Cubs

Fire shut out by Red Bulls

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Fire shut out by Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. -- With record-setting temperatures stifling Red Bull Arena, New York coach Hans Backe asked captain Thierry Henry if he wanted to sit the game out.

Henry declined and scored in the 71st minute to lift the Red Bulls to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday.

"The boss asked me if I wanted to play," Henry said. "I told him that I needed to play. I needed to get back into a rhythm, because I haven't been playing much lately. I'm getting better, but to get better, I need minutes. I hadn't scored in a while, so I needed to do something to win the game."

It was Henry's 10th goal of the season - and first since April 28, when he scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over New England. Henry missed four games in May due to a hamstring strain, returned for one game, then missed two games in June with a strained calf.

The Red Bulls (10-5-5) moved into second place in the Eastern Conference and remained the lone MLS team to be undefeated at home (6-0-3).

Chicago (9-7-4), which was 6-1-3 against the Red Bulls since 2008, remained in fourth place in the East.

Bill Gaudette, playing in just his second game with the Red Bulls, got the shutout without having to make a save.

The game drew an attendance of 15,815 in record-breaking 106-degree temperatures, the hottest July 18 ever recorded in New Jersey.

"It was amazing," Henry said. "I never played in anything like this. It's the kind of day where you want to stay in the air conditioning and drink lots of water. You just do whatever you can."

Backe thought his team played well despite the heat and humidity.

"They were difficult conditions to play in, but it would have been more difficult if we were to lose," he said. "The players had to know how to handle the heat. They could go forward when we had the opportunity, but you can never tell in conditions like this. We made the most of our chances."

After the majority of the game was played to a crawl, Henry blasted a left-footed shot that went off the far right goalpost and into the net.

Rookie Connor Lade, who entered the match only a few minutes prior, made a fine play at midfield to move the ball up the field. Lade fed newcomer Sebastian Le Toux, who made a perfect 35-yard cross to Henry. The French superstar settled the ball with his chest, then put it to his left foot. The shot was from a tough angle, but Henry managed to get it high off the post and past Sean Johnson.

"We wanted to win this game," Henry said. "I got a great pass from Seb and it was striker's instinct. It was one of those things. Sometimes, they go in. Sometimes, they don't."

Le Toux, playing in just his second game with New York, saw Henry make the move to goal.

"A forward like him knows how to score," said Le Toux, acquired last week in a trade with Vancouver. "He knows what to do in space. He made a great touch with his chest and it was a beautiful goal."

The Red Bulls survived a scare in the 84th minute, when Gonzalo Segares' header appeared to go past Gaudette, but an alert Brandon Barklage headed it out of danger to preserve the lead.

The Red Bulls had the better of the play in the first half and had three excellent scoring chances. In the 21st minute, Mehdi Ballouchy hit a low shot that Fire goalie Sean Johnson stopped by making a diving save. Two minutes later, Ballouchy had another chance, but he fired his shot over the crossbar. In the 32nd minute, Le Toux made a brilliant attempt that sailed over the crossbar. Le Toux also had a shot in the closing minute than a sprawled Johnson managed to punch out of the goal.

In the second half, the Red Bulls continued to control play and had a great scoring chance when Henry made a fine feed across to Markus Holgersson, whose header went over the crossbar.

Chicago could not muster any kind of a consistent offensive attack in the sweltering heat.

"It was extremely hot, but we weren't the only ones playing in it," said Fire forward Dominic Oduro, a former Red Bulls player. "You can't run 100 percent of the time on a day like this. The heat was really a factor. Unfortunately, they were the ones who got the goal and we couldn't do anything."

Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa added: "It's hard to get anything going in this kind of weather. They had one nice shot from Henry and that was it. Our shape and fitness wasn't the best for a day like this."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.