good reason. The 23-year-old keeper has saved 76 percent of the shots he's faced this season, allowing an average of 1.14 goals per match, and his mates believe he still has plenty of room for growth.

"The skys the limit for Sean," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "Its unbelievable how much hes developed in these last couple years. In the next year or two, if not right now, hes going to be a hot commodity somewhere."

Midfielder Chris Rolfe agreed.

"Everyone can see how talented he is and how athletically gifted he is," Rolfe explained. "But theres more to it with Sean. Hes very disciplined, hes very professional. For someone his age to be like that is, I think thats going to be the difference-maker.

"If playing in the Premier League is something he wants, I think if he puts his mind to it hes definitely capable of that."

The Premiership is home to a pair of first-team American keepers in Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Friedel (Tottenham). Aston Villa's Brad Guzan, a native of Homer Glen, Ill., is currently locked in a battle with Ireland international Shay Given for the team's No. 1 goalkeeper job. If he wins it, he'll be the third.

Guzan re-signed with Villa only a few days ago, much to the applause of his teammates.

"Brad's always been a great keeper," midfielder Fabian Delph said after Saturday's match. "I've been at Villa three years now and as soon as I came, I remember thinking 'wow, what a keeper this guy is.' Obviously, we thought he was leaving at the end of the season and I was delighted to see him come back."

Of the nine United States expats playing in the Premiership, three are keepers. Seattle-born Marcus Hahnemann enjoyed an extensive career at England's top level, playing for Reading and Wolverhampton while those clubs enjoyed Premier League status. And fellow Washington native Kasey Keller had successful stints with Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur during his illustrious career.

Neither Delph nor Villa manager Paul Lambert could quite put their finger on why American keepers have had success in the Premier League, at least compared to their defender, midfielder and attacker counterparts. Maybe there's no answer to that question, but it has left many looking for the next great American keeper.

Friedel was with Villa for the beginning of Guzan's tenure in Birmingham, and Delph saw one Brad tutor another.

"It's a big deal for them to play in the Premier League and leave the country," Delph said. "I know Brad Friedel, and he's always been dedicated and the ultimate professional. Obviously the younger Brad working with him has rubbed off on him, and he's been exactly the same."

Perhaps there's something to the class of American goalkeepers working together and teaching one another. Johnson had that kind of learning experience last December during a one-week training session with Everton, where Howard has enjoyed considerable success.

"You realize when youre over there that youre training with the best of the best, and they have the best of the best from facilities to training sessions to everything around," Johnson said of his few days practicing with Everton. "The guys are top quality as well. So just being in that environment, youre able to raise your game and learn some things to bring back over to apply to the league here and make yourself a successful player here."

A few months after Johnson dazzled a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field for the Manchester United match, a bogus rumor circulated that United was going to bring Johnson in for a trial. While it was quickly de-bunked, the thought of Johnson donning a United jersey seemed at least plausible.

Ferguson and United already have their keeper of the future in Spaniard David De Gea. But there are 19 other clubs in the Premiership, and one of them may look to Chicago to get their hands on the next quality American goalkeeper.

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

MIAMI (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki slapped a ground ball toward the left side of the infield, then hustled down the line to first just in case the throw didn't get there in time.

It didn't, and the Miami Marlins were in business.

That play by Suzuki kick-started what became a four-run fifth as the Marlins took the lead for good, and they went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Saturday.

"Just a good team," said Justin Bour, who hit his 14th home run and finished with three RBIs. "Good vibe right now, and just got to keep it rolling."

Giancarlo Stanton had his first three-RBI game since April 26 for Miami, which got to 40 wins in 75 games - or 20 games faster than they did a year ago. Paul Clemens (1-0) allowed four runs in five innings for his first big league win since June 12, 2013, and A.J. Ramos got the last two outs for his 24th save in as many chances this season.

Going back to 2015, Ramos has saved 33 straight, tying a Marlins franchise record.

"He's been solid," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Any team that has a guy at the end that's closing `em down and not giving `em up, if you can get to him with a lead you're in good shape."

Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Miguel Montero added a solo homer for the Cubs, who still have the best record in the majors even after losing five of their last six games. They ended a four-game skid Friday night despite giving up Bour's grand slam.

"That's a tremendous lineup," Clemens said.

Cubs starter John Lackey (7-4) gave up a season-high seven runs in 4 1-3 innings, and it's almost like he knew Suzuki's infield single would be trouble - smacking his glove and shouting in frustration after he reached.

It only got worse over the next few minutes for Lackey, who had a 2.78 ERA when the game started and a 3.29 ERA when it ended.

"To start off with an infield hit ... I have to do better than that," Lackey said. "Four runs should be enough to win that game."

Suzuki took second when Russell's throw squirted away from Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and scored two pitches later on Martin Prado's double.

Stanton drove in Prado with a single that chased Lackey and put Miami up 5-4, Bour greeted reliever Gerardo Concepcion with an RBI double, and Derek Dietrich's sacrifice fly made it 7-4.

It was a rare sort of loss for the Cubs, who were 33-0 this season when scoring six runs and 44-3 when scoring at least four.

"When we score that many runs we're going to win a baseball game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It was one of those nights and we move on."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Rizzo (back stiffness) and Montero (right knee) returned to the lineup after missing the last two games. ... 2B Ben Zobrist, who was forced out of Friday's game after getting hit in the left ankle by a pitch, didn't start but pinch-hit in the eighth.

Marlins: CF Marcell Ozuna, who played in all but one of Miami's first 74 games, wasn't in the lineup because of left wrist pain. Suzuki started in center for the sixth time this season.

