Bulls

Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

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Friedrich makes Fire debut in friendly vs. Louisville

Arne Friedrich played in 82 matches for Germanys national team. Despite his star-studded career in Europe, his debut with the Fire on Saturday came against a bunch of college kids.

Not surprisingly, Friedrichs superior skill was clearly evident as he lasted 88 minutes in a 1-0 victory over the University of Louisville, a squad that included Fire first-round draft pick Austin Berry on its roster last season. On Saturday Berry played beside Friedrich in the middle of the Fires back line.

Though Fire coach Frank Klopas used 21 players, this match -- designed to keep the team fit during a bye week -- was all about Friedrich. He didnt play in the Fires first three Major League Soccer matches because his fitness wasnt up to snuff. Hes expected to be ready for Sundays home game against the Houston Dynamo, however.

"This is my target," said Friedrich. "(Saturday) was my first game after six months. Im about 70 percent, but to be 100 percent I need some games."

Not only did Friedrich, 32, play his first game for the Fire, it was also his first game of any kind in the United States.

"I played against the United States when I was with our national team," he said. "And I saw only two MLS games because in Germany it was hard to get it (on television)."

Friedrich feels he needs to improve his fitness and get to know his teammates better on the field, but otherwise his adjustment to a new city hasnt been difficult.

"Its been no problem. From the first day I liked this city and the people very much," he said. "And I got lucky with the weather.

His first match was played in beautiful conditions on the Toyota Park practice field, and that encouraged about 200 fans to turn out. A group of Section 8 supporters was particularly vocal while standing on a hill behind the south goal. Friedrich was almost as vocal on the field.

"The most important thing is for us to know each other," said Friedrich. "Sometimes weve got to talk more on the pitch, but this takes time. I want to help this team with my experience. The target is to get to the playoffs, and when we get there anything can happen."

Klopas called Friedrichs performance "solid" and said hed be ready for the Houston match.

"We pushed him as much as we could in this game," said Klopas. "It was an easy game for him. Its important for someone to be vocal like that, with the experience to guide you."

Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Dan Gargan didnt play against the collegians, and only Marco Pappa played the full 90 minutes. He scored the lone goal with an 18-yard blast off his left foot in the 12th minute.

Gargan, nursing a left toe injury, jogged along the sidelines before the match. Jalil Anibaba, who started beside Gibbs as a central defender in the first three matches, moved to Gargans spot on the right side but Klopas would give no indication what lineup hell use against the Dynamo.

Sean Johnson figures to return in goal after missing preseason and the first three MLS matches while spending time training with Everton of the English Premier League and the U.S. under-23 team in its bid to qualify for the Olympics. Klopas held him out of the last MLS match because he hadnt seen much game action lately, and the last of those appearances didnt go too well. Johnson came on as a reserve against El Salvador in the last match of Olympic qualifying and allowed a tying goal in stoppage time. The tie advanced El Salvador and eliminated the U.S. in the tournament.

Klopas said Johnson has shaken off that negative experience, but feels last years starting netminder isnt game-sharp yet. He played the first half and Paolo Tornaghi the second against Louisville. Johnson played all 90 minutes for the Fire reserves in a 2-1 loss at Colorado on Monday and will likely play in the reserves next match, on Tuesday at Sporting Kansas City, before Klopas decides on Sundays starter.

"His attitudes been very good in training," said Klopas, indicating that Johnson has shaken off the letdown vs. El Salvador.

"You just have to move on with your career," said Klopas. "You cant hold on and let that bother you. Whether youre a goalkeeper or not, you learn through difficult moments. Sean has learned from that."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: A sprained MCL and Trubisky's performance. vs the Pats

David Haugh, Jordan Cornette, Shae Peppler join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Mark Schanowski joins SportsTalk Live to discuss Kris Dunn’s sprained MCL, Fred Hoiberg’s tough luck and Zach LaVine postgame criticisms of the coaching. Plus they’ll discuss another 0-3 team- LeBron’s Lakers.

20:00 – The panel discusses Mitchell Trubisky’s performance vs. the Patriots. Jordan makes the case that the media is giving the former No. 2 pick a pass.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

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USA TODAY

Bulls bracing for a Kemba Walker onslaught

Through the opening week of the NBA season, Hornets' All-Star point guard Kemba Walker and former Bull Niko Mirotic share the league scoring lead, averaging 33 points per game.

Bulls' fans have seen these hot stretches from Niko before, and chances are he'll start moving down to the mid to high-teens before long. But Walker is a big-time scorer who's quietly emerged as one of the most consistently productive point guards in a league loaded with stars at that position. He's averaged over 20 points and 5 assists in each of the last three seasons, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team twice.

Last season, Walker lit up the Bulls for 47 points in an overtime loss at the United Center in November, making some of the most difficult shots you can imagine to keep his team in the game. He seems to be as this best when facing the Bulls and you can bet Fred Hoiberg and his staff will pull out all the stops to try to slow him down, especially with defensive ace Kris Dunn out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained left MCL in his season debut on Monday.

The Hornets made some personnel changes since last season. The one-year experiment with Dwight Howard at center is over. Howard put up solid numbers for Charlotte a year ago, but didn't make much difference in the win-loss column, so he's moved on to Washington in his NBA odyssey. Cody Zeller is now the starting center, backed up by Bismack Biyombo and former Benet Academy and University of Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky.

Charlotte tried to improve the athleticism on their roster by selecting Malik Monk and Miles Bridges in the first rounds of the last two drafts. Monk is getting more playing time this season, averaging 13.5 points in the Hornets' first four games. Bridges is averaging just under 16 minutes a game as a backup to starting forwards Marvin Williams and Nic Batum. Just like he did at Michigan State, Bridges is providing those highlight reel putback dunks, but it remains to be seen whether he'll develop a consistent enough outside shot to be a quality starter in the NBA.

The well-traveled Jeremy Lamb is now starting in the backcourt with Walker, and the Hornets brought in long-time Spurs' point guard Tony Parker to add some much needed experience and veteran savvy off the bench. Given the current state of the Eastern Conference (post-LeBron), it's not out of the question for this group to contend for one of the final playoff spots.

Here's what the Bulls need to do for a shot at their first win of the season. This also applies to the rematch in Charlotte on Friday.

1. CORRAL KEMBA. For whatever reason, seeing that Bulls' logo turns Walker into an almost unstoppable scoring machine. Walker is adept at working off his big men, either in straight pick and rolls or cutting through the post on give-and-go plays. He's one of the league's most creative scorers, and doesn't require much room to get his shot off. The Bulls' bigs will have to provide help on Walker whenever he comes off screens to keep him from taking over the game.

2. PUT THE BALL IN ZACH'S HANDS. Whether he's playing shooting guard or point guard, Zach LaVine needs to be the primary facilitator with Dunn sidelined. LaVine scored 34 points against Dallas Monday night on just 15 shots, which led to him questioning some of the offensive sets that were run in the 2nd half. LaVine told reporters on Tuesday that he smoothed things over with his head coach, explaining his comments were the result of the frustration he was feeling after a third-straight loss to open the season. Still, LaVine is on a major hot streak, joining Bulls' all-time greats Michael Jordan and Bob Love as the only players to start the year with three straight games scoring at least 30 points. The Bulls will need to ride that hot hand for as far as LaVine can carry them.

3. DEFEND THE 3-POINT LINE. You knew I would eventually get to this, right? Dallas made 15 of 47 3-point attempts on Monday after the Pistons knocked down 18 of 40 in a two-point win last Saturday. The Hornets have all kinds of capable 3-point shooters in Walker, Lamb, Monk, Batum and Williams (they're shooting .397 as a team on 3's), so guarding the arc will be crucial for the Bulls to have a chance at their first win.

Don’t forget you can catch Wednesday's game on NBC Sports Chicago and the new MyTeams by NBC sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 pm when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Neil Funk and Stacey King have the play-by-play call at 7 pm, then stay tuned after the final buzzer for Bulls Postgame Live and the always entertaining Bulls Outsiders.