White Sox

Portland downs Fire in memorable debut

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Portland downs Fire in memorable debut

Friday, April 15, 2011Posted: 1:25 AM

By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

The city of Portland made a loud, emphatic entrance into Major League Soccer Thursday night. Two goals by Jorge Peralza and a rain-soaked, fevered pitch at Jeld-Wen Field lifted the Portland Timbers to a first victory in MLS, defeating the Chicago Fire 4-2.

Portland, spurred on by 18,827 fans, started the match with sustained pressure on the Fire defense and didnt let up for the next 90 minutes.

In the 10th minute, Timbers defender Steve Purdy struck a net-bound ball from 20 yards out, eliciting a spectacular save from Fire goaltender Sean Johnson, who dove to his left to deny. It was the only highlight of an otherwise forgettable night for the 21-year-old Fire goaltender.

Portlands star striker Kenny Cooper thought he headed in a goal off the ensuing corner, but referee Ricardo Salazar disallowed the first MLS home goal for the Timbers. Upon further review, Johnson was contacted on the play by Eric Brunner, but the ball appeared to have crossed the goal line before the foul. The call left the Portland team and crowd incensed. It was later explained that the ball was ruled out-of-bounds on the service. Like the phantom foul, video replay showed no indication of the ball being completely out of play.

In the 16th minute, a failed Gonzalo Segares tackle on Cooper furthered the fervor. Cooper took offense to the challenge, getting in the face of Segares after the play was whistled dead. The takedown earned Segares a yellow card.

The Timbers finally broke through in the 29th minute and the ovation was hardly subdued, despite, or perhaps because of, the earlier tease. Peralza, led by a well-placed through ball, beat Fire midfielder Logan Pause into the box and hesitated as Pause caught up with the play. Fooled by the stop, Pause ran past the Portland striker and Johnson went to the ground, allowing Peralza to easily slide it into the net. The goal was not only the first MLS goal for Portland, but it also gave the Timbers their first lead of the season.

The supporters of the Timbers, the Timbers Army, have a motto of No Pity. Up 2-0, the Timbers on the pitch upheld a similar motto.

Fire centerback Cory Gibbs earned a yellow card in the 37th minute for a hellacious tackle in the corner The resulting free kick was poorly cleared by the Fire defense, with the ball bouncing out past the 18-yard box. Thats where Timbers left-back Rodney Wallace put a cracking volley on the ball. The high-velocity shot deflected off Brunner and into the back right corner of the net for Portlands second goal of the game and Wallaces goal first of the season.

Down at halftime, Chicago brought on two new players to start the second half. Dominic Oduro replaced Gaston Puerari as an attacking forward, and Marko Maric came in for Michael Videira. Puerari, who had been so brilliant for the Fire in the seasons first three games, earning breakaways in each contest, was locked-down by the Timbers defense and was never given any space in which to create an attack.

The Timbers scored their third goal in the forty-seventh minute off another set piece with the same cast. Rodney Wallace took a lay-off from the Portland free-kick and put a poor, low cross into the chest of a falling Sean Johnson. The ball bounced off Johnsons chest and directly to the feet of an opportunistic Perlaza, who netted the gift for his second goal of the game.

The Fire made a late push, breaking up the clean sheet in the 66th minute, when Timbers defender Eric Brunner made a slide tackle to break up a Orr Barouch pass to Marco Pappa. Brunners clearance attempt found the back of the Portland net and quieted the crowd momentarily.

The own-goal was followed up by a curling left-footed strike by Pappa the 81st minute, and for a moment, the contest contained some late drama. But the Timbers struck back three minutes later, with Mamadou Danso netting his first goal of the season off a scrambled play along the Fire goal line. The goal came from a corner kick and a possible, but ultimately uncalled hand-ball by Cooper knocked the ball down. After several failed attempts at clearance by Fire defenders, Danso was able to put it past the line.

The loss leaves the Fire with only four points in four games and knocks the team down to the cellar of the Eastern Conference. Coming off consecutive losses, the road doesnt get any easier for Carlos de los Cobos team the Fire return to Toyota Park Sunday to take on Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Meet the Prospects: A.J. Puckett

Meet the Prospects: A.J. Puckett

The White Sox rebuild is in full swing. While it might still be a year or two before the big league team is expected to start competing for championships, the minor leagues are stocked with highly touted talent fans will be eagerly following in 2018. With that in mind, it's time to Meet the Prospects and get to know the future of the South Side.