CUBS LINEUP

Willson Contreras, who had an RBI double in the ninth for the Cubs, got the start in left field. That became the third position (joining catcher and first base) that he's played in a very hectic opening eight games of his MLB career. And Lackey batted eighth, the second straight day that Maddon put a starting pitcher in that slot after doing the same with Kyle Hendricks in Friday's win.

ICHIRO WATCH

Suzuki went 1 for 4, moving him within 16 hits of 3,000 for his MLB career.

UP NEXT

The series ends Sunday when Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.36) faces Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (7-3, 2.55). Fernandez is 23-1 all-time at home and has never faced the Cubs, who have lost each of Hammel's last three starts. Fernandez briefly left the Marlins' dugout in the first inning Saturday after a foul ball bounced off his right hand, but returned not long afterward - and even asked Mattingly if he could pinch-hit in the late innings.

White Sox blast seven homers but lose to Blue Jays

White Sox blast seven homers but lose to Blue Jays

Even though they tied a team record on Saturday afternoon, the White Sox became only the third team in baseball history to hit seven home runs in a game and lose.

Brett Lawrie produced his first multi-homer game, but a poor outing by starter Miguel Gonzalez did in the short-handed White Sox, who lost 10-8 to the Toronto Blue Jays in front of 25,776 at U.S. Cellular Field.

The seven home runs -- all solo shots -- matched an April 23, 1955 performance at the Kansas City Athletics. But it wasn’t enough to prevent them from falling below .500 as Gonzalez allowed eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. Dioner Navarro, J.B. Shuck, Tim Anderson, Alex Avila and Adam Eaton all homered in the loss.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.

While it may not be as unprecedented, the workload has been hefty for the White Sox bullpen over the last week. The group had combined for 26 1/3 innings in the team’s previous seven games and needed a lengthy effort from Gonzalez. Ventura said afterward he ruled relievers David Robertson and Nate Jones, who each appeared in five of those games, and Matt Albers and Zach Duke, who had four each, out of action.

So it couldn’t have been easy for Ventura to stomach when Gonzalez allowed five consecutive first-inning hits and fell behind 3-0. Devon Travis made it a five-run game in the second inning with a two-run homer.

Starved for length from the starting pitcher, Ventura stuck with Gonzalez, who retired the side in order in the third. But the Blue Jays continued to add on against Gonzalez, pushing across three more runs in the fourth inning. Josh Donaldson drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs to make it a 6-3 game and Edwin Encarnacion’s two-run single again pushed the deficit to five.

While Gonzalez pitched a scoreless fifth inning, he was lifted after a one-out double in the sixth by Ezequiel Carrera.

“We've got to win that game,” Gonzalez said. “That can't happen. I have to be more consistent.

"It's frustrating not to be a little bit more consistent early in the ballgame.”

Gonzalez is now 1-3 with a 7.83 ERA in four home starts this season.

Encarnacion doubled in an insurance run and Troy Tulowitzki singled in another in the ninth off rookie Michael Ynoa to give Toronto a 10-7 lead.

Despite facing big deficits all game, the White Sox didn’t surrender.

Lawrie’s inside-the-park-home run with two outs in the second off R.A. Dickey lit a fuse. It was the first inside-the-park-homer by a White Sox player at U.S. Cellular Field since Chris Singleton on Sept. 29, 2000.

Navarro then lined one out to right to make it 5-2 and Shuck followed with his first homer since April 19, 2014 -- a span of 318 plate appearances. It’s the first time the White Sox hit three consecutive homers since they hit four in a row against the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 14, 2008.

Lawrie’s solo homer off Dickey in the fourth made it 8-3 as he became the first White Sox player since Ron Santo on June 9, 1974 to have both a traditional homer and an inside-the-park-homer in the same contest.

The White Sox added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Lawrie to make it 8-5, but reliever Jesse Chavez stranded a pair of runners.

Anderson’s homer off Drew Storen in the seventh made it a two-run game and Avila’s oppo-shot off Jason Grilli in the eighth got the White Sox within a run.

Eaton homered in the ninth, too, but it wasn’t enough.

“They’ve got a well oiled machine over there,” Eaton said. “They’re tough to compete with. At the same time, you hit seven home runs, you think you should win the ballgame. But that's the way baseball goes. Baseball is a weird game.

“It's a tricky game. You can never really predict it.”

62 Days to Kickoff: Antioch

62 Days to Kickoff: Antioch

CSNChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 1, we’ll unveil the @CSNPreps Top 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 26.

School: Antioch Sequoits

Head coach: Brian Glashagel

Assistant Coaches: Del Pechauer, Jordan Eder, Neil Farlow, Ryan Shifley, Mike Karner, Pat Swanson, Mike Gordy, Vinny Juiditta, Rico Ellis

How they fared in 2015: 5-4 (3-3) North Suburban Prairie Conference. Antioch failed to qualify for the IHSA playoff field.

Biggest storyline in 2016: Can the Sequoits avoid just missing out on the playoffs like last fall?

Names to watch this season: ATH Brandon Lind, K/P Ben Gutke

Biggest holes to fill: The Sequoits will need to replace a ton of rushing yards from graduated running back Griffin Hill and fullback Nick Dorosan.

EDGY's early take: Always look towards teams that just miss out on the IHSA playoffs the previous year to have a bit more motivation. Antioch has a good core back on both sides of the football, and will compete for a conference title in the newly formed Northern Lake County Conference.