Fire

The critics, Cubs-White Sox wont get under Sveums skin

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The critics, Cubs-White Sox wont get under Sveums skin

Almost two years ago, the Chicago media crowded around Lou Piniella as the Cubs manager sat down in the Wrigley Field dugout.

A crosstown game against the White Sox meant wall-to-wall coverage. One reporter asked a harmless question about how encouraged Piniella must be by the development of Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro.

That set off Piniella, who fired back at the critics questioning how he handled young players. He blasted White Sox broadcaster Steve Stone and the ridiculous way media personalities did their jobs.

Ive won over 1,800 games as a manager and Im not a damn dummy, Piniella said that day. There are only 13 others that have won more games than me, so I guess I think I know what the hell Im doing.

Dale Sveum has a much longer fuse, and we havent seen him explode yet. Theres almost no chance the Cubs manager will go viral when the White Sox come to the North Side for a three-game series that begins Friday.

Ozzie Guillen who was replaced by the low-key Robin Ventura and Carlos Zambrano and Milton Bradley wont be there to light a match.

Sveum has an answer for everything Castro bunting, using or not using Kerry Wood and he explains baseball mechanics in great detail. He understands that the second-guessing is part of the job.

Its gonna happen, Sveum said Wednesday. I dont read the papers. Im not a guy that Tweets, or whatever you call that thing. Im not a big computer guy. I dont read the news.

(During) my free time, I watch the NFL channel as much as I canto keep up on (things) for fantasy reasons.

Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer had managerial candidates meet with the media as part of the interview process last fall. They knew that Sveum took the heat as an aggressive third-base coach with the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2005.

There was about a two-week period where I got about 10 guys thrown out at home, Sveum recalled. Thats the animal you deal with when youre in the big markets. If I got 10 guys thrown out in Milwaukee, I wouldnt have had press conferences. I was having press conferences as a third-base coach.

I understand how fans react when youre in a passionate place.

Sveum shows no signs of nervous energy. Reading his body language behind the desk, youd have no idea whether the Cubs won or lost when you walk into the managers office after the game.

Sveum thought back to Tuesdays walk-off loss in St. Louis, how the Cardinals won it when Yadier Molina hit a ball past diving second baseman Darwin Barney, who was shaded one way because thats where the data said he should be.

Theres nothing you can do about it, Sveum said. Sometimes it is a game of inches. As long as you know that your team is giving everything theyve got, and the preparation is there through the coaching staff, (you live with it).

You know somebodys got to lose that night. Put it that way. (When you do), you dwell on it for a little while. Maybe (its) should-a, would-a, could-a, but I dont take it home with me. That woulddrive you crazy.

Sveum has been disciplined and stayed on message. His quotes dont go out on Twitter the way it could when Mike Quade said things like Im not a lunatic.

Sveum has shown patience with young pitchers and trusted them in big situations. He has set the tone for a quiet, purpose-driven clubhouse. He has the hammer that comes with being a former big-leaguer, and being Epsteins guy.

The Cubs president hired Sveum so he could grow into the job and become the next Terry Francona (instead of bringing in the actual Terry Francona).

It helped having 16 games as Milwaukees interim manager in 2008. But its not easy when you have to tell Carlos Marmol that hes losing his job. Six weeks in, the manager is settling into the job. The White Sox shouldnt knock him off his game.

You can sit here and say youre prepared and want to manage and all that, Sveum said. There are still many things that are going to come up, (like) when you take somebody out of the closers role.

(Its not) the nine-inning strategies you go through or the double switches and all that. Sometimes, thats the easy part of managing the game. Its a lot of the other stuff behind the scenes.

Playoff scenarios and scoreboard watching will permeate Sunday for Fire

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Playoff scenarios and scoreboard watching will permeate Sunday for Fire

The Fire will have to keep the travel itinerary open.

Heading into the final day of the regular season on Sunday, the Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth in the Eastern Conference. As it stands, the Fire sit third and would host a first-game playoff game, but could also head on the road to Columbus in the first round or even earn a bye.

