Preps Talk

Game preview: Fire vs. Real Salt Lake

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Game preview: Fire vs. Real Salt Lake

There are two things to be aware of regarding the Fires match against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night at Toyota Park:

First, this one will be in the middle of a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch the Fires first endurance test of this Major League Soccer season.

Also, this match will mark the renewal of a club tradition. Itll highlight the first time the Fire has added a member to its Ring of Fire in three years, and the honoree will be a most deserving one. If C.J. Brown hadnt been picked for this cherished honor it would have been a travesty.

There are other former players who merit consideration for the highest honor available to a Fire player Zach Thornton and Ante Razov are the most obvious but Browns selection by the other Ring of Fire members was a no-brainer.

Peter Wilt, the Fires first president, envisioned the Ring of Fire as the ultimate honor for a player wearing the (usually) red jersey and the first honoree was as obvious as Brown will be on Wednesday night. Peter Nowak, now the coach of the Philadelphia Union, was the first member of the Ring of Fire in 2003. He was the Fire captain for the clubs first five seasons and the leader of the team that scored an improbable sweep of the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in the inaugural season of 1998.

Nowak retired as a player after his rights were acquired by New England after five great seasons wearing the Fire armband.

Following Nowak into the Ring of Fire was Frank Klopas in 2004. He was a clear choice as well, being a standout as a player and later as an assistant coach, front office staffer and now head coach. Hes become the Chicago soccer icon the Fire so sorely needed to establish its place on the citys sports landscape.

Next came Lubos Kubik in 2005. There was no more solid a defender in Fire history than Kubik, a cool-headed back-line guy who could score on set pieces as well.

Wilt himself was honored in 2006, a credit to John Guppy who was big enough to accept the fact that his predecessor as club president well deserved the honor despite his surprise early-season dismissal after guiding the franchise for seven years.

The Ring of Honor seemed in jeopardy after Wilts selection, but Bob Bradley the first head coach had his name inscribed on the Toyota Park wall in 2007, and two years later Chris Armas, the second captain and every bit the leader that Nowak was, followed him into the select place in Fire history.

It took three more seasons before the franchise, after undergoing ownership and leadership changes, revived the Ring of Fire tradition. Brown had the most games played in franchise history (374 in his 13 seasons). He hoped to enter coaching at the minor league level after his retirement as a player but hit the jackpot when Real Salt Lake hired him as an assistant, a job he is holding for a second season. He hasnt forgotten Chicago, though, as evidenced by his plans to establish a youth soccer camp here.

As for Wednesday nights match itself, itll be a battle. RSL is one of the best teams in MLS despite its 3-0 loss to the Fire late last season, when the club was bidding unsuccessfully to earn a playoff berth with a strong final 10 games. Marco Pappas first career hat trick ignited that big road win, and Pappa is playing great now. He had the MLS goal-of-the-week in a home loss to Seattle before notching the game-winner in stoppage time in a 2-1 road victory vs. Chivas USA last Friday.

The Fire (3-2-2) will regain Jalil Anibaba, one of the defenders counted on to replace Brown in the middle of the back line. He sat out the Chivas match while serving a one-game suspension. Theres some doubt that striker Chris Rolfe, a former Brown teammate, will play his first match since returning to the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Hes been recovering from an ankle injury and started running this week, but whether hes ready for game action is uncertain.

The first busy stretch of the season concludes on Saturday when Sporting Kansas City, another fast starter this season, comes to Bridgeview.

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

IHSA Football Playoff Pairings Show Roundup

CLASS 1A

Revealing the Class 1A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 1A Bracket

CLASS 2A

Revealing the Class 2A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 2A Bracket

CLASS 3A

Revealing the Class 3A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 3A Bracket

CLASS 4A

Revealing the Class 4A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 4A Bracket

Predicting Class 1A-4A

CLASS 5A

Revealing the Class 5A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 5A Bracket

CLASS 6A

Revealing the Class 6A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 6A Bracket

CLASS 7A

Revealing the Class 7A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 7A Bracket

CLASS 8A

Revealing the Class 8A Bracket

Analyzing the Class 8A Bracket

Class 7A and Class 8A Predictions

 

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”