Bears

Fire hang on for 1-0 victory over Sporting KC

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Fire hang on for 1-0 victory over Sporting KC

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas knew that Sporting Kansas City would be pushing the issue on a sweltering night at Livestrong Sporting Park, and his team was ready to capitalize when the right opportunity presented itself.

Marco Pappa led a counter-attack the length of the field in the 58th minute, initiating a nifty give-and-go play with Chris Rolfe and slamming home the return pass for his fifth goal of the year, giving the Fire a 1-0 victory and their third straight win.

"You look at a play like that, they're pushing the numbers forward," Klopas said afterward, his shirt drenched in sweat. "The ball just came out and we had transition numbers. I know Marco finished it off, but Chris handled the break very well."

The Fire (8-5-3) have won three straight for the first time all year, and they still haven't lost to Sporting KC (9-5-2) on the road since the 2007 season, despite getting outshot 27-10.

Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson saved all five shots on target for his second shutout.

"They got one opportunity and capitalized on it, and at the other end, Sean Johnson was a beast," said Sporting KC forward Teal Bunbury, who had one of several excellent changes to score a tying goal during a flurry of shots in stoppage time.

The first came when Bunbury spun and fired from the wing, and the ball sailed just wide of the goal. Soony Saad had another chance from close range that Johnson managed to save, and Chance Myers nearly netted the tying goal with his own shot just before time expired.

"We had 27 shots. It's not like what we're trying to do didn't happen. We just didn't stick it in the back of the net," Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. "It was pretty even in the first half. I thought we were all over them in the second half. We made a mistake on the run-out play - we had too many guys forward and nobody back, and they executed it very well."

Sporting KC and Chicago are going different directions in the Eastern Conference race, though both of them are still within striking distance of D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls.

Sporting KC was coming off a victory over the Dayton Dutch Lions to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, but still stumbled in its return to MLS play. Vermes' squad was playing for the fifth time in 14 days, a run of games that includes a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia.

Chicago built on its victory over the Red Bulls and a 2-1 defeat of the Columbus Crew, when it went a man down and still managed to hang on down the stretch.

It was a good thing no red cards flew on Friday night - it was hard enough dealing with the near-record-setting temperatures that have scorched the Midwest, and forced many players to double over and both coaches to carefully consider their substitutions.

Brazilian midfielder Alex Monteiro De Lima - known simply as Alex - made his debut for Chicago in the 65th minute. The former striker for Swiss club FC Wohlen had a couple of chances in front of the Sporting KC goal late in the second half but was unable to convert.

Pappa didn't have the same trouble on his breakaway, and it wound up being the difference.

"Obviously it was a great win, and we knew it would be a great match," Klopas said. "Sporting Kansas City is a great team, and we knew it would be difficult to come in here and get points."

Match stats
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'Adapt or die' is the perfect motto for Matt Nagy's coaching staff

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USA TODAY

'Adapt or die' is the perfect motto for Matt Nagy's coaching staff

Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor offered a, well, interesting assessment of his coaching philosophy while meeting the media at Halas Hall for the first time on Thursday.

“One thing that we say is adapt or die,” Tabor explained. “The dinosaurs couldn't figure it out and they became extinct.

“Coaches, they don't figure it out, they get fired. So we'll adapt, and I'm looking forward to the challenge of it.”

This wasn’t some veiled shot at John Fox — far from it, though it’s worth mentioning Fox did say last year: “I’m not an offensive coordinator, I’m not a defensive coordinator, I’m not a special teams coordinator, but I coordinate all three.” More than anything, Tabor’s comment pointed out the dinosaurs didn’t have a distinct schematic advantage over an asteroid.

But Cretaceous reference aside, Tabor’s more relevant point is one that seems to mesh well with Matt Nagy’s style: Be open to ideas, and be willing to change them if they’re not working.

And that’s exactly how a 39-year-old first-time head coach should approach things. Nagy comes across as supremely confident in what he’s doing but also secure in his own coaching talents to accept criticism or other ideas from those he trusts. In short: He doesn’t seem like a my-way-or-the-highway kind of a guy who could get caught trying to be the smartest guy in the room. This was a pitfall that, for example, Josh McDaniels encountered in his ill-fated tenure with the Denver Broncos (one of his notes after he was fired in 2011 was “listen better,” as Dan Pompei detailed in an enlightening story here).