A.J. Puckett

Puckett, the 22-year-old right-handed hurler, came over in one of Rick Hahn's lower-profile moves last summer. While trades with the Cubs and New York Yankees brought back high-profile prospects like Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and Blake Rutherford, an under-the-radar July move that sent Melky Cabrera to the Kansas City Royals fetched Puckett and left-handed pitcher Andre Davis to bolster the rebuilding effort.

A California native, Puckett was a second-round pick of the Royals in the 2016 draft. He made 11 starts at Class A Lexington in 2016, posting a 3.66 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 51.2 innings of work. Prior to last summer's trade, Puckett made 20 starts for Class A Wilmington, turning in a 3.90 ERA to go with 98 strikeouts in 108.1 innings. After joining the White Sox organization, he made five starts at Class A Winston-Salem, where he had a 4.28 ERA with 21 strikeouts in 27.1 innings.

As of their most recent rankings, MLB Pipeline had Puckett rated as the No. 23 prospect in the White Sox organization.

Get to know Puckett in the video above.

What’s next for Fire after making three trades on draft day?

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USA TODAY

What’s next for Fire after making three trades on draft day?

For much of this winter, it appeared the Fire would enter 2018 with much of the same team that had the third best record in the league in 2017.

There were only minor surprises when the team announced which options it picked up and which players were cut loose. Homegrown signing Grant Lillard was the first addition of the offseason on Jan. 10 and that was expected after he completed his college career.

However, Nelson Rodriguez was apparently busy in the week leading up to the draft and saw that work turned into three trades on Friday. The Fire got two picks in the top 10 and sent away two starters from last year, including key winger David Accam.

There were already holes to fill on the roster, but the exits of Accam and goalkeeper Matt Lampson mean there are a couple more position needs with training camp starting on Monday.

“The roster is very much incomplete,” Rodriguez said after the draft. “There’s still quite a bit of work left to do. While it’s ideal to go into training camp with something that more closely resembles the roster that you’re looking to get into the season with. In our case, it is more important that we continue to add pieces that we think fit our style, fit our mentality, fit our philosophy and it’s important now that we remain disciplined in that pursuit and not feel pressure to just close the deal.”

A look at a potential starting lineup based on the current roster isn’t by any means bad, but it does need some improvement to match or improve upon last year.

Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty again give the Fire an elite central midfield pairing, Nemanja Nikolic is back after winning the Golden Boot in his first year and the defense should be somewhat solid depending on how Lillard and Jonathan Campbell fill in for the departed Joao Meira. However, goalkeeper is a question mark with Richard Sanchez and Stefan Cleveland having two MLS appearances between them and Nikolic needs help in the attack with Accam and Arturo Alvarez gone and Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic expected to be out until at least July while recovering from torn ACLs.

Seeing Accam leave seemed like an inevitability at some point after years of rumors and complaints. Now that it’s a reality, it’s up to Rodriguez and the Fire to deliver an attack that can be productive without him after he had 14 goals and eight assists last year.

Second-year player Daniel Johnson is the immediate fill-in for Accam. He showed flashes of his potential last year as a rookie, but was limited to 125 after dealing with multiple injuries in 2017. Jon Bakero has the ability to step in underneath Nikolic, but that is an important role to throw at a rookie. The Fire’s dip at the end of last season coincided with de Leeuw’s injury so getting production out of that spot will be important.

The Fire could probably do just fine with one of Johnson or Bakero playing significant minutes in the first half of the season, but both? That’s asking an awful lot out of inexperienced players and it’s why the attack is likely where other moves will come.

Rodriguez said after the draft that there had been more trades in the works and some may still happen.

“We were very aggressive in Florida and here in Philadelphia in trying to make trades within the league and we were unsuccessful,” he said. “Some of those opportunities were by design, by our pursuit. There are still some opportunities which we wish to continue exploring and we will continue to make efforts.”

Rodriguez said the Accam trade gave the team “a lot of flexibility.” The allocation money gives the Fire an expanded salary cap of sorts to work with. Rodriguez said it “further opens up targets in the league” and he also added that they have specific players in mind.

“We also have three targets in particular outside of MLS,” he said. “I would say it’s possible given our current stated resources, our salary budget against the cap, it’s possible to potentially add two of those. Again, those are international deals. You first have to get the deal done before you can worry about the salary budget implications, but we will continue to be deliberate in our actions and disciplined in our attention.”

The Fire's roster is at 21, with two of those going to miss half the season due to injury, after finishing last season with 30.