Cubs

Fire travel to Pacific Northwest, face Sounders

430993.jpg

Fire travel to Pacific Northwest, face Sounders

Friday, April 8, 2011Posted: 5:20 p.m.

By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

Last Wednesday, the Fire played in front of a spattering of home fans in Peoria. This weekend, theyll take the field in front of 36,000 green-clad supporters.

Only in MLS.

The Fire open a two-game west coast swing Saturday at Qwest Field in Seattle, taking on the Sounders before a Thursday night tilt against the expansion Portland Timbers.

Seattle, a team expected to contend for the MLS Cup, has gone winless in its first four matches this season, losing to the Galaxy and the Red Bulls before drawing with Houston and San Jose.

Fire captain Logan Pause knows that the Emerald City natives will be restless come Saturday.

Its a special place in Seattle, theres no denying that, Pause said of Qwest Field, which has averaged crowds of 36,318 this season. They havent won yet this year, so it leads to a little bit of a dangerous recipe. We have to be wary of that and know that theyre going to come in with a whole lot.

Pause and the Fire would be wary either way Seattle is amongst the deepest teams in the league, and the Sounders might have the best midfield in all of MLS.

That four-man midfield goes five-deep with talent any squad would envy. The mercurial Brad Evans is one of the most dangerous central midfielders in the league, evidenced by his goal last week against San Jose, and Osvaldo Alonso is the key cog of a Seattle machine that has won back-to-back US Open Cups in 2009 and 2010. Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez, who played for Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup, fortify Seattles attack out wide, and versatile Swedish import Erik Fribergs form in his first MLS games is making team owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer look like a genius.

Add in the dangerous forwards Steve Zakuwani and Freddy Montero and a dependable backline led by James Riley, and it should come as no surprise that Seattles expectations for the 2011 season were high.

But things have not gone as expected through four games, and while Pause doesnt want to read into Seattles struggles too much, he knows the Sounders are eager to prove to their home fans that the first four games were flukes.

Lets be honest its four games, Pause said after practice Thursday. Theyve got 30 more to go. Its by no means indicative of really what that teams about. You know that they are going to be bringing it on Saturday, thats for sure.

Any player will tell you that the first 20 minutes of the game is vital, but the Fire are giving the start of the game even more credence this week. The Fire players expect a relentless onslaught of an attack from Seattle to start the game.

I think we have identified that thats probably whats going to happen, Pause said. Not getting a win yet, you know that theyre going to come out flying, especially in front of their home fans. Were not worried about that. We expect thats going to happen, so we prepare for that.

Pauses role in central midfield will be to quell the Seattle attack and create counter attacks if an overeager Seattle leaves openings. Pauses role as captain will ask him to be the coolest head on the pitch and transfer that calmness to his teammates, even if Seattle brings waves of pressure against the backdrop of 36,000 fans.

It will be a great learning experience and Im sure a little bit of a shock for young guys who havent experienced that sort of atmosphere, Pause said. But regardless if its in front of 40,000 or in front of a couple thousand in Peoria, the game is the same.

Fire Head Coach Carlos de los Cobos doesnt see Qwest Field as a challenge that needs to be fought. Last season, the Fire played one of their best games of the season in Seattle and looked poised to draw on the road, but Montero capped his double in the ninety-second minute to steal a 2-1 win for the Sounders.

The Fires roster is hardly the same less than a year later. Its possible that as few as four players could make the start for Chicago in both the 2010 and 2011 matches. De los Cobos raved about his roster after training Thursday and spoke of the unique opportunity his team and its strong personality has ahead of it.

Its beautiful, de los Cobos said. I wish to always play with this ambiance. Its beautiful to play with at full stadium. And the motivation is the same way, because we need to show in front of 38,000 people that we are a good team.

NOTES: Defender Corey Gibbs will travel with the team to the West coast and could start on Saturday. Centerback Josip Mikulic will remain in Chicago and will miss at least the games against Seattle and Portland. De los Cobos could not say when Mikulic could be expected to return to the lineup. Dasan Robinson or 21-year-old Yamith Cuesta will replace Mikulic in the starting lineup, and if Gibbs proves unable to play, both will start.

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

Potential Kris Bryant trade market becomes clearer after Anthony Rendon lands with Angels

The first domino of this offseason’s third base market has fallen.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, free agent Anthony Rendon is set to sign a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Texas Rangers were also linked to Rendon in recent days, but they’ll now have to shift their focus elsewhere. Texas’ attention is now on the other superstar free agent third baseman — Josh Donaldson — as MLB.com’s TR Sullivan reported. The same can be said about Rendon’s former team, the Washington Nationals.

This leads us to the Cubs and Kris Bryant. With Rendon off the board and Donaldson soon to follow, a potential trade market for the Cubs third baseman is growing clearer.

