Bears

MLS suspends Beckham for one game

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MLS suspends Beckham for one game

Those soccer celebrity-watchers who hoped to see British icon David Beckham play at Toyota Park on Sunday will be disappointed.

Major League Soccers Disciplinary Committee handed Beckham a one-game suspension on Thursday, meaning he will not be in the Los Angeles Galaxy lineup for its meeting with the Fire.

Beckham drew his suspension for an incident in the 93rd minute of a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday at Stanford Stadium. The Galaxy, which seemed to be recovering from a slow start to this season after winning the MLS Cup in 2011, blew two-goal leads twice against the Quakes, who own the circuits best record.

The match was winding down when San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin was writhing in the San Jose penalty box. Beckham, on the sidelines for a throw-in, kicked one ball over the fallen player, then fired another one that hit Cronin. That precipitated a confrontation between players from both squads.

Beckham was assessed a yellow card immediately, and that kept him out of Los Angeles 2-1 home loss to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday. He missed that match the Galaxys first-ever loss to the Union because of yellow card point accumulations. Then the disciplinary committee added to Beckhams punishment on Thursday, fining him an undisclosed sum in addition to suspending him from the Fire match.

Prior to the San Jose match the Galaxy had won three straight to improve its record to 6-8-2. Now Los Angeles (6-10-2) sits in sixth place in the nine-team Western Division.

In his six seasons in MLS Beckham, former England captain who had a legendary career at Manchester United of the English Premier League, performed at Toyota Park only twice. He came on in the 58th minute of a 1-0 Fire win on Oct. 21, 2007 and played all 90 minutes of a 3-1 Fire win on Sept. 25, 2008.

Though the Fire won both times Beckham played, the clubs record against Los Angeles lifetime is a losing one (15-17-4). In Toyota Park meetings, the Fire owns a 3-2-1 edge, but the Galaxy won both of last years meetings. One was by a 2-1 score in Bridgeview on April 17.

This season the Fire is 5-1-2 in its eight home games, the best start through that number of games since the team moved into Toyota Park in 2006. The only better eight-game start at home for the Fire came in the inaugural 1998 season when the club was 6-2-0 en route to its improbable sweep on the MLS and U.S. Open Cups.

The Fire is assured its biggest home crowd of the season for Sundays 2 p.m. match in large part because of Beckhams expected appearance. Tickets are still on sale, but the game was a near-sellout before MLS suspended Beckham.

The Galaxy does not come to Bridgeview again this campaign. Sundays match is the only meeting of the clubs this season.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?