Cubs

Busy week for Fire begins in Portland

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Busy week for Fire begins in Portland

The Fire is well-rested now after coming through its first busy stretch of games in great shape, getting seven of a possible nine points in a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch.

That run of Major League Soccer matches ended with a 2-1 home win over Sporting Kansas City last Saturday, and this Sunday the next busy stretch begins. Though the upcoming opponents havent played as well so far in the season, it could be a rougher challenge for the Fire.

The Fire just completed a successful run that included a win at Chivas USA before getting four points in two home matches against conference leaders, Real Salt Lake and Sporting KC.

The upcoming stretch is shorter - three games in seven nights - and it includes more travel. Sundays match is at Portland (2-5-3), then the Fire hosts FC Dallas (3-6-3) on Wednesday and finishes up at Columbus (3-4-2) on May 26.

In Sundays match the Fire (4-2-3) will catch a Timbers team that played the Houston Dynamo to a scoreless draw Tuesday on the road. Portland has had a slow start in its second MLS season but has played acceptably at JELD-WEN Field (2-2-1), and the Fire has never played a good match against the Timbers.

Last season the Timbers were an expansion team that feasted on the Fire. They won their first-ever league match with a rousing 4-2 victory at JELD-WEN Field on April 14 and then earned their first-ever road win with a 1-0 victory at Toyota Park on July 16.

The Fire wont be at full strength for the upcoming run of matches. Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, was diagnosed with a Grade 2 right-hamstring strain and is expected to be sidelined 3-4 weeks. He suffered the injury 29 minutes into the Sporting Kansas City match. Dan Gargan, himself nursing a sore ankle, was pressed into service at his right back spot and Jalil Anibaba moved from the right side to the center, opposite rookie Austin Berry.

"We lost momentum when Arne came out of the game," admitted coach Frank Klopas. "It took us some time to adjust."

The Fire adjusted, but not after promptly giving up the games first goal, and later benefitted from a red card against SKC before getting the win.

"We got a little fortunate with the red card," said forward Patrick Nyarko, who assisted on Dominic Oduros game-winning goal. "That lifted our confidence. When we played Seattle (a 2-0 home loss) and Real Salt Lake (a draw) teams I think are among the top five in the league we didnt beat those teams. So, this one (vs. SKC) was crucial to our confidence."

This match has some historical significance for the Fire, with midfielder Marco Pappa scheduled to become the 15th player to play in 100 games for the franchise. Hes also tied for fifth in Fire history with his 22 goals. The No. 2 man in that department, Chris Rolfe, is still healing from a sprained left ankle suffered in his third day of training after re-joining the Fire following a three-year stint in Denmark.

Rolfe had 38 goals for the Fire from 2005-09, which is topped only by Ante Razovs 76 from 1998-2004. Rolfe finally resumed running at this weeks training sessions, but the club lists him as questionable for Saturday and hes unlikely to even make the trip.

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Training Camp Daily: Peter King Talks Bears Upside

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USA TODAY

Training Camp Daily: Peter King Talks Bears Upside

Training camp Daily: Peter King joins the Under Center Podcast on Day 2 of practice in Bourbonnais. King and John "Moon" Mullin talk Trubisky year 2, Trubisky comparison, Bears upside this season and Urlacher's Hall of Fame Induction.

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