Only one of the Rangers and Nationals can sign Donaldson, not to mention his most recent team — the Atlanta Braves. When Donaldson’s domino falls, two of these teams will be left empty-handed in their pursuit of a third baseman.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also were linked to Rendon, though they don’t necessarily need a third baseman with Justin Turner manning the hot corner. Their pursuit of Rendon points to how they’re willing to shift Turner off third base, however. Add them to the list of teams seeking third base help.

Add that all up, and you have four teams in the market for Donaldson. The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to trade Bryant, but they’ll soon find themselves with some leverage. For the three teams that don’t land Donaldson, the most logical move will be to inquire with the Cubs about trading for Bryant. The Nationals have already inquired about Bryant, according to MLB.com's Jon Morosi.

Bryant’s unresolved grievance case will be an issue in any potential negotiations. The difference between two years of control (if he loses) and one (if he wins) is big when it comes to his value. Even though they’ll have leverage over interested teams, the Cubs will yield stronger trade proposals for Bryant if he loses his case.

But, again, a trade is no certainty. What is certain is teams will be inquiring about Bryant in the not-so-distant future, once Donaldson chooses his free agent destination.

Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

Four observations: Bulls rout Atlanta Hawks in much-needed get-right game

The Bulls picked up a valuable get-right win in a 136-102 blowout of the Atlanta Hawks. Observations from a game the Bulls had to win, and did handily:

The bench provided a spark (again)

Bulls starters not named Zach LaVine got off to a sluggish start in this one. At the 3:14 mark of the first, the Hawks led 29-21 and were shooting a scalding 13-for-18 (72.2%) from the field (3-for-6 from 3-point range). LaVine had 12 of the Bulls’ 21 points.

The hosts ended the period ahead 37-33, buoyed by a 16-4 run by a bench unit of Coby White, Ryan Arcidiacono, Denzel Valentine, Thad Young, and Daniel Gafford. Valentine hit four floaters over that stretch, Gafford had a resounding block, White had a strong and-one take over Alex Len and Thad Young tallied five points, for good measure. 

Bench runs have become commonplace for this Bulls team, even in the midst of a three-game losing streak. This one carried over into the second quarter, which the Bulls won 29-19, holding Atlanta to 6-for-21 (28.6%) shooting, 2-for-10 (20%) from three. They didn't look back from there.

Young finished the first half with nine points, four rebounds, and two assists. White had a flashy night — tallying 19 points. Valentine and Gafford connected on a handful of alley-oops (which has quickly become a tradition).

Zach LaVine bounced back

LaVine — averaging 20 points on 33.3% shooting during the team’s three-game losing streak — was ripe for a breakout, and this Hawks team (29th in the NBA in defensive rating) presented an opportunity to bounce back. He took advantage.

As mentioned, LaVine carried the Bulls offense early: he had 18 first-half points on 7-for-9 shooting. Embedded in that line were a few highlight-reel dunks that awoke the United Center:

He tacked on a cool 17 (!) in the third quarter before coming out with the game out of reach for the Hawks. LaVine finished the night leading all scorers with 35 points and shot a staggering 7-for-7 from 3-point range. When he’s on, it’s too much fun, and he dazzled in this one. 

In a favorable matchup, the defense kept rolling

Coming into this game, we knew the Bulls defense, theoretically, matched up well with Atlanta’s offense plan of attack. For the most part, that bore out, in practice.

Kris Dunn was outstanding in containing Trae Young tonight, hounding him off of every screen (where he was usually aided by a hedge from the big in coverage) and staying attached even in instances when Young was able to penetrate.

Young didn’t score until the 11:07 mark in the second quarter and finished the night with 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-6 from three) and seven turnovers. This is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA we’re talking about here. He did rack up 13 assists (six in the first quarter) — and some were very, very pretty — but most of those came in transition. In the halfcourt, the Bulls’ set defense effectively bottled him up.

The Hawks, as a team, committed 23 turnovers on the night, which the Bulls were able to convert into 15 points. Atlanta is an inferior opponent, yes, but it was a strong showing, nonetheless.

Blowouts are fun

This one was a little too close for comfort early on but ended in a rout. The Bulls simply outclassed the Hawks, winning statistical categories this team has often been overmatched in, from rebounds (42-40) to points in the paint (78-42), to blocks (7-4), to the 3-point battle. Lauri Markkanen even utilized garbage time to turn a fine stat line into a good one: he had 10 points in the fourth quarter, finishing the game with 22 points on 8-for-9 shooting. 

So, you know what? Rest your brain with some of the best clips of the night. You’ve earned it:

 

 

 

 

The Bulls can push questions about fourth-quarter stagnation, cold shooting streaks, and crowded rotations until this weekend. This was a solid overall performance.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.