Bulls

LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

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LIVE: Fire taking on FC Dallas in season opener

Saturday, March 19, 2011
CSNChicago.com
By Alan Ferguson
STATS Writer

It took 15 seasons for FC Dallas to reach the MLS Cup, becoming the last of the leagues charter teams to accomplish that feat. Whether the team makes a return trip might hinge on finding suitable replacements for leading goal scorer Jeff Cunningham and other contributors to last years squad.

FC Dallas will start that search Saturday night when it welcomes the Chicago Fire, who missed the postseason for only the second time in 2010.

Following a record-setting regular season, FC Dallas advanced to its first championship game by eliminating defending champ Real Salt Lake and Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles. The franchise fell just short of another victory at Torontos BMO Field, falling 2-1 in overtime to Colorado.

We want to go a step further and bring home that trophy, and Im confident with the way the team has looked this preseason that we are going to continue playing great soccer, captain David Hernandez told the leagues website.

That defeat concluded a 12-4-14 campaign that saw Dallas set MLS records with a 19-game unbeaten run, a 12-game unbeaten streak away from home and the fewest losses. Cunningham had a team-best 11 goals during that season but his contract was not renewed in the offseason.

Following the 34-year-old forwards departure to Columbus, Dallas signed 18-year-old Colombian striker Fabian Castillo. The team could also rely on homegrown player Ruben Luna, who scored six times in the preseason.

FC Dallas will still have reigning league MVP David Ferreira to direct the offense. The midfielder had eight goals and 13 assists during his second MLS campaign, and scored his teams lone goal in the MLS Cup. The team also brought back Marvin Chavez, who had a strong second half, and added two more midfielders in Andrew Jacobson and 31-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Villar.

FC Dallas, though, wont have All-Star defender Heath Pearce, who was dealt to Chivas USA in the offseason. George John (ankle surgery) and Ugo Ihemelu (sports hernia) are also out due to injuries.

Brek Shea will try to help that unit by moving over from his usual spot in the midfield. The team could also get contributions from Eric Alexander, Zach Loyd and Jackson Goncalves.

FC Dallas will have a pair of experienced goalkeepers with Chris Seitz, a starter last season for Philadelphia, joining up with MLS all-time wins leader Kevin Hartman.

Hartman will likely be between the sticks against an overhauled Fire team that finished 9-12-9 in 2010. With 36 points, Chicago finished well-behind the postseason cut-off of 46.

To rebound this season, the Fire will have to make up for some key losses. Forward Brian McBride and defender C.J. Brown both retired. Freddie Ljungberg headed off to play for perennial Scottish Premier League power Celtic and Mexican forward Nery Castillo is with Aris in the Greek Super League.

That means the Fire will likely rely on midfielder Marco Pappa, who had a team-best seven goals and five assists, and 21-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Chicago, though, might relegate Patrick Nyarko, who had a team-best 10 assists in 2010, to the second team.

Right now, I know who is starting, but I want to wait for the match to say, coach Carlos de los Cobos told the leagues website.

Dallas has retained the Brimstone Cup every season since 2001 and clinched that trophy in 2010 - and a playoff berth - with a 3-0 victory at Pizza Hut Park.

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

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USA TODAY

Robin Lopez taking demotion in stride, wants to return to Chicago

Only an errant punch that missed the face of Serge Ibaka prevented Robin Lopez from suiting up for the Bulls since arriving in the summer of 2016, but his availability streak will come to an abrupt end as the Bulls are sitting and Justin Holiday for the foreseeable future.

Lopez didn’t dress for the Bulls’ game against the 76ers, as he and Holiday were replaced by Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba. Although he was jovial, cracking a few jokes when meeting with the media in pregame, it was clear he was disappointed.

“It was rough for me. I get it. I understand it,” Lopez said. “I always want to be out there playing on the court. That’s what I enjoy, especially playing with these guys. But I’m excited to watch these guys give it a go from the bench.”

With the Bulls being eighth in the lottery standings, Lopez understands the long-term objectives of the organization and said the conversation with the front office went as expected.

“I think pretty much what everybody else has heard,” Lopez said. “I was pulled aside. They told me they wanted to evaluate a few other guys, a few of the young guys. So I get it.”

Starting 138 of 139 games makes his streak ending a bit tougher to stomach, especially considering he didn’t find out about his certain inactivity until right before leaving for the United Center.

“I suppose that’s a little selfish of me, but a little bit,” said Lopez of sadness concerning the streak. “I looked in my closet today and thought I would have a glut of jackets. And I only found two. I didn’t realize this was an issue until about 5 minutes before I had to leave. So I got kind of a ragtag outfit for tonight but hopefully I’ll be better prepared in the games to come.”

Not only will he be armed with better wardrobe but he’ll be bringing a positive disposition to the sidelines that made him loved amongst his teammates.

“All my teammates, whether they’ve been playing with me or sitting on the bench and not dressing, they’ve all supported me,” Lopez said. “I don’t think I’d be too good a person if I didn’t do at least the bare minimum of the same.”

Lopez represented stability and veteran leadership in a tumultuous season, a solid performer when losing was the early norm and upheaval has been constant. It was a reason the Bulls hoped he would garner some interest in the trade market but after hitting for a draft pick in the Nikola Mirotic deal, they had no such luck with Lopez.

Naturally, he was asked about the prospect of being traded over sitting as a healthy scratch.

“That’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t know what situation I could have potentially been in once I had been traded,” Lopez said. “Yeah, it’s … I want to be playing obviously, but we’ve got a great group of guys right here.”

Considering how uncertain things will be for the future, it isn’t a guarantee Lopez won’t be around for the 2018-19 season.

“Yeah. It seems like they still like me. How could they not?,” he joked.

He’s due $14.3 million next season, the last of a four-year deal he signed with the Knicks in 2015. Averaging 12.3 points and shooting 53 percent from the field, he’s productive and valuable on the floor. He’s easy to dismiss with the hoopla surrounding the youth on the roster and the way things clicked when Mirotic stepped on the floor, but seven footers like Lopez aren’t easy to find—even as the game changes.

“I’m a team player. I like to think my play is tied to how the team plays,” Lopez said. “I think we had some really great stretches. The young guys really developed and found a rhythm once we all got healthy. I think we played pretty well.”

With 25 games remaining, he’s unsure of how long his inactivity will last but it’s hard to see him missing the remainder of the season. It would be a bad look for the Bulls and the league to have a healthy player miss two whole months, and Lopez claims no knowledge about that ugly “T” word.

“I’m not familiar with military artillery,” he said.

At least he’s keeping his sense of humor.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will the Bulls complete 'the process'?

On today’s edition of STL Podcast, Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by Mark Schanowski, Nick Friedell and Vincent Goodwill to talk all things Bulls. Will the Bulls complete “The Process” as well as the visiting 76ers have so far? Our panel discusses the tank watch, recaps the epic Women’s Hockey Gold Medal game and much, much more.