Bulls

How will Klopas work Fire's rebuilt roster?

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How will Klopas work Fire's rebuilt roster?

Things are different now. The Fire hasnt played a league home game since July 14, and the starting 11 that coach Frank Klopas puts on the field Saturday night against Toronto FC could be much different than the one he used in that 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. After all, the club has two new Designated Players since it played its last home match.

Designated Players are unique to Major League Soccer. A team can disregard the salary cap in bringing these types in, and they dont always work out. The Fires use of Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo in the disastrous 2010 season was a prime example.

The Fire is hoping for better things from Sherjill MacDonald and Alvaro Fernandez, and Klopas has better players around them than the Fire had when Ljungberg and Castillo tried unsuccessfully to salvage Carlos de los Cobos first season as head coach.

This season, the Fire (9-7-5) has been a stellar 6-2-2 at Toyota Park, and the next opponent is the worst team in the Eastern Conference. That doesnt matter to Klopas.

"We just need to continue to play wellWe need to play consistent to the end. None of the games are going to get any easier, and theres a lot on the line," said Klopas. "Its exciting. You want each game to mean something, and most of the games will because we play teams in our conference."

After missing postseason play the last two seasons, the Fire is in position to make the playoffs now, with 13 games left and seven of them in Bridgeview.

The club got ready for the stretch run by giving reserves liberal playing time in a 1-0 loss to Englands Aston Villa in an international friendly, then parting company with Rafael Robayo and Federico Puppo. Neither made much of an impact as key offseason signings, so the Fire moved in another direction. Puppo, incidentally also carried a DP tag.

In letting Robayo and Puppo go, the Fire made roster room for Dutch striker MacDonald and Fernandez, a midfielder who played in Uruguay before coming to MLS with the Seattle Sounders. Both could make their Toyota Park debuts on Saturday.

MacDonald came on as a substitute in the 64th minute in last Saturdays 1-1 draw at San Jose, and his fitness is still in question. Fernandez, acquired for allocation money from the Whitecaps, joined the Fire at training this week. Hes fit for full-time duty thanks to his stint with Vancouver.

MacDonald didnt do much in the draw against the Earthquakes, the best team in MLS. The Fire let three standings points slip away when San Jose tied the game late in a long second-half stoppage time.

"It was a little difficult for me because it was my first game in a long time," said MacDonald. "Obviously I can do a lot better, and Im looking forward to the next game."

Fernandez scored nine goals for the last place Whitecaps last season and had two in 14 games this campaign before being sent to the Fire. Now its up to Klopas on how theyll be used. Unless Brazilian Alex picks up his game, the Fire doesnt have a clear playmaking midfielder, but Klopas has the players to move around in an effort to overcome the apparent loss of Sebastian Grazzini, who remains in Argentina to deal with family matters.

Marco Pappa, given MLS All-Star recognition even though he didnt play in the leagues midseason match against Chelsea, sat out the San Jose match for yellow card point accumulations but hell be back against Toronto FC (5-12-4). Defender Gonzalo Segares, who didnt make the trip to San Jose after spraining an ankle in training, was back on the pitch this week and is expected to be available against Toronto FC.

In addition to the new DPs and Pappa, Klopas can move around Dominic Oduro, Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe in an effort to perk up the Fire offensively. The club has scored just 23 goals in 21 MLS matches, and only four of the leagues other 18 clubs have scored less.

However, thanks largely to Sean Johnsons great play in goal, the Fire has allowed only 23. Just five MLS clubs have allowed less.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Bears coaching upheavals portend inevitable stumbles

Call it a small Bears reality check, if not a full wake-up call, then at least a nudge in the night. And this sort of thing should be expected, not just in OTAs, not just in training camp or preseason, but when it all counts.

And it should serve as a lesson of sorts. Because some of the underlying reasons are worth a little highlighting and patient understanding around a team that has spent its offseason and millions of dollars refashioning an offense, beginning with coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Mark Helfrich, and that offense wasn’t particularly good on Wednesday.

In a sport where the operative cliché is “just get better each and every day,” the Bears didn’t, but as far as their coach is concerned, “there’s two ways to look at it,” Nagy said. “Whether you say on our side, on offense, trying to see a bunch of different looks a defense can give you, is it too much or not? It’s good for us. It’ll help us out in the long run. It’s good for our players and they’ve handled it well. There’s going to be mistakes but they have it on tape to be able to look at. “

This is about more than just a few bad reps or missed assignments. It’s part of the good-news-bad-news reality that a sea change brings to a team.

The good news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The bad news is that the Bears have a new coaching staff on offense.

The Bears defense is predictably ahead of the offense, hardly a surprise, given that most of the core of the top-10 unit has remained in place. That said, you do have to like the attitude of the barely-above-rookie No. 1 quarterback challenging that assessment Wednesday, with a “Who says that?”

This while the offense has myriad moving and new parts, and interceptions, blown plays and such were occurring for an offense that, like Halas Hall, is a massive building work in progress.

“Well, today was a bad ‘build,’ but that’s to be expected,” Helfrich acknowledged. “We’re adding a chunk each day, I thought today was the first day where we had somebody do something that just like, ‘wait, OK’ – a few positions here and there, a few new guys, obviously a few veterans here and there that it’s all new to, hit the wall.”

It’s a “wall” that arguably is inevitable with a coaching change.

Not to make excuses, but….

For a sense of perspective, scroll back to Jay Cutler, who went through offensive coordinators perhaps faster than he went through socks: a year with Ron Turner, two with Mike Martz, one with Mike Tice, two with Aaron Kromer, one with Adam Gase, one with Dowell Loggains, who at least was a holdover from the Gase year. (Whether Cutler’s failure to match potential with production was the cause of or because of that turnover, this humble and faithful narrator leaves to you, the reader).

More than a few current Bears can only dream of that kind of “stability.” And because of that, the 2018 pre- and regular seasons may be bumpier than the optimism surrounding the Nagy hire was anticipating.

Guard Kyle Long, still not practicing full-go while he rehabs from surgeries, is on his fifth offensive-line coach in six NFL seasons. Center Cody Whitehair, who has started every game since the Bears drafted him in the 2016 second round, has had three different line coaches in as many seasons: Dave Magazu for 2016, Jeremiah Washburn for 2017 and now Harry Hiestand. Left tackle Charles Leno was drafted in 2014, making Hiestand Leno’s fourth O-line coach.

And this is the offensive line, the unit that most engenders use of the term “continuity.”

“Each coach brings in a little bit, different techniques,” Whitehair said. “There’s a lot of time for us to hone in and get to know what he’s trying to teach us. But in the end it’s still football.”

Kevin White is entering his fourth NFL season. He is on his fourth receivers coach (Mike Groh, Curtis Johnson, Zach Azzanni, Mike Furrey) and third different season-starting quarterback (Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon, Mitch Trubisky), not including offseason battery mates ranging from Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, David Fales and Connor Shaw, depending on how much rep time he spent with which unit at various times during his training camps.

“It doesn’t matter,” White said. “Roll with the punches, come here and do my job every day.”

Regardless of how many bosses you’ve reported to.