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Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

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Nowak's absence felt in Philadelphia

The Fires opponent in a Sunday road match has had a rocky season, and the focal point of it was a Chicago legend. Peter Nowak is no longer the coach of the Philadelphia Union, but hes a factor in what has transpired in the clubs third season.
Last season the Union was a playoff team, the Fire was not. Now the Fire is closing in on a