Fire

Fire seeking consistency heading into Columbus

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Fire seeking consistency heading into Columbus

The Fires record (5-3-3) isnt bad, but the club has been inconsistent in the first third of the Major League Soccer season.

While the Fire are coming off a 2-1 home win over FC Dallas, Saturdays road match against the Columbus Crew would be a good place for consistency to kick in. The Fire are fourth and the Crew (4-4-3) fifth in the Eastern Conference so this amounts to an early-season meeting of teams on the playoff bubble, and a Crew victory will pull Columbus into a tie with the Fire with 18 points. This will also be the first match in Fire history carried on NBC5, and the club is paying for 10 busloads (600 fans) to attend the game.

The Fires visit to Columbus last season was encouraging. A late goal by the now-departed Christian Nazarit gave the Fire a 1-0 victory, and it was also Frank Klopas first win as the clubs interim head coach. The Fire, of course, played well after that and Klopas interim tag was dropped by owner Andrew Hauptman in the offseason.

Wednesdays home win over FC Dallas was encouraging as well. It marked the first time the Fire could beat FC Dallas at Toyota Park. FC Dallas was 5-0-1 there until goals by Marco Pappa and Sebastian Grazzini and a big save by goalkeeper Sean Johnson finally enabled the Fire to break that strange hex.

That win could also mean the Fire finally won the Brimstone Cup, which is symbolic of the superiority of one club over the other each season. It has become a silly competition anyway. The Cup rivalry was established when FC Dallas was known as the Dallas Burn, meaning the Fire would meet the Burn. Cute, eh?

The rivalry never was given much more meaning than any other regular season MLS match by either team, and when the Burn was no longer part of the equation the whole rivalry aspect diminished still further. Still, the Dallas franchise held possession of the Brimstone Cup every year since 2001, but Wednesdays match was their only MLS matchup of this season.

Rivalry or not, the win was big as far as Klopas was concerned.

"It was just a huge win. We scored from behind again, which shows a lot of character for this group," he said.

Once again the Fire gave up the games first goal. Then Grazzini tied it before halftime with what Klopas described as "fantastic.a world-class goal." Marco Pappa got the game-winner in the second half and Johnsons save on a penalty kick was also critical to the Fire rebounding from a 2-1 road loss to the lowly Portland Timbers on Sunday.

"Its sometimes difficult with road trips," said Klopas. "We came back from Portland, and we had a great response from the group."

The Crew is coming into this match unbeaten (2-0-2) in March, and a 2-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders in Columbus' last outing was especially impressive.

This road trip to Columbus wont be as long mileage-wise for the Fire, but itll lead into another important match Tuesdays first in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Fire will face a minor league club, the Michigan Bucks, on Tuesday at Pontiac, Mich. The Open Cup is more important to the Fire than it is to many MLS clubs. The team has won it four times and fell 2-0 in Seattle in last years final.

On the injury front the Fire came through the Dallas match relatively unscathed and striker Chris Rolfe resumed training with the full squad after nursing a sprained left ankle. Whether hell be available against the Crew, however, is still yet to be determined.

The Fire will lose Pappa for the Open Cup match. Hell be with Guatemalas national team for a match against Costa Rica in Guatemala City.

Fire trade up in draft, select Hermann Trophy winner Jon Bakero

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USA TODAY

Fire trade up in draft, select Hermann Trophy winner Jon Bakero

After trading down in each of the past two drafts, the roles were reversed for the Fire and general manager Nelson Rodriguez.

The Fire traded up to the No. 5 spot, sending $75,000 of General Allocation Money, $100,000 of Targeted Allocation Money, the Fire’s natural first round pick at No. 15 and a player to be named later to Minnesota. With that pick the Fire took Jon Bakero, an attacking player who won the MAC Hermann Trophy, college’s soccer version of the Heisman Trophy, this fall.

Bakero comes in with a heck of a resume and a background. The Wake Forest forward scored 37 goals and had 26 assists in four years. As a senior he had 16 goals and 14 assists in 23 games.

On top of his college accomplishments, Bakero is the son of Jose Mari Bakero, who played for Barcelona for a decade and played in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. The Spanish-born player will count as an international on the Fire’s roster, but offseason moves have cleared out international slots. The Fire are up to six internationals on the roster.

Bakero is noted for his technical ability on the ball and his ability to create chances for himself and his teammates. He played as a striker in college, but in coach Veljko Paunovic’s system he could be used as the underneath attacker that Michael de Leeuw played in 2017 before getting hurt. With de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic expected to miss at least a few months of the 2018 season, Bakero should have a chance to start right away based on the current roster.

Bakero was named MVP of the combine leading into the draft. Last year the Fire took Daniel Johnson in the first round after Johnson caught some eyes by standing out at the combine.

The player to be named in the trade will be announced after the team reaches out to the player to notify him of the trade.

Meet the Prospects: Evan Skoug

Meet the Prospects: Evan Skoug

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

Evan Skoug

Skoug, the 22-year-old catcher, was a seventh-round pick of the White Sox in last summer's draft.

A Libertyville native, Skoug played his college ball at TCU, where he and the Horned Frogs made three consecutive College World Series appearances in the last three years. During his final season at TCU, Skoug slashed .272/.378/.544 with a whopping 20 homers and 71 RBIs.

After joining the White Sox organization, Skoug played 21 games with Class A Kannpolis, only picking up 10 hits — but two homers and two triples — in his 76 plate appearances.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Skoug rated as the No. 24 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Skoug in the video above.