Cubs

Fire overcome by disturbing events

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Fire overcome by disturbing events

There were two disturbing things about the Fires match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday, and neither involved the fact that the Major League Soccer franchise was eliminated by a team of kids from the Premier Development League.

No, the fact that the Fire got knocked out of the 99-year old summer-long tournament so early isnt that big a deal. Though the Fire takes the Open Cup competition more seriously than most MLS clubs and has won the Dewar Cup four times in 15 years, an early exit isnt that unusual.

The Fire is 5-5-1 in third-round matches (thats when the top eight MLS clubs begin in the competition each year). In 1999 the Fire coming off its sweep of the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in its rousing inaugural season was put out of the Open Cup by the Rochester Rhinos 1-0. In 2002, the Fire was knocked out by the Milwaukee Rampage, also by a 1-0 margin, and in 2007 the Carolina RailHawks put the Fire out by the same score. Those three losses came on the road.

In 2010 the early knockout came at home, with the Charleston Battery doing the honors at Toyota Park.

So Tuesdays 2-1 setback at the hands of the Michigan Bucks shouldnt be disturbing. The Fire was playing its fourth match in 10 nights, and coach Frank Klopas started only two players who were in his first 11 in Saturdays 2-1 MLS loss at Columbus. Captain Logan Pause, Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo didnt even make the trip. Neither did Marco Pappa, who was on national team duty for Guatemala.

Usual starters Sean Johnson, Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko made the trip but didnt play. Dominic Oduro didnt take the field until the 84th minute. At least the reserves received some much-needed playing time.

What is disturbing, though, is that Fire surrendered the first goal still again. The club has made that mistake nine times already in the MLS season. The teams 5-4-3 record shows the team has the gumption to battle back, but consistently falling behind never is a good thing.

Neither is the U.S. Soccer Federations policy for scheduling U.S. Open Cup matches. Theres no problem with coin tosses determining the home team, but never should a match be played indoors. Thats what the Fire had to do during its loss to the Michigan Bucks. Soccer, the 11-a-side version, is an outdoor sport. The Fire doesnt play indoors. In my book, the games shouldnt be played on artificial surfaces, though that was the case when the Fire used North Central College in Naperville as its home field a few years back when Soldier Field was undergoing a renovation and Toyota Park was still in the planning stages.

Having MLS teams play on the road against opponents in lower leagues is, in general, a good thing. It promotes the sport beyond MLS cities. The Fire-Bucks match was played at Ultimate Sports Arenas in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac and drew an estimated crowd of 2,000. Detroit doesnt have a professional soccer team, but surely there must have been an outdoor field suitable for such a significant match.

The Fire wasnt the only MLS team to be eliminated from the Open Cup by lower level opponents on Tuesday. If the Fire had won it would have faced the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park in its next match but the Crew lost, too. The Dayton Dutch Lions ousted the Crew.

Also bowing out of the Open Cup was the struggling Los Angeles Galaxy, the defending MLS champion. The Carolina RailHawks, winless in North American Soccer League Division II play this season, beat the Galaxy 2-1.

The Fire goes back to MLS play on Saturday with a road match against the New England Revolution, and the Revs were also knocked out of the Open Cup on Tuesday. They blew a 3-0 lead and lost in a shootout to the Harrisburg City Islanders of the United Soccer League Pro League Division III.

Other MLS losers on Tuesday were the Houston Dynamo (to the San Antonio Scorpions), FC Dallas (to the Charlotte Eagles), and Real Salt Lake (to the Minnesota Stars). Sporting Kansas City, D.C. United, the San Jose Earthquakes, Philadelphia Union, New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA and the Colorado Rapids won to give MLS a presence in the fourth round and the last two third-round matches are Wednesday night.

The Seattle Sounders, who beat the Fire in last years Open Cup final, are seeking a four-peat in the competition with the NASLs Atlanta Silverbacks the first opponent. The Portland Timbers are also in action, against California FC, an amateur club.

As for the Fire, the club can use a break. The Fire doesnt play at Toyota Park until June 17, when the Red Bulls visit. Therell be a big match in the Chicago area before that, however, and its sure to draw a big crowd to Soldier Field. The national teams of Mexico and Bosnia-Herzegovina collide there in an international friendly on Thursday.

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Andrew Shaw issued a statement on Instagram late Monday night, announcing he will not join the Blackhawks for the 2019-20 restart as he continues to work his way back from a concussion.

But the 28-year-old winger also revealed he plans on returning for the 2020-21 season and looks forward to coming back "better and stronger than ever!" 

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Here's the full statement, which has been lightly edited for clarity:

I just wanted to let all Blackhawks fans and hockey fans know that I am doing well and getting better every day! I feel healthy and am close to fully being healed from not just my last concussion but from others I have had over the years.

I've learned a lot about concussions and head injuries over the past few years thanks to the Blackhawks medical staff of Dr. Mike Terry, Mike Gapski, Jeff Thomas and Patrick Becker. They have helped me in more ways than I can thank them. I love them dearly for doing so because I am the type of person who would play through anything for my teammates.

With all that being said, along with my family who has shown me so much support, we have come to the difficult decision that these extra five months until next season would be great for my health and recovery. I look forward to being back next season, better and stronger than ever! There's nothing I would love more than to be back out on the ice with the boys battling for Lord Stanley.

I'll be cheering my teammates on and supporting the Blackhawks through this run! Love you boys and miss you like crazy!

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Go Blackhawks Go! Hey fans!

A post shared by Andrew Shaw (@shawz65) on

Shaw, who has two years left on his contract after this season, has a history of head injuries and last appeared in a game on Nov. 30. The NHL's tentative plan is to start next season on Dec. 1.