Bulls

Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

740086.png

Fire's Gargan set for bittersweet return to Toronto

Some of the edge was taken off Saturdays Fire road match at FC Toronto when the club announced on Friday that Chris Rolfe wont be playing. The popular striker, who rejoined the Fire this week after spending three seasons playing in Denmark, suffered what the Fire calls a minor ankle injury in training on Thursday.

The Fire (1-0-2) hopes to fatten its record against the only team in Major League Soccer without a standings point. FC Toronto is 0-5-0. Rolfes presence would have bolstered an attack that produced just three goals in the first four MLS games.

While Rolfes participation would have spiced up the Fires latest road trip, it wont detract from the match for right back Dan Gargan. He started 25 times for FC Toronto when the club made its MLS debut in 2010. He was dumped midway through the following season after the club switched coaches from Preki Radosavljevic to Aron Winter, a former Dutch international who had been an assistant coach for that countrys famed Ajax club.

Winters arrival triggered a massive roster revampment, with Gargan just one of those leaving. He was sent to the Fire along with a second-round draft choice for defender Dasan Robinson. Gargan calls his stay in Toronto "a bittersweet memory." This will be his first game back since the trade.

"I love the city," he said. "Toronto has some of the best fans in the league. When Toronto came into the league they set the standard for how good an atmosphere can be. I look back on Toronto and thought I would have been there a lot longer than I ended up being there, just because of the kind of player I am. I bring a lot to a team, and when they brought in new guys they went in a different direction."

Generally, that direction hasnt been the right one as this seasons record suggests. The Gargan trade was one of the new regimes worst moves. In exchange for a proven starter FC Toronto acquired Robinson, who apparently didnt fit in either. Less than two months after joining FC Toronto, Robinson himself was traded to Los Angeles. The Galaxy declined to re-sign him after last season, and Robinson eventually announced his retirement.

Shortly after the Fire acquired him Gargan scored against his former team in a 2-0 win at Toyota Park. He didnt look back fondly on Toronto then.

"The way they handled some things was tough to swallow," he said. "I dont think they gave this league enough respect. Slowly but surely theyre probably understanding that a bit more. At the end of my time there it was tough to be in the lockerroom and deal with the situations that were going on."

Given the winless record, things cant be too happy in the FC Toronto lockerroom these days, either, but Gargan still respects the group that will take the field against the Fire on Saturday.

"Theyve been a bit unlucky," he said. "They had good results in the Champions League and played some good football at times. I watched some of their games. They have some talented players."

He is sure his Fire teammates wont be caught looking past a struggling opponent to the next home match, on April 28 vs. Seattle.

"Toronto may have no points yet, but we cant change how we play," said Gargan. "Its a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand theyre in last in the Eastern Conference, but our guys are smart enough to know that theres parity in this league. I dont know if your record reflects how good of a team you have."

The Fire hasnt exactly torn up the league yet, anyway, and just playing in the charged-up atmosphere in Toronto could make for a difficult match.

"I dont expect that to change just because theyre 0-5," said Gargan. "Itll be a tough match. It usually is going there and, for the most part, Toronto is a great organization."

Report: Bulls to hire Damian Cotter as Windy City head coach

walter_lemon_g.jpg
USA TODAY

Report: Bulls to hire Damian Cotter as Windy City head coach

The Windy City Bulls are expected to name Damian Cotter their head coach, according to 2 Ways & 10 Days' Adam Johnson.

The Bulls were in search of a replacement for Charlie Henry, who took an assistant coaching role at Alabama University in April after two seasons with Windy City.

Cotter spent last season as an assistant with the Capital City Go-Go, the Washington Wizards' G-League affiliate. In 2018, Cotter was an assistant for the Long Island Nets, the Brooklyn Nets' G-League affiliate. Cotter, an Australian native, has also coached the NBL's Sydney Kings both as an assistant (2013-14) and head coach (2014-15). He has also coached U-19 men's and women's teams in Australia.

Coaching turnover isn't rare in the G-League, and Windy City is no exception. Cotter will become the team's third different head coach in four seasons since the team was founded in 2016. Nate Loenser, now an assistant under Jim Boylen and the coach of the Bulls' 2019 Summer League team, was Windy City's inaugural head coach.

Windy City enjoyed their first winning season in 2019, going 27-23 under Henry and bowing out in the first round of the postseason to the Westchester Knicks.

Myriad injuries to the NBA's Bulls meant that a half dozen Windy City alums saw time on the United Center floor at the end of last season. Those players included Walt Lemon, Jakarr Sampson, Brandon Sampson, Ryan Arcidiacono, Rawle Alkins and Cristiano Felicio.

 

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

As the Cubs got set to kick off the Crosstown series with the White Sox on the afternoon of June 18, GM Jed Hoyer emerged outside the third-base dugout and talked about a variety of topics regarding his team.

