Fire, Dynamo finish in scoreless draw


Fire, Dynamo finish in scoreless draw

The Fires three-game winning streak is history, but the scoreless draw garnered against the Houston Dynamo in a Tuesday night road match wasnt all bad.

At least it kept the Fire (8-5-4) unbeaten in four games and solidly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Fire earned 10 points in its last four matches and went 3-2-1 in six straight against Eastern Conference rivals.

"Every time you are on the road and you can walk away with a point its good," said Fire coach Frank Klopas after his team hit the midway point in its 34-game Major League Soccer schedule. "Now we are back home for two games, and its important for us to push that situation and try to get some wins. Im happy with the performance of the guys."

He should especially be happy with the performance of 23-year-old goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who is playing better with each game after getting a slow start to the season due in part to national team commitments.

Johnson needed to make only two saves, but he was in charge defensively in earning his third shutout of the season.

"For 90 minutes we fought and to come away with a result without giving up a goal on the road is huge," said Johnson. "We will take the point."

The Houston match was the first of two back-to-back against the MLS Cup finalists of 2011. The defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy (6-9-2) comes to Toyota Park on Sunday. The Galaxy, which hosted the Philadelphia Union on Fourth of July, started slowly but had a three-game winning streak before losing 4-3 to the San Jose Earthquakes at Stanford Stadium last Saturday. The Quakes (11-4-3) are the best team in MLS with 36 points, three more than Eastern Conference leader D.C. United.

In earning the tie at Houston, the Fire stayed four points ahead of the fifth-place Dynamo (6-5-6) in the East. Playoff-watching is appropriate going into the second half of the regular season, as the Fire out of postseason play the last two years is five points behind United, three behind second-place New York and one back of third-place Sporting Kansas City in the East. D.C. has played 18 games, the Fire and Red Bulls 17 and SKC 16.

The Fire got through road matches at SKC and Houston without Argentine midfielder Sabastian Grazzini, whose status remains uncertain for the Galaxy visit on Sunday. Klopas, acknowledging the hot playing conditions of the previous two games in the middle of a three-games-in-10-nights stretch, held Arne Friedrich, the veteran German defender, out of the Dynamo match and substituted for two of his key offensive players early. Alex came in for Dominic Oduro after only 58 minutes and Marco Pappa came out in the 72nd, Orr Barouch replacing him. Oduro has been a workhorse, having played in all 50 matches since the Fire acquired him in a trade with the Dynamo last season.

The scoreless match marked only the fourth time the Fire has been blanked this season. The clubs only other scoreless match came May 9 against Real Salt Lake. Also of note, the Dynamo has yet to lose (4-0-3) since moving into new BBVA Compass Stadium on May 12.

Sundays match could mean a rare appearance by iconic David Beckham, who has played just twice the last time in 2008 -- at Toyota Park. The former England captain sat out the Galaxys match on Wednesday for yellow card point accumulations.

The Fire expects a different type of game vs. L.A. than the last two matches both on the road against conference rivals in hot weather.

"These last couple games we played smart and picked our moments going forward," said Patrick Nyarko. "At home its going to be a different story, because at home were going to push the game offensively."

The Fire is 5-1-2 in Bridgeview, its best start through eight home games since moving to Toyota Park in 2006.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7


Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.