Bulls

Chicago soccer notes: Gibbs retires, Red Stars attempting comeback

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Chicago soccer notes: Gibbs retires, Red Stars attempting comeback

Cory Gibbs solid soccer career came to an end on Monday when the Fires veteran central defender announced his retirement after 12 professional seasons.

Gibbs last 26 games were with the Fire, but he had successful stints with clubs in Europe and made 19 appearances with the U.S. national team. He had three goals and one assist in his matches with the Fire, who acquired him in the 2010 Major League Soccer re-entry draft. His most memorable moment came with his header goal that gave the Fire a 1-0 lead against Manchester United in a 3-1 loss at Soldier Field in 2011.

The career-ender for Gibbs turned out to be a torn meniscus suffered in training on April 4. A starter in the Fires first three matches of 2012, Gibbs underwent surgery on April 10 and didnt play another game. He attempted a return to late-season training, but decided he couldnt make it back to where he had been.

"It was a tough decision," said Gibbs. "After discussing it with the medical staff, my wife and family, its the right time for me to step away from the playing field. Ive done everything in my power to return to the game. However, my latest injury has made it too difficult to play again."

Even if Gibbs had returned to form its doubtful he would have enjoyed his same workhorse role with the club. When he went down Austin Berry was forced into action sooner than anticipated and he responded with a season that earned him the MLS Rookie of the Year Award.

Berry partnered with Arne Friedrich, a player rich in experience with the German national team. They worked well together, and when Friedrich made clear his intention of playing another season with the Fire there wasnt much opportunity left for Gibbs. Second-year man Jalil Anibaba, the starter at right back, proved a solid replacement in the center on the few days when Friedrich wasnt available.

Though the Fires season ended with a playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 31 the Fire continued to train until Nov. 15. With preseason training having begun in January, that concluded a long stretch of soccer for the players but even then the work wasnt over for at least two of them.

Anibaba and Berry were invited to train with Europa League champion Atletico Madrid, an experience certain to benefit the two young defenders. Anibaba reported to the Spanish La Liga side on Nov. 18 and will train with that team through Dec. 2. Berry began his stint in Spain on Nov. 25 and will train through Dec. 9.

Their opportunities stemmed from a strategic alliance the Fire established with Atletico Madrid and six other clubs on four continents in 2011.

Soul ready for home debut

While the Fire is done playing for awhile, soccer the indoor variety is about to return to Chicago. The Chicago Soul faces the Rochester Lancers in their first home game on Dec. 7 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.

The Soul is the latest in a long line of Chicago indoor teams, following the Sting, Vultures, Shoccers, Power, Storm and Riot. Most didnt last long, but the Power ruled the National Professional Soccer League in 1990-91. Fire head coach Frank Klopas had his first head coaching job with the Storm and the Riot was founded by Peter Wilt, the Fires first general manager.

A one-time popular Chicago player, Manny Rojas, coaches the Soul. He was a mainstay with the Sting. Rojas has endured a difficult start in his first professional coaching job. The Souls first seven games were scheduled on the road. In the first six the Soul was 2-4, and the seventh is against the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday, Dec. 1.

While the Soul is Chicagos latest entry into the Major Indoor Soccer League, the circuit is growing and has three well-established members the Baltimore Blast (leading the league at the moment with a 7-0 record), Wichita Wings and Wave. When the Riot was representing Chicago with home games at The Odeum in Villa Park the circuit had just five teams. Now it has seven, the others being the Syracuse Silver Knights, Missouri Comets and the Lancers.

Red Stars go big-time again

The Chicago Red Stars will be back for another attempt to establish a top-level womens pro league. This third try at doing it is being led by the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation and also has significant involvement from the soccer associations of Canada and Mexico. Its the third time in 12 years that a top-level womens league has been created. That first two attempts were thwarted by financial problems.

Particulars on the latest circuit, to begin play in March or April, are sketchy. All that USSF president Sunil Gulati would announce was the participation of the Red Stars and seven other teams. Besides the Red Stars returning teams from previous unsuccessful league ventures are the Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash and Sky Blue of New Jersey. Other franchises will be located in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and Washington D.C.