One such topic was the Cubs' ugly home-road splits and at the time, Hoyer said this about his team coming off a 2-5 road trip:

"It's been a source of frustration. I think we've had three subpar road trips. There's no other way to say it. It's not something I read too much into. This is a group that's had a lot of success on the road. They've won in hostile environments in the playoffs before, so it's not like they're intimidated by crowds or intimidated by travel. 

"But it's an issue with this particular group in 2019. we've played great here [at Wrigley Field]. We've played poorly on the road. If we want to reach our goals, then we're gonna have to play better on the road. All that said, we've had some really tough road series — starting out like that on the road was difficult. At Houston and at St. Louis was difficult and at Colorado and at LA — those were series that you're happy when that part of the schedule is done. 

"But there's no excuses — we have to play better on the road. I don't have any answers for it. I'd be lying to say that I really do, but I think it will change."

The issue is, it hasn't changed yet for the Cubs. 

That day was the start of a long homestand for the Cubs and the ensuing road trip — three games in Cincinnati, four in Pittsburgh and two on Chicago's South Side — didn't yield any better results for the team. They went 3-6 total, dropping their overall road record to 18-27 this season.

By comparison, the Cubs are a whopping 36-18 at "The Friendly Confines," including 7-2 over the past week-a-half.

They've enjoyed the benefit of home cooking for the last couple weeks, between the All-Star Break and a nine-game homestand to open the second half. But now they head back out on the road, with maybe their toughest task yet. 

The Cubs begin a three-game series in San Francisco Monday night against a Giants team that has been among the hottest in baseball over the last few weeks. Then there are stops in Milwaukee and St. Louis, against the two teams immediately behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings.

This will be a huge test for a Cubs team that hasn't won a series on the road since May 17-19 in Washington D.C.

"I don't feel anything different from the group," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday morning before his team's final home game of the month. "We've been through it before — it's not like it's an intimidation factor or an uncomfortable moment. I'm not getting that. We're just not playing as well. 

"I don't even know how much it's that the other teams have gotten better. I don't even know where this all comes together. But we're playing decently now. ...I want to believe that just playing better here coming out of the break that we have a better chance of starting out better on the road. We need to. To get where we want to be, we have to do that. On this coming trip, three really good foes and we gotta be on our best behavior."

Like Maddon said, they've done it before, including winning three of the four road games in the 2016 World Series, a wild Game 5 in D.C. in the 2017 NLDS and the list goes on and on.

During the previous four years under Maddon, the Cubs have posted a winning record on the road in each campaign:

2018 - 44-37
2017 - 44-37
2016 - 46-34
2015 - 48-33

In order to keep that streak going, the Cubs would have to go 23-13 on the road the rest of the way.

That's a tall order when there are still two trips each to St. Louis and Milwaukee on the schedule plus stops in Philadelphia, San Diego and a couple dates with the always-pesky Pirates in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously at home, we've won. We gotta start playing that same game on the road. It's as simple as that," Maddon said. "To get where we want to go, we have to become that road team that we've been in the past and there's no reason that we can't."

So what's been the biggest difference between the road Cubs and the home Cubs?

That would be the pitching.

On the road, the Cubs have a 4.97 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .267 with a .798 OPS. At home, those numbers drop significantly to a 3.36 ERA and .233 average and .684 OPS against.

Meanwhile, offensively, the Cubs are actually slightly more prolific on the road than they are at home.

Away from Wrigley, this lineup is scoring 5.27 runs per game while posting a .257 batting average and .798 OPS. At home, they're scoring 4.91 runs per game with a .254 batting average and .785 OPS.

In search of the culprit of the road pitching woes, the blame lies with some of the Cubs' top arms.

Kyle Hendricks has a 1.89 ERA at home and 5.44 mark on the road. Jon Lester sits at 2.95 at Wrigley and 5.09 outside of Chicago. Brandon Kintzler carries an 0.75 ERA at home, but that number jumps to 4.32 on the road. 

Only a few guys — Yu Darvish, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop — have better marks away from Wrigley than they do at home.

As the Cubs look to flip the script on the road, they'll send Alec Mills, Darvish and Lester to the mound in San Francisco against a Giants offense that ranks sixth in baseball in OPS (.833) in July.

"We came out of the break, we got a good rest and we're playing really good baseball right now on this homestand," Kyle Hendricks said. "So we're just trying to keep that momentum going on the road. Just not think about where we are and embrace it, keep playing the same baseball. It starts with us on the mound, making good pitches. Set the tone on the road, be aggressive the same way we've been doing here and hopefully turn that around."

Up until recently, Maddon didn't even realize his team had so many run prevention issues on the road.

"That's really strange for me," Maddon said. "I would not have guessed that. So apparently we need to be just a little tighter with the pitching side of things and keep what we're doing offensively. I didn't realize there was that much of disparity involved. I didn't break it down any deeper than that.

"...I know San Francisco has been on a nice run, but sounds like we need to pitch better on the road. That's what I got out of it."