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Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

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Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 11:20 a.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

Not much is expected from the expansion Portland Timbers this season. After all, its a squad assembled from the rest of the leagues castoffs. But for the Chicago Fire, Thursdays matchup with the Timbers is one of the biggest games on its schedule.

These are the games that we play for, as a professional, Fire defender Cory Gibbs said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Ive tried to translate this to the team. Ive been there many times, fortunately, in my career. These are games that we strive to play.

How can that be? Portland has not won a game all season, and the Timbers currently sit at the bottom of the league table.

The Fire can thank the MLS schedule makers for adding a few layers of intrigue and drama to the first meeting between the clubs. Thursday, the Timbers will play their first home game in MLS, opening their renovated ground, Jeld-Wen Field, to what is sure to be a capacity crowd of rabid Timbers supporters.

The Fire, coming off a 2-1 defeat in front of 36,223 fans in Seattle on Saturday, are excited for another opportunity to play in a tough atmosphere.

We know that this game is going to be a lot harder than the Seattle game in terms of: expansion team, season opener, they havent won a game yet, and theyre going to have a lot to prove to their fans, Gibbs said. We should expect a lot of pressure in terms of intensity from them, and aggression from them.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos isnt keen on overhyping the game, but sees an opportunity for his squad to right the ship after a strong, but ultimately disappointing result in Seattle.

Each match is a different situation, de los Cobos said on a conference call Thursday. Portland is a new team in the league, but the attitude for sure will be very important for this kind of match, because we are coming with a bad result we need to add points. Portland is in front of its fans, but we keep playing like we are playing, good results are coming for us.

The story through the Fires opening matches has been strong play, but missed opportunities. Given their form, the Fire could easily be 3-0-0 instead of 1-1-1.

We just need to fine tune a couple of things we made mistakes on and easily the game could have gone the other way, Gibbs said. We left out of that game in Seattle, in all honesty, with a lot of confidence, knowing that even though we werent victorious in that game, were going to have a bright future if we play together and just believe in one another.

In each of the Fires first three games, striker Gaston Puerari has had breakaway opportunities, going one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Against FC Dallas and Seattle, Pueraris shots were saved. Gibbs brought up the breakaways as missed chances, but both he and de los Cobos pointed Seattles opening goal as something that cannot happen again.

Both said that goal, a header scored by Sounders forward OBrian White from 16 yards out, was a momentary lapse of strong play for the Fire. Even double-marked, White was still able to win the ball in the air and send it into the net. Portlands best chances on Thursday will likely come in a similar form.

The Timbers star, six-foot-three striker Kenny Cooper, poses an arial threat the Fire havent yet seen this season. The lessons of Whites goal Saturday have not been lost on de los Cobos, and the team has prepared in training to shut down the arial game.

We need to stay alert about this kind of situation, de los Cobos said. Against Seattle, we had one mistake in the box, one cross, and this guy OBrian White take advantage about this. Overall, with Cooper, he is better with the head. We need to stay alert, we need to stay close with him.

Gibbs play on the backline will be vital to making those tactics work. After injuring his right groin last week, Gibbs was a game-time decision for the Fire on Saturday. Gibbs played, despite not being 100 percent, and went the full 90 minutes in the loss.

The Fire is set to play three games in eight days, a stretch that ends Sunday at Toyota Park against the Los Angeles Galaxy, and with centerback Josip Mikilic out indefinitely, more injuries to the backline could be detrimental to positive results.

Ive always had the mentality where if I was somewhat ready, Im definitely going to go, Gibbs said. Thats what Ive been brought here to do. Im not trying to sit out. It just feels good to go 100 percent at training again without any qualms.

Gibbs expects to play both Thursday and Sunday. After all, these are the games he plays for.

Even though we have a quick turnaround, and we get back late Friday from Portland, you look forward to get another opportunity in terms of playing big games like we are going to do Sunday, Gibbs said. Its a great challenge for us in terms of testing our morale and testing where we are as a team.

Gibbs said that hell be sad to see the stretch of big-time games stop.

How great would it be if we turned around after Sunday and played Salt Lake? Gibbs said. For me, Salt Lake is on the top of their game, and we strive to play teams in games like that. You look to play these big games. As a team, weve all understood that. And Thursday, in Portland, in their season opener is something were biting for and we cant wait to step on that field Thursday and then turn around Sunday. Not looking past Portland, but knowing that Sunday is going to be another huge one.

The Fire and Timbers will kick off at 10 pm central Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.

