Bears

Fire travel to Pacific Northwest, face Sounders

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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.

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

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USA TODAY

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 tough centers to begin career

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AP

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of tough 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.