Cubs

Game preview: Fire vs. Real Salt Lake

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Game preview: Fire vs. Real Salt Lake

There are two things to be aware of regarding the Fires match against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night at Toyota Park:

First, this one will be in the middle of a three-games-in-nine-nights stretch the Fires first endurance test of this Major League Soccer season.

Also, this match will mark the renewal of a club tradition. Itll highlight the first time the Fire has added a member to its Ring of Fire in three years, and the honoree will be a most deserving one. If C.J. Brown hadnt been picked for this cherished honor it would have been a travesty.

There are other former players who merit consideration for the highest honor available to a Fire player Zach Thornton and Ante Razov are the most obvious but Browns selection by the other Ring of Fire members was a no-brainer.

Peter Wilt, the Fires first president, envisioned the Ring of Fire as the ultimate honor for a player wearing the (usually) red jersey and the first honoree was as obvious as Brown will be on Wednesday night. Peter Nowak, now the coach of the Philadelphia Union, was the first member of the Ring of Fire in 2003. He was the Fire captain for the clubs first five seasons and the leader of the team that scored an improbable sweep of the MLS and U.S. Open Cups in the inaugural season of 1998.

Nowak retired as a player after his rights were acquired by New England after five great seasons wearing the Fire armband.

Following Nowak into the Ring of Fire was Frank Klopas in 2004. He was a clear choice as well, being a standout as a player and later as an assistant coach, front office staffer and now head coach. Hes become the Chicago soccer icon the Fire so sorely needed to establish its place on the citys sports landscape.

Next came Lubos Kubik in 2005. There was no more solid a defender in Fire history than Kubik, a cool-headed back-line guy who could score on set pieces as well.

Wilt himself was honored in 2006, a credit to John Guppy who was big enough to accept the fact that his predecessor as club president well deserved the honor despite his surprise early-season dismissal after guiding the franchise for seven years.

The Ring of Honor seemed in jeopardy after Wilts selection, but Bob Bradley the first head coach had his name inscribed on the Toyota Park wall in 2007, and two years later Chris Armas, the second captain and every bit the leader that Nowak was, followed him into the select place in Fire history.

It took three more seasons before the franchise, after undergoing ownership and leadership changes, revived the Ring of Fire tradition. Brown had the most games played in franchise history (374 in his 13 seasons). He hoped to enter coaching at the minor league level after his retirement as a player but hit the jackpot when Real Salt Lake hired him as an assistant, a job he is holding for a second season. He hasnt forgotten Chicago, though, as evidenced by his plans to establish a youth soccer camp here.

As for Wednesday nights match itself, itll be a battle. RSL is one of the best teams in MLS despite its 3-0 loss to the Fire late last season, when the club was bidding unsuccessfully to earn a playoff berth with a strong final 10 games. Marco Pappas first career hat trick ignited that big road win, and Pappa is playing great now. He had the MLS goal-of-the-week in a home loss to Seattle before notching the game-winner in stoppage time in a 2-1 road victory vs. Chivas USA last Friday.

The Fire (3-2-2) will regain Jalil Anibaba, one of the defenders counted on to replace Brown in the middle of the back line. He sat out the Chivas match while serving a one-game suspension. Theres some doubt that striker Chris Rolfe, a former Brown teammate, will play his first match since returning to the Fire after a three-year stint in Denmark. Hes been recovering from an ankle injury and started running this week, but whether hes ready for game action is uncertain.

The first busy stretch of the season concludes on Saturday when Sporting Kansas City, another fast starter this season, comes to Bridgeview.

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

Why Cubs, rest of baseball sweat as MLB battles coronavirus testing issues

It was never going to be perfect.

But Major League Baseball’s coronavirus testing system needs to be good enough.

That may not seem like an especially high bar to set.

But so far it has been a difficult one for baseball to clear.

In fact, the latest example of baseball's biggest challenge in pulling off a 60-game season played out at Wrigley Field on Monday. That's when the team that by all indications has done the best job of establishing and following safe practices had its manager and five other “Tier 1” members of the organization sit out activities “out of an abundance of caution” because their latest COVID-19 tests, from Saturday, remained “pending.”

Tier 1, by the way, comprises the 80-something members of the organization with the highest access, including players and coaches.

The results had been analyzed. But as pitching coach Tommy Hottovy explained, they appeared to be in a batch of samples that included at least one positive test, the batch involving multiple teams. So they were retested. Five of those retested samples, including manager David Ross’, were negative, the team said late Monday, with the sixth considered “compromised” and another test done.

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The sixth did not belong to a player.

Give the Cubs another gold star for getting through yet another round of tests — and yet another glitch in that process — without having a player test positive.

But give MLB another kick in the ass. The testing issues don’t seem to be as bad as they were throughout the league that first holiday weekend of processing. But it hasn’t fixed this thing yet, either.