Depending on what the Fire do in Houston in the regular season finale and what happens elsewhere there are six possible scenarios for the Fire. The Fire could hold onto the No. 3 seed and host the New York Red Bulls, drop to fourth and host either Columbus, Atlanta or New York City FC, fall all the way to the No. 5 seed and travel to New York City or move up to the No. 2 seed and earn a bye into the conference semifinals.

In order to get the bye, the Fire must win and have NYCFC fail to beat Columbus. A draw in Houston would result in a home game in the first round, regardless of other results.

“Definitely things can happen,” defender Matt Polster said. “We’ve looked at it obviously. Columbus can do something and then we do something obviously things happen. It’s not that we don’t look at it as players, but at the end of the day we just want to win.”

Winning in Houston won’t be easy considering the team has an 11-1-4 record at home this season. On top of that, Houston is also fighting for playoff positioning. The Dynamo clinched a playoff berth last weekend and could move into a top four spot with a win and some help.

Expect the Fire to control the possession. Houston likes to play on the counter to utilize speedy attackers Alberth Elis (10 goals, 4 assists), Mauro Manotas (9 goals, 5 assists) and Erick Torres (14 goals, 3 assists).

“We know they’re fast up top so I think for myself, especially being very attacking-minded I definitely have to play a little bit more defensive and wait for the right opportunities to go forward,” Polster said. “Maybe more something like Montreal with (Ignacio) Piatti.”

The Fire’s midfield will still be shorthanded with Bastian Schweinsteiger expected to sit out to continue to rest his calf injury. Juninho returned to training this week after missing the past five games and could play next to Dax McCarty. The Brazilian described the injury as chronic with a bone bruise and some cartilage issues, but he said he feels 100 percent now.

All 11 MLS games on Sunday will start at 3 p.m. The Fire will be on NBC Sports Chicago+ with coverage starting with Fire Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.

The other games of importance to the Fire are Columbus at NYCFC and Atlanta hosting Supporters’ Shield-winning Toronto. Coach Veljko Paunovic said he will be drawing on his experience coaching the Serbian Under-20s for how to handle the scoreboard watching aspect of the day.

“Obviously you cannot ignore what’s going on in the other games,” Paunovic said. “We know what we have to say or not say and when to say and all these things so it’s a craft that this job is.

“It’s good to know the information. Then you can manage it.”

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

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USA TODAY

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

Justin Jackson is one of the top 10 rushers in Big Ten history for a reason: He's very, very good at this football thing.

Put it was a big play Jackson made not as a ball-carrier but as a pass-catcher Saturday that set up Northwestern's second straight win, a 17-10 takedown of Iowa in Evanston.

Jackson took a pass from quarterback Clayton Thorson and went all the way down to the 1-yard line, picking up 23 yards and shedding multiple tacklers on the game's biggest play.

Two plays later, Thorson plunged in for the go-ahead score. Iowa failed on a fourth-down conversion attempt on its ensuing overtime possession, ending it with a dropped pass that finished the game.

The game's result rapidly altered the social-media conversation, which moments prior had been mighty critical of Pat Fitzgerald, who made a controversial decision at the end of regulation.

Iowa tied the game at 10 on a field goal inside of two minutes to play, forced to kick after a false start was committed on fourth and 1. Fitzgerald had a minute and a half and two timeouts to try to get his own team into field-goal range for a shot at a win but instead ran the clock out and headed to overtime.

Fitzgerald explained after the game that the blustery wind at Ryan Field played a big role in that decision, plus his team had a long way to go against an Iowa defense that played well throughout the game.

Northwestern's defense was very strong, too, holding Iowa to 312 total yards, only 89 of which came on the ground. Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley was also picked off in the second half for the game's only turnover.

Jackson finished with 93 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards. Thorson was 21-for-36 passing the ball for 192 yards. Backup running back Jeremy Larkin scored the Wildcats' lone regulation touchdown.

The win improved Northwestern to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play. After a 2-3 start, the Cats have won back-to-back games and take on a ranked Michigan State team next weekend.