Bears

Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

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Fire prepare to crash Portland's party

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 11:20 a.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

Not much is expected from the expansion Portland Timbers this season. After all, its a squad assembled from the rest of the leagues castoffs. But for the Chicago Fire, Thursdays matchup with the Timbers is one of the biggest games on its schedule.

These are the games that we play for, as a professional, Fire defender Cory Gibbs said in a telephone interview Wednesday. Ive tried to translate this to the team. Ive been there many times, fortunately, in my career. These are games that we strive to play.

How can that be? Portland has not won a game all season, and the Timbers currently sit at the bottom of the league table.

The Fire can thank the MLS schedule makers for adding a few layers of intrigue and drama to the first meeting between the clubs. Thursday, the Timbers will play their first home game in MLS, opening their renovated ground, Jeld-Wen Field, to what is sure to be a capacity crowd of rabid Timbers supporters.

The Fire, coming off a 2-1 defeat in front of 36,223 fans in Seattle on Saturday, are excited for another opportunity to play in a tough atmosphere.

We know that this game is going to be a lot harder than the Seattle game in terms of: expansion team, season opener, they havent won a game yet, and theyre going to have a lot to prove to their fans, Gibbs said. We should expect a lot of pressure in terms of intensity from them, and aggression from them.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos isnt keen on overhyping the game, but sees an opportunity for his squad to right the ship after a strong, but ultimately disappointing result in Seattle.

Each match is a different situation, de los Cobos said on a conference call Thursday. Portland is a new team in the league, but the attitude for sure will be very important for this kind of match, because we are coming with a bad result we need to add points. Portland is in front of its fans, but we keep playing like we are playing, good results are coming for us.

The story through the Fires opening matches has been strong play, but missed opportunities. Given their form, the Fire could easily be 3-0-0 instead of 1-1-1.

We just need to fine tune a couple of things we made mistakes on and easily the game could have gone the other way, Gibbs said. We left out of that game in Seattle, in all honesty, with a lot of confidence, knowing that even though we werent victorious in that game, were going to have a bright future if we play together and just believe in one another.

In each of the Fires first three games, striker Gaston Puerari has had breakaway opportunities, going one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Against FC Dallas and Seattle, Pueraris shots were saved. Gibbs brought up the breakaways as missed chances, but both he and de los Cobos pointed Seattles opening goal as something that cannot happen again.

Both said that goal, a header scored by Sounders forward OBrian White from 16 yards out, was a momentary lapse of strong play for the Fire. Even double-marked, White was still able to win the ball in the air and send it into the net. Portlands best chances on Thursday will likely come in a similar form.

The Timbers star, six-foot-three striker Kenny Cooper, poses an arial threat the Fire havent yet seen this season. The lessons of Whites goal Saturday have not been lost on de los Cobos, and the team has prepared in training to shut down the arial game.

We need to stay alert about this kind of situation, de los Cobos said. Against Seattle, we had one mistake in the box, one cross, and this guy OBrian White take advantage about this. Overall, with Cooper, he is better with the head. We need to stay alert, we need to stay close with him.

Gibbs play on the backline will be vital to making those tactics work. After injuring his right groin last week, Gibbs was a game-time decision for the Fire on Saturday. Gibbs played, despite not being 100 percent, and went the full 90 minutes in the loss.

The Fire is set to play three games in eight days, a stretch that ends Sunday at Toyota Park against the Los Angeles Galaxy, and with centerback Josip Mikilic out indefinitely, more injuries to the backline could be detrimental to positive results.

Ive always had the mentality where if I was somewhat ready, Im definitely going to go, Gibbs said. Thats what Ive been brought here to do. Im not trying to sit out. It just feels good to go 100 percent at training again without any qualms.

Gibbs expects to play both Thursday and Sunday. After all, these are the games he plays for.

Even though we have a quick turnaround, and we get back late Friday from Portland, you look forward to get another opportunity in terms of playing big games like we are going to do Sunday, Gibbs said. Its a great challenge for us in terms of testing our morale and testing where we are as a team.

Gibbs said that hell be sad to see the stretch of big-time games stop.

How great would it be if we turned around after Sunday and played Salt Lake? Gibbs said. For me, Salt Lake is on the top of their game, and we strive to play teams in games like that. You look to play these big games. As a team, weve all understood that. And Thursday, in Portland, in their season opener is something were biting for and we cant wait to step on that field Thursday and then turn around Sunday. Not looking past Portland, but knowing that Sunday is going to be another huge one.

The Fire and Timbers will kick off at 10 pm central Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coaches are loath to give away competitive information, which can cover just about anything from play design to flavor of Gatorade dispensed by the training staff. But Matt Nagy offered an intriguing what-if personnel grouping that his offense could confront defenses with in 2018. It’s one that has been overlooked so far, for a variety of reasons.


The what-if personnel pairing is Allen Robinson and Kevin White as the outside receivers, a tandem that would put two 6-foot-3 wide receivers at the disposal of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have not had a tandem of effective big receivers since Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Brandon Marshall (6-4) averaged a combined 159 catches per year from 2012-14.


White’s injury history has relegated him to found-money status in many evaluations, and he has typically been running at Robinson’s spot while the latter was rehabbing this offseason from season-ending knee injury.


But Nagy on Wednesday cited Robinson’s ability to play multiple positions and clearly raised the prospect of his two of his biggest receivers being on the field at the same time.


“The one thing you’ll see here in this offense is that we have guys all over the place in different spots,” said Nagy, who credited GM Ryan Pace with stocking the roster with options at wide receiver. “Ryan did a great job of looking at these certain free agents that we went after, some of these draft picks that we went after and getting guys that are football smart, they have a high football IQ and they’re able to play multiple positions.


“When you can do that, that helps you out as an offensive playcaller to be able to move guys around. Is it going to happen to every single receiver that comes into this offense? No. But we do a pretty job I feel like at balancing of where they’re at position wise, what they can and can’t handle, and then we try to fit them into the process.”


The organization and locker room can be excused for a collective breath-holding on White, who has gone through his third straight positive offseason but whose last two seasons ended abruptly with injuries in the fourth and first games of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.


White was leading the Bears in with 19 receptions through less than four full games in 2016, then was lost with a fractured fibula suffered against Detroit. The injury was all the crueler coming in a game in which White already had been targeted nine times in 41 snaps and had caught six of those Brian Hoyer passes.


White’s roster status has been open to some question with the signings of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel together with the drafting of Anthony Miller. All represent bigger deep threats in terms of average yards per catch than White (9.2 ypc.) at this point: Robinson, 14.1.; Gabriel, 15.1; and Miller, 13.8 (college stats).


But Trubisky’s budding chemistry with White was evident throughout the offseason. And the second-year quarterback has studied what Robinson has been and seen some of what he can be.


“We know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it,” Trubisky said. “Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.”


Folding in the expectations for an expanded presence at tight end (Trey Burton), “targets” will be spread around the offense. How often the Bears go with a Robinson-White “twin towers” look clearly depends in large measure on White’s improvement as well as his availability.


Opportunities will be there. The Kansas City Chiefs ran 51 percent of their 2018 snaps, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, in “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether White earns his way into that core nickel-wideout package opposite Robinson is part of what training camp and preseason will determine.


“[White] has had a good offseason and just like our team, he needs to carry that momentum into camp,” Pace said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s very focused. The real expectation, just be the best he can be. Focus on himself, which is what he’s been doing.”

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."