The Red Stars have issued no specifics, either, though preliminary reports on the still-unnamed circuit say the team wont play at Toyota Park, as was the case the first time around. MLS stadiums wont be used for the womens games, though the Portland franchise will be operated by its MLS counterpart.

Most significant thing, so far, about the latest attempt at a womens league is on the financial side. USSF will pay for scheduling, promotion and websites as well as the salaries of up to 24 U.S. national team players. The Canadian federation will sponsor up to 20 players and Mexicos will pay for up to 12.

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Chandler Hutchison's unusual basketball background makes him an intriguing target for the Bulls

Over the past several weeks, the Bulls have been heavily rumored to be selecting Boise State small forward Chandler Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although the 6-foot-7 Hutchison had a stellar four-year career with the Broncos, and was regarded as a top-100 national prospect coming out of high school, his background is relatively unknown compared to many of his first-round counterparts. Not many recruiting gurus watched Hutchison in-depth in high school. The same could be said about draft analysts watching Hutchison's career unfold at Boise State.

Part of the reason Hutchison has flown under the radar for so long, despite being a first-round talent, is his unique basketball upbringing. Many elite high school players opt to transfer to big-time basketball schools while playing in high-exposure shoe-company leagues during the spring and summer. Instead of the normal path, Hutchison chose to stick with the people that he trusted.

Playing for a small, independent grassroots program in high school known as Team Eastbay, Hutchison started showing special gifts as a sophomore in before blossoming into a top-100 national prospect towards the end of high school. Hutchison's trainer and coach with Team Eastbay, Perry Webster, saw that Chandler had the ability to be a big-time player.

"I walked into the gym and saw this 15-year-old kind of gangly kid. And he just moved different than anybody else. I thought he had a chance to be a pretty good player," Webster said of Hutchison.

As Hutchison developed more of a reputation in the Southern California basketball scene, becoming a starter at Mission Viejo High School his junior season, he started to draw more attention from local and national recruiting analysts — including former ESPN recruiting insider Joel Francisco, Scout.com's Josh Gershon and SoCal recruiting analyst Devin Ugland.

"You saw during his junior year that he was a legitimate Division I prospect. During the spring he started blossoming," Francisco said. "He had the ball skills and the prototypical length and things like that. And he was finishing plays. He had a good IQ for the game. It was a matter of strength and he had to fill out to become a more complete player."

By the end of summer going into his senior season, Hutchison had established himself as a potential Pac-12 recruit, as schools like Oregon and USC started to show heavy interest. But it was mid-major programs like Boise State, Saint Mary's and UC-Irvine who had long been involved in Hutchison's recruitment.

Knowing that Hutchison was a unique wing with a high IQ and passing skills, Webster, a former Division I player at Cal State Fullerton himself, advised that his star player take a close look at the programs that would put him in position to succeed right away.

"Every AAU program in Southern California was trying to get him for their team. Free ride this, free shoes. The kid stayed really loyal to me. I was very hard on him," Webster said. "I demanded a lot of him. I screamed at him, I yelled at him. And he looked me in the eye and took it. I realized, this kid is pretty special because he's not running away from what he is. He knows what his limitations are. That's not something he's afraid to address.

"Not everybody was sold on him. Joel [Francisco] was. Joel was one of the proponents of him. But being that he burst on the scene late, and that he didn't play for the big shoe companies, we kind of came to the decision that we wouldn't be so enamored by the Pac-12. He realized he had ability but he still had a long way to go." 

Hutchison eventually decided to sign his National Letter of Intent with Boise State before his senior season started as assistant coach Jeff Linder acted as his lead recruiter. Even though his collegiate future had been decided, Hutchison continued to evolve into a major prospect during senior year as he flourished at Mission Viejo.

