Preps Talk

Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

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Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

The Fires opponent in a Sunday road match has had a rocky season, and the focal point of it was a Chicago legend. Peter Nowak is no longer the coach of the Philadelphia Union, but hes a factor in what has transpired in the clubs third season.
Last season the Union was a playoff team, the Fire was not. Now the Fire is closing in on a playoff berth while Philadelphia is struggling, and the circumstances surrounding Nowak are a big reason why.
Nowak was the first Fire captain. A former captain of the Poland national team, Nowak led the Fire to a shocking sweep of the Major League Soccer and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups in the clubs inaugural 1998 season. He retired as a player after four more campaigns with the Fire, then went into coaching.
He was as successful as a coach as he was a player. Nowak guided D.C. United to the MLS Cup in 2004, making him the only person to win that trophy as both a player and a coach. He then worked as an assistant to first Fire coach Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team and coached the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad before the Union made him its first coach.
The Union entered MLS in 2010 with Nowak as the manager (head coach) and executive vice president. The club was 8-15-7 in its first season and then made the playoffs after going 11-8-15 in 2011.
So far, so good for Nowak still a popular guy in Chicago soccer circles.
This season, though, has been something else. Despite last seasons successes Nowak opted to rebuild the Union. That led to the trades of striker Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver, captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA and forward Danny Mwanga to Portland. All three were popular players in Philadelphia, and Nowaks own popularity there declined after the Union started 2-7-2, scoring only eight goals in those 11 games.
Not only did the fans become disenchanted with Nowak, but Philadelphia chief executive officer Nick Sakiewicz had issues as well. They escalated when European media reports had Nowak applying for the vacant head coaching job with Scottish Cup winner Heart of Midlothian.
Though Nowak denied those reports Sakiewicz, tired of the controversies that had hampered his team all season, fired him on June 13. Sakiewicz only cited "philosophical differences" for the firing, but Nowak sued the Union for wrongful termination and unpaid severance money. Subsequent legal documents accused Nowak of hazing and other questionable practices. He was also dropped as coach of the MLS All-Stars for the mid-season match against Englands Chelsea.
With Nowak out, Sakiewicz put assistant coach John Hackworth in charge of the Union on an interim basis. The club has done better under him, going 5-4-0, but Philadelphia is still ninth of the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. Only Toronto FC, the Fires 2-1 victim in its last game on Saturday, is behind the Union.
Theres a couple of other interesting ties between the Philadelphia saga and the Fire. The Unions last match was a 2-0 loss to the expansion Montreal Impact last Saturday on the road. The Impact is coached by Jesse Marsch, who played with Nowak in the Fires midfield and coached with him in the U.S. national team program.
Marsch has become a coach-of-the-year contender after guiding the new team to a 9-13-3 record and sixth place in the East (the Fire is fifth, five points head of the Impact and holding the final playoff position). Fire coach Frank Klopas, of course, played with both Nowak and Marsch on the first Fire team.
The current Union roster includes Bakary Soumare, who left the Fire under strange circumstances after being a finalist for MLS Defender-of-the-Year in 2008 and an MLS All-Star in 2009. Soumare, played in 63 matches for the Fire from 2007-09 and was part of the Fires last playoff team. His departure reportedly came after a fight with then-head coach Denis Hamlett during the halftime of a game. Hamletts contract wasnt renewed after the 2009 season.
Soumare, who spent the last three seasons primarily with French side Boulogne, has not played for the Union since Philadelphia acquired him on June 26. He had been nursing a right knee injury, but the Union listed him as probable for Sundays match.
Nowak wasnt with the Union when it visited the Fire on March 24 for the Toyota Park opener. The Fire won 1-0 on a Dominic Oduro goal while Nowak remained in Philadelphia with reported flu-like symptoms. Nowak remains fourth on the Fires all-time goal-scoring list with 26, trailing Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe and Josh Wolff. Marco Pappa pulled even with Nowak when he scored his 26th in the win over Toronto FC.
The Fire (10-7-5) goes to Philadelphia with a 3-5-3 record in MLS road games this season. Next home match is Aug. 18 against New England. There are 12 matches remaining before the playoffs begin on Oct. 31. The top five teams in each conference qualify for postseason play with the MLS Cup final is Dec. 1.

High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

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High School Lites Week 9 football roundup

High School Lites featured plenty of great action on Friday night as NBC Sports Chicago had highlights of many of the area's top matchups. Some playoff dreams came to fruition while others crashed and burned. 

Watch tomorrow as the IHSA playoff brackets are revealed tomorrow on NBC Sports Chicago+ at 8 p.m. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights. 

DRIVE: Prairie Ridge: Episode 10

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Back of the Yards QB Jeremiah Harris

St. Xavier Team of the Week: De La Salle Meteors

Friday's Top 25 Games

No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 18, No. 19 Bolingbrook 14 

No. 2 Prairie Ridge 55, Dundee-Crown 14

No. 3 Maine South 56, Niles West 9

No. 4 Marist 42, Joliet Catholic 14

No. 5 Lake Zurich , Mundelein

No. 6 Phillips 53, Clark 0

No. 9 Homewood-Flossmoor 50, Sandburg 14

No. 10 Barrington 40, Conant 19

No. 11 Huntley 45, McHenry 7

No. 12 Naperville Central 35, Lake Park 21

No. 13 Hinsdale Central 42, Hinsdale South 14

No. 24 St. Charles North 35, No. 14 Batavia 28

No. 16 Wheaton North 20, Waubonsie Valley 10

No. 17 Crete-Monee 52, Cahokia 8

No. 18 St. Rita 47, Marmion 14

No. 20 Lyons 31, Oak Park-River Forest 14

No. 21 Nazareth 48, Marian Catholic 7

No. 22 Oswego 30, Plainfield Central 0

Mount Carmel 35, No. 23 Providence 34

Other Highlights

Tinley Park 29, Evergreen Park 0

T.F. South 21, Oak Forest 14

Glenbard North 24, Neuqua Valley 14

St. Edward 29, Wheaton Academy 28

Marian Central Catholic 44, St. Patrick 21

Saturday's Top 25 Games

No. 7 Loyola vs. Brother Rice

No. 8 Glenbard West vs. Proviso West

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.