“Each and every one of these guys has a lot of experience in that world and so for me, being a young coach coming into it for the first time, surround myself with people that have strong character and have been through those situations and know how to deal with it,” Nagy said. “Trust me, throughout this process, I'll be going to these guys for advice, and that's OK because it's only going to make me better.”

Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich doesn’t have any experience in the NFL, but Nagy didn’t view that as a problem. Instead, Nagy pointed to Helfrich’s experience running Chip Kelly’s innovative Oregon offense, which he feels can, among other factors, “help me grow not only as an offensive coach but as a head coach.”

And on the other side of that, Nagy said he and Helfrich are deep in discussions of what the Bears’ offense will look like in 2018, and the exchange of ideas has already been positive. Specifically, Nagy said Helfrich’s openness to different run- and pass-game philosophies stands out.

“That’s some of the stuff that we’re literally in right now, going through some of the things we do offensively and brainstorming,” Nagy said. “What do you like? What do you don’t like? And so, you know, for us, that’s the fun part, just trying to go through some of the offensive stuff and seeing where we’re at."

As for Nagy’s approach to the Bears’ defense, it’s simple: “Don't let teams score points,” he said. There’s obviously more to it than that, but Vic Fangio said he’s appreciated Nagy’s willingness to discuss different philosophies and ideas with him so far.

“He’s attacking it with enthusiasm, an open mind, open to finding out better ways to do things potentially,” Fangio said. “Especially since he’s been under one head coach his whole career, that’s not the only way to do things. And I think he’s open to that. So it’s been all positive.”

Saying and doing all the right things in terms of openness to new ideas doesn’t guarantee that Nagy’s reign will be a successful one in Chicago. But it does bolster the thought that Nagy — and his coaching staff — are on the right track in the nascent stages of turning around the Bears.

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

The fall was nasty and the concussion was substantial for Kris Dunn. But at second blush the Bulls are thankful it wasn’t worse.

Given the way his body jerked after Dunn released himself from the rim, the Bulls are glad he didn’t suffer a neck injury in addition to the concussion and dislocated front teeth.

“It could have been a major, major injury,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, it is a significant one with the concussion. You can't take these things lightly, but with the way that he fell and hit head first, we're really thankful that he'll be back hopefully before too long. But obviously we'll take things very cautiously, a cautious approach with this because of how significant concussions are. But hopefully we'll get him back soon.”

Dunn has braces on the front teeth to stabilize them, and Hoiberg said he’ll see the doctor every day over the next several days, per the league's concussion protocol. There’s a chance Dunn could join the Bulls on the three-game road trip, but he’ll miss at least Saturday’s game in Atlanta. The Bulls travel to New Orleans on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

It’s the second freak injury Dunn has suffered this season, in addition to dislocating his finger in the preseason. He struggled with it initially upon returning but recently had shown no signs of issues with it.

Dealing with a concussion and also a mouth injury makes things more complicated as far as his playing style. He plays aggressive and fast, bordering on recklessness occasionally.

Hoiberg doesn’t believe that will change when Dunn returns.

“I don't think it's going to change the way Kris plays,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously it was very unfortunate in the timing because he had a couple of really good plays there to get things really turned in our favor and get the momentum going down the stretch and they get a called timeout and get a layup out of it right away. Then we still had our chances late in that game. Kris was responsible as anybody for getting that game to striking distance. Unfortunately, we just couldn't make the plays we needed to to get the win.”

The more conservative style of Jerian Grant will take over in Dunn’s absence. Grant has been steady as a backup, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists. Unlike Dunn, though, Grant hasn’t had issues with turnovers, at a four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio this year.

Teams will dare Grant to beat them from the outside, as he’s missed 15 of his 16 3-point attempts this month.

“I've been here before, so I'm prepared. I've started a lot of games so far in my career, so I'm ready for it,” Grant said. “The last time I started, we got a win. I did what I had to do so I'm prepared to do whatever we need to do to get a win.”

Where Grant will receive relief is from Zach LaVine getting clearance for more minutes, as he’ll play in the fourth quarters and will have his minute-restriction increased to 24 minutes.

LaVine will likely play some point guard during stretches, and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range in the small sample size of three games and 19.7 minutes.

“We're not going to overextend him right now because he's still obviously very early in the process as far as getting back on the floor and getting in game shape,” Hoiberg said. “We don't want to get him fatigued out there so we'll keep his rotation stretches short. But wee will hopefully have him available some in the fourth quarter to give us what Kris does down the stretch, who's been as good as anybody on our team as far as helping out close games.”