Fire

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest sports story of the year

Leicester City just became the biggest sports story of the year.

If you're a soccer fan, you knew that already. If not, let me explain why the club from the Midlands in England shocked everyone, even the sportsbooks across the Atlantic, by winning the English Premier League title this season.

Those sportsbooks are a good place to start. Leicester City was a 5,000-to-1 favorite to win the Premier League this season. You won't find a professional sports team in this country that has odds that long to win a title.

The longest odds to win the World Series this year were the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves at 500-to-1. The NBA's Philadelphia 76ers were 350-to-1, and that team won 10 games. Hockey's longshot was the Arizona Coyotes at 250-to-1. You can't get an NFL team at longer than 200-to-1 to win the Super Bowl right now. That makes Leicester 10 times less likely than any underdog champion this country can provide.

The upset title was such a shock to the sportsbooks in England that they were offering to cash out bettors at a discount price before Leicester clinched the title. In the end, England's biggest sports books combined to lose more than $11 million.

As ESPN's Paul Carr pointed out, 15-seed Cal State Bakersfield was 5,000-to-1 to win the NCAA Tournament this year. A 15-seed has never made it past the Sweet 16 and with all respect to how bonkers it would be if a 15-seed was to win the NCAA Tournament, that's just six games. Leicester City did this over 38 games.

By the time the Foxes play out the last two games, they clinched the title early for an extra ounce of insanity, they will have played each team twice, once home and once away. This isn't a miraculous play like a Hail Mary or a massive one-off upset like the Miracle on Ice. This is a full season where a team that was expected to finish towards the bottom of the league won the championship and led the league for most of the season.

There have probably been more incredible moments and more incredible games in sports, but maybe never a more incredible season than what Leicester accomplished this year.

The reason the odds were so long is because there is no salary cap and there is no draft. Each team is truly on its own when it comes to creating a good team and the playing field is not even.

Imagine the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays fighting as division rivals in a world where instead of having a draft where the worst teams picked first, all amateur players entering the pros were free agents. Most of the players who would have been first round picks would wind up with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc. The poor Rays would have a lower payroll and no built-in mechanism to keep them competitive. That's what Leicester has to go up against when competing with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

Then there's the promotion and relegation system most of the world uses in soccer. Leicester City wasn't even in the Premier League from 2004-2014. Last season the team returned to the Premier League and barely survived relegation. They even had a stint in the third tier in the 2008-2009 season.

In the Premier League era, which started in 1992, no team has ever been lower than third the year before going on to win the title. Leicester was 14th last season.

The mesmerizing stats are countless, but to close it out it's worth noting that Leicester is a 132-year-old club. It had never won the top league in England. Even Cubs fans think that's a long time.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

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USA TODAY

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

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USA TODAY

Fire notes: Bastian Schweinsteiger yet to play in preseason

The Fire's preseason is two games old, but not much action has taken place in those games.

The opener was a 2-0 win against the University of South Florida, the Fire's host during this phase of the preseason, and Thursday's match against the Philadelphia Union was a scoreless draw. It's still early in the preseason and it has looked like it, but there have been some notable things.

For one, Bastian Schweinsteiger hasn't played yet. According to a team source the plan was for the German to sit out these two games. The 33-year-old did show some signs of a relative lack of fitness during scrimmages at the newly-build Toyota Park Dome (he had his hands firmly on his knees after one session despite still showing quality on the ball). The season opener is still over a month away so it's not a red flag.

Newly added winger Aleksandar Katai hasn't joined the team yet, but is expected to do so for the next phase of the preseason. Thursday is the team's travel day for a return to Chicago. The team has the weekend off before returning to Florida, this time in Bradenton, on Sunday.

Katai last played on Oct. 24 so he may need some time to get up to full speed, but so does the rest of the team at this time of year. How he is used will be worth watching. Will he be a straight replacement for David Accam (at least in terms of position) or will he be a more versatile option? Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Jon Bakero have played in the attacking midfield spots with the starting group in both preseason matches.

Defensively, it appears Christian Dean may have the inside track on the starting spot next to Johan Kappelhof. Dean has started next to Kappelhof in both preseason matches and did so in scrimmages in Bridgeview in the first week of the preseason. If that continues, Dean is likely the starter. If coach Veljko Paunovic wants to see someone else play with Kappelhof later in the preseason, there is still an open competition. Dean and rookie Grant Lillard are both left-footed center backs vying for the left center back spot.

Rookie Mo Adams started against USF and was in the second half lineup against Philadelphia. Against the Union, Adams dropped deep to begin attacks as the Fire tried to build out of the back. That trait is not common in young MLS players and is a good sign for Adams' prospects. He won't beat out Schweinsteiger or McCarty, but he could be a valuable bench piece this season, especially with Juninho gone from last year's team, and more in the future.

The recently traded Accam started for Philadelphia and played into the second half, but wasn't a major factor. To be fair, in a scoreless preseason draw few players were major factors. Of the 11 players the Fire started the second half with, Accam only played in a match with one of them (Jonathan Campbell) during his time with the team. The Fire's second half lineup was largely comprised of rookies, trialists and even an academy player.

Finally, Dax McCarty is always good for a good line. After the Philadelphia match, McCarty shared an idea he has for the league.