Chicago Fire

U.S. takes early advantage after Day 1 at Ryder Cup

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U.S. takes early advantage after Day 1 at Ryder Cup

MEDINAH -- Bubba Watson stood on the first tee waving his arms, urging Ryder Cup fans to make some noise.

No need. The Americans gave them more than enough reasons to cheer.

After salvaging a tie in foursomes after trailing in all four matches Friday morning, the Americans finished the first day with a 5-3 lead. Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson swept their matches, and Watson and Webb Simpson handily beat Paul Lawrie and Peter Hanson to give the United States a win. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar then beat Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer 3-and-2.

"Oh, baby," Bradley said, "I wish I could go 36 more."

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were turning things around after struggling the entire day -- they lost 2-and-1 to Ian Poulter and Rose in foursomes -- but couldn't close it out, falling to Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts.

Bradley and Mickelson are frequent practice round partners, and both said repeatedly this week how much they wanted to play together. After the day they had, no way captain Davis Love III will split them up.

Bradley made one clutch putt after another, none bigger than the 25-footer uphill that clinched their 4-and-3 upset over Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in foursomes. It was the first time the Europeans had lost in foursomes; they had been 4-0 together, and Garcia had a career record of 8-0-1. Bradley made another six birdies in the afternoon as the Americans raced out to a 4-up lead on Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, Europe's top team, through eight holes.

The Europeans, McDowell in particular, didn't have the same spark in the afternoon as they did in the morning, when they held off Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker for a 1-up win. McIlroy cut the U.S. lead to 2-up with back-to-back birdies on 14 and 15, and stuck his tee shot on the par-3 17th. But Mickelson did him one better, putting his 7-iron to 2 feet. He raised his club in the air, and Bradley walked onto the green screaming and waving his arms at the crowd.

"We were trying to claw our way back, and we played some good stuff on the way in," McIlroy said. "But Keegan and Phil were just too strong this afternoon."

So were Watson and Simpson. The duo, who won the year's first two majors, was raring to go after sitting out the morning session. Watson and his caddie waved their arms at the fans on the first tee, urging them to take it up another notch. After splitting the fairway with his drive, Watson up his driver as if to say, "Bring it."

Did they ever.

Watson and Simpson birdied seven of their first eight holes, and their lone par -- on No. 2 -- was still good enough to win the hole. When Watson made putts from inside 8 feet for birdies on Nos. 6, 7 and 8, the question wasn't if they'd win, but whether they'd do it in record fashion. The record win in an 18-hole team match is 7-and-6, accomplished twice.

But Watson and Simpson halved the next two holes, and Lawrie made a 5-foot birdie on 11 to give the Europeans their first hole in the match. That just delayed the inevitable, however. On the green in two on the par-5 14th, Watson needed only to two-putt from 45 feet to end the match. He got close enough on the first try, and the Europeans conceded the putt.

"I'm just playing with a buddy that can keep me cool, and I know he's going to play really good," Watson said. "I just needed to be in there when he was what we call struggling -- making pars. So it was fun."

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

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Nerds in Sports Podcast: Being a 'professional nerd' and Star Wars theories about Rey's parents

On this edition of Nerds in Sports, we talk with io9.com senior editor Rob Bricken.

Rob explains how he juggles being a fan with being a ‘professional’ nerd, how he came to run io9.com, plus his theory on why Rey’s parents are in Star Wars may shock you.

Kevin Anderson and Michael Piff co-host. We are Nerds. In sports.

Listen to the Nerds in Sports Podcast here.