Anthony Rizzo declines role as an activist, says trip to Florida 'was the hardest thing I've ever had to do'

Anthony Rizzo declines role as an activist, says trip to Florida 'was the hardest thing I've ever had to do'

MESA, Ariz. — Anthony Rizzo’s gone above and beyond for his community in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in United States history, when 17 people lost their lives last week at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, Rizzo’s alma mater.

His actions and words have carried plenty of weight in the last week, but Rizzo’s comments upon returning to Arizona were more focused on the general need for change rather than specific actions related to the issue of gun violence in America.

The Cubs’ first baseman, who returned to spring training on Monday after spending several days being with his community in Florida, repeatedly voiced the opinion — though it’s ridiculous to think there’s a counter argument that could actually qualify as someone’s opinion — that these mass shootings need to stop happening with such an incomprehensible amount of frequency.

But he stopped short of taking a full step into the national debate on the issue, clarifying that his comments made on Twitter the day of the shooting were not referencing gun control or that specific debate at all.

“Obviously, there needs to be change,” Rizzo said. “I don’t know what that is, I don’t get paid to make those decisions. I can sit back and give opinions, but you just hope somewhere up the line of command, people are thinking are thinking the same things that a lot of innocent kids are thinking: ‘Why? Why am I scared to go to school? Why am I scared to say goodbye to my son or daughter?’ God forbid someone was in an argument with someone they loved that day, how bad — it’s a bad time right now in the country with what’s going on with all these shootings.

“My opinion is my opinion. I don’t think it’s fair to my teammates and everyone else if I come out and start going one way or the other. I think, my focus is on baseball. My focus is definitely on Parkland and the community there and supporting them and whatever direction that they go. But for me it’s hard enough to hit a baseball, and it’s definitely going to be hard enough to try to be a baseball player and a politician at the same time.”

Rizzo has no more of an obligation to be a spokesman on this issue than any other American does, and his presence at his old school last week, his words at a vigil for the victims of this tragedy were powerful. Rizzo has established himself as a remarkable member of his community in Chicago, and he won the Roberto Clemente Award last season for his charitable efforts off the field. His willingness to leave Arizona and be with members of his community was reflective of the type of person Cubs fans and Chicagoans have gotten to know.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Just going back, you don’t what to say. There’s nothing you can say,” Rizzo said. “When people get shot, you’re grateful that they’re alive. When they pass away, you’re grateful that you knew them, to look at the bright side of things if you can. But just to see how real it is, it’s sad.

“The more I just sat and thought about it, I felt helpless here. That’s where I grew up, in Parkland. I got in trouble there, I succeeded there, I learned how to be who I am because of Parkland, because of Stoneman Douglas. So to be across the country and not be there and then to find out some very close people have lost loved ones, to be there to help them and support them was very important to me.”

Rizzo repeatedly said how proud he is of the students of Stoneman Douglas, who have been outspoken on social media, directing their comments toward the president and other members of the government and sharing their opinions that gun control is necessary for the violence to stop.

But Rizzo refrained from wading into that debate and even chastised those who mischaracterized his Twitter comments as a call for gun regulation.

“To be very clear I did not say the word ‘gun’ one time,” he said. “Anyone out there who wrote gun control, saying I called for gun control, I think is very irresponsible and I did not say that once.

“I don’t know what needs to be done, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. I know there are a lot of shootings. I know they are done with a specific make, but I don’t know what needs to be done. But something, some type of change needs to happen for the better because I’m sure people in here have kids. No one right now feels very comfortable on a daily basis sending their kid to school and not knowing if they’re going to see them again.”

That kind of message might not be as declarative as some would have hoped. But it remained a powerful one, showing that even if he wasn’t ready or willing to declare himself an activist, Rizzo shares the feelings of many Americans who are simultaneously numb to the news of these shootings and completely and entirely fed up with their frequency and the lack of action taken to stop them.

“As a human being, probably everyone in here when they first the initial (reports of a) shooter, I took my next golf swing, because that’s how numb this country is to it,” Rizzo said. “Until something crazy happens, when you hear ‘open shooter’ nowadays, it’s like, ‘OK,’ take your next breath and keep going. Then I found out it was at Douglas, you get a little more concerned, ‘OK, what’s going on.’ At first it’s a few people injured, then you found out it was what it was, and it’s just — it’s gut-wrenching. You just go numb.

“I stand behind my community, and I’m really proud of how everyone’s coming together. Obviously I said there needs to be change, I don’t know what the change needs to be. I’m just really proud of those kids and how they’re coming together and becoming one in Parkland. It’s really inspiring to see, and it makes me proud.”