Even with his strong senior season, skepticism remained about Hutchison since he hadn't played with and against many of the major names in Southern California. Ranked as the No. 83 overall prospect in ESPN's final Class of 2014 national recruiting rankings, Hutchison was viewed as the seventh best player in his own state. While Francisco pushed for Hutchison to be ranked in the top 50, he had to settle for him being a back-end top-100 talent.

"They're like, hey, he's going to Boise State, he's not on a major shoe company team. How good can he be? But if he can play, he can play. It doesn't matter if he's not on the adidas circuit, he's not in the EYBL," Francisco said.

Francisco wasn't the only major recruiting analyst to take notice of Hutchison's play. Rivals.com's Eric Bossi also labeled Hutchison as a potential breakout player at Boise State. Hutchison was even placed in the Rivals national recruiting rankings, ending up at No. 98 overall, after his senior season. Bossi was on vacation with his family during spring break and he happened to see Hutchison play during his senior season. But Hutchison's strong effort, along with some research, convinced Bossi that he was worthy of a top-100 ranking, even with only one serious viewing. 

"I decided to go watch some regional California high school playoff stuff. And it just so happened to be that Chandler's high school team was one of the teams I was seeing," Bossi said. "I knew he was on the team and committed to Boise State. But then when I watched him play I was like, 'Holy cow, what an incredible get for Boise State. Like, this dude's legit.' He had great size for a wing. He could handle the ball, he could really pass and I thought he could defend multiple positions at the next level when it was all said and done. I thought he was a versatile, well-skilled, well-rounded basketball player. So, based on that, I thought he was top-100. I wish I had seen him more."

Even as a former top-100 national prospect, it took some time for Hutchison to gain traction at Boise State as he didn't put up big numbers during his first two seasons. Although Hutchison played plenty of minutes and started a healthy amount of games, he often took a back seat to talented all-conference players like Anthony Drmic and James Webb III.

When those players eventually moved on from the Broncos, Hutchison was given his chance to shine, as his ascension into all-conference player and future first-round pick came with an intense work ethic that continually developed during workouts in college.

Hutchison also became a consistent three-point threat — something he had been lacking during his development — as he became a hot name in the 2018 NBA Draft despite his unorthodox basketball background.

"He's always been competitive. I think the big thing is reps. And it still will be as he continues to play in the league," Webster said. "He wasn't a bad shooter in high school, but I think the big adjustment for him getting to college, it's hard to put up good percentages in college. I think some of it is mental. But I think he's a good shooter and I think that he'll prove that." 

It's hard to predict if the Bulls will end up with Hutchison with the No. 22 overall pick on Thursday night — especially given all of the chaos that can occur on draft night. But if Hutchison does end up in Chicago, he won't be fazed by having to prove himself after already doing so at the high school and college level.

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Mike Trout says Browns will win more games than Bears in 2018

Los Angeles Angels superstar Mike Trout is quickly becoming an icon in American sports. The two-time American League MVP is enjoying another dominant season batting .335 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI.

On Tuesday, he took a swing at what Bears fans may consider a shocking NFL prediction.

“I’ve got the Browns having a better record than the Bears,” Trout told a radio reporter, according to the Los Angeles Times. Trout's comments were made in response the reporter "talking up" Chicago.

Both the Browns and Bears have had productive offseasons that involved headline-grabbing acquisitions on offense. Cleveland drafted QB Baker Mayfield with the No. 1 overall pick, traded for WR Jarvis Landry, signed RB Carlos Hyde and drafted a backfield mate for him in Georgia's Nick Chubb. They added potential lockdown corner Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick, too. Add all that to a motivated Josh Gordon ready to contribute for a full season, and there's good reason to be excited in Cleveland.

Still, it's hard imagining Trout can be that confident in a team that's won only one game over the last two seasons. And let's not forget what GM Ryan Pace has done this offseason, one that's been praised by analysts from all corners of the NFL universe. From new coach Matt Nagy to free-agent WR Allen Robinson and all the skill players in between, the Bears are ready to make a legitimate run in the NFC North.

Trout doesn't strike out much in the major leagues, but this prediction feels like it could be a back-straining whiff.