Whether it’s a lab-capacity issue, a quality issue or a shipping issue, it’s not even close to good enough.

Not for 30 teams barely a week from leaving their individual training-site bubbles to start playing each other for two months. Not when more than one-third of those teams play in locales considered hot spots for the pandemic. Not in the world’s most infected country.

“We do feel comfortable in this bubble that we’ve kind of created here,” said Hottovy, who was hit hard by the virus for a month before camp started. “When the season starts though and we start traveling and we start putting ourselves in some different circumstances, we just don’t know what to expect with that.

“We’re still taking this day-to-day for sure.”

Players across baseball, including Cubs star Kris Bryant, said they were upset and surprised at how unprepared MLB’s testing system appeared to be when camps opened. Two weeks of testing later, and just enough issues persist to make the league’s entire 2020 undertaking look more tenuous than ever.

The season starts July 23. That’s not much time to get it “good enough” — never mind to get it right. But, again, we're not asking for perfection.

The league protocols require testing thousands of players and other team personnel every other day through the end of the season.

Imagine sitting a manager and three or four players from a single team on a game day because of “pending” or “compromised” test results. Imagine that happening two or three times a week to various teams. Or worse — imagine a given team doesn’t exercise “an abundance of caution” and puts the players or staff in question on the field or in the dugout and clubhouse anyway.

“The only concern that I have right now is how long the test will take to get the results back,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras said on Thursday. “Other than that, I don’t think I am at risk inside of the ballpark because the Cubs have been doing the best they can to keep us safe in here."

“I don’t have any concerns about my teammates, because I trust them. I know we all are doing our best to keep [each other] safe, and that way we can have a season this year.”

Contreras expressed tolerance with the system so far and was reluctant to point a finger at MLB or anyone else.

“But how can that get better?” he said. “I have no answer for that.”

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is as much as it matters that an answer is found quickly.

Players, staff and their families already have taken on the daily stress and anxiety of this health risk and the every-other-day process of holding your breath until the next result comes in.

“You get that test day coming up when you might get results, and it’s a little bit of that unknown, a little bit of anxiety of, ‘Have I done everything right?’ “ Ross said. “You start running back the day since you’ve been tested and what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, who you’ve been in contact with, just in case something bad may come back on your test. It’s real.”

Thirteen players, including Giants star Buster Posey, already have declined to play this season, all but one without a pre-existing condition that would qualify as “high risk” under the agreement between players and management.

Angels superstar Mike Trout heads a list of several more who have talked openly about opting out at some point, depending on how things look as we get closer to games.

That includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish, who said Sunday, “I still have concerns” and that he has not ruled out heading home if he doesn’t feel it’s safe anymore for him or his family to keep playing.

Maybe Trout, Darvish, Posey and the rest of those players have the right idea.

In fact, maybe we’d all be better off if baseball rededicated its testing capacity to a general public that suddenly is facing shortages again in a growing number of hot spots.

But if baseball is going to stick to its plan and try to pull off this season, then it needs to get this right. Right now.

Nobody’s expecting anything great at this point. Maybe not even especially good. But good enough? In the next week or so?

Would that be too much to ask?

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Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Blackhawks' Andrew Shaw announces he plans to return for 2020-21 season

Andrew Shaw issued a statement on Instagram late Monday night, announcing he will not join the Blackhawks for the 2019-20 restart as he continues to work his way back from a concussion.

But the 28-year-old winger also revealed he plans on returning for the 2020-21 season and looks forward to coming back "better and stronger than ever!" 

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Here's the full statement, which has been lightly edited for clarity:

I just wanted to let all Blackhawks fans and hockey fans know that I am doing well and getting better every day! I feel healthy and am close to fully being healed from not just my last concussion but from others I have had over the years.

I've learned a lot about concussions and head injuries over the past few years thanks to the Blackhawks medical staff of Dr. Mike Terry, Mike Gapski, Jeff Thomas and Patrick Becker. They have helped me in more ways than I can thank them. I love them dearly for doing so because I am the type of person who would play through anything for my teammates.

With all that being said, along with my family who has shown me so much support, we have come to the difficult decision that these extra five months until next season would be great for my health and recovery. I look forward to being back next season, better and stronger than ever! There's nothing I would love more than to be back out on the ice with the boys battling for Lord Stanley.

I'll be cheering my teammates on and supporting the Blackhawks through this run! Love you boys and miss you like crazy!

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Go Blackhawks Go! Hey fans!

A post shared by Andrew Shaw (@shawz65) on

Shaw, who has two years left on his contract after this season, has a history of head injuries and last appeared in a game on Nov. 30. The NHL's tentative plan is to start next season on Dec. 1.