Blackhawks

After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break

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After loss to Revolution, Fire head into two week break

This will be a long two weeks off for the Fire.

Granted, the Fire is much better than it was a year ago, when it was stumbling badly under coach Carlos de los Cobos, who was replaced early last seasons after winning just 10 of 44 games.

Frank Klopas, the technical director, replaced de los Cobos on an interim basis and owner Andrew Hauptman elevated Klopas to head coach in the last offseason after the Fire finished 2011 strong. Klopas is 11-10-13 as the Fires head coach and 5-5-3 this season, but that record could be much better and theres no momentum working now.

The Fire has yet to win two in a row and lost its last three games going into the break, during which Major League Soccer stops its games so that its players can compete for national teams in World Cup, qualifying and other international matches. The Fire has only one such player in that boat. Midfielder Marco Pappa missed the three losses to be with Guatemalas national team. He helped Guatemala to a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday night in his countrys last tuneup match for the next stage of World Cup qualifying.

Pappa would have helped, but its doubtful he alone could have stemmed the recent slump. The Fire lost 2-1 at Columbus in MLS play on May 26, then took a loss in second-half stoppage time to the Michigan Bucks of the Premier Development League three nights later in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and concluded the dismal stretch with a 2-0 road loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

The next match isnt until June 17, a battle with the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park, and the Fire has plenty to think about before then. Some soul-searching is definitely in order.

Klopas, his team enduring a busy May, tried to look at the big picture at the end of the month. Acknowledging the fact that lots of a long season is still ahead, Klopas gave veteran mainstays Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo significant time off during the busy stretch. That didnt help in the Fire getting results because the reserves didnt do their part.

The loss at New England (5-7-1) was a real downer, as Klopas sent Grazzini, Pause and Pardo back into the first 11 and also had Chris Rolfe available for the first time since he rejoined the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Re-signed on April 16, Rolfe --the second-best goal-scorer in Fire history -- replaced Dominic Oduro in the 69th minute. Sidelined by a sprained ankle he suffered in his second day of training with the Fire keeping him out for six weeks, Rolfe did little in his return to the lineup.

Neither did Orr Barouch, a spark off the bench last season. He got a rare start, but didnt take advantage of it. Klopas pulled him for Frederico Puppo in the 75th minute. Rafael Robayo replaced Pause after the Fire surrendered the games first goal for the 10th time in MLS games this season. Lack of focus at the start of games is increasingly becoming a serious concern for the Fire.

Oduro, possibly bothered by a nagging hamstring injury, couldnt get his team going this time. The break will do him some good. It should also enable Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, to shake off a right hamstring strain that kept him out during the three-game slump. The Fire badly needs him, with second-year man Jalil Anibaba and rookie Austin Berry showing signs of their relative inexperience.

The Fire hit the post twice (Gonzalo Segares in the first half and Oduro early in the second) before New England got the first goal, from rookie Kelyn Rowe, in the 70th minute just seconds after Rolfe came on for Oduro. Benny Feilhaber, who assisted on Rowes goal, added an insurance goal for the Revs in the 73rd minute. Rowe, a second half sub, also assisted on Feilhabers goal.

Saturdays match was the 60th between the Fire and Revs across all competitions and the Fire had dominated in recent MLS meetings, going 7-0-3 since the last previous loss on May 6, 2007. The Fire still owns a 28-22-10 edge against its most frequent league rival, but Saturdays loss was a painful one. The clubs meet two more times this regular season.

New England is one of the few MLS teams still playing in a non-soccer specific stadium. Gillette Stadium, home of footballs New England Patriots, is too big for the Revs and that fact was accentuated on a rainy night against the Fire. The crowd of just 12,523 looked especially sparse and the atmosphere was lacking.

Thats no excuse for the Fire, which is still in a fight for playoff position with two-thirds of the MLS regular season still ahead. The Fire will have to play much better than it did in the last week before the break if its to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2009 when Denis Hamlett was the head coach.

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Cubs offense takes a step in right direction, when will rotation follow?

For the first time in almost two weeks, the Cubs offense started to look more like the team we know they can be in Wednesday afternoon's victory over the Brewers. But when will the starting rotation follow? Kyle Hendricks pitched better than his stat line once again, but it's getting late in the season to continue to use that rationale for any Cubs starter.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs-Brewers series and Kelly sits down with David Bote for a 1-on-1 chat about his whirlwind week. Leila Rahimi also catches up with MLB Network's Dan Plesac to get his thoughts on Javy Báez's place in the NL MVP race, how the Central division is shaping up and X-factors for the Cubs and Brewers down the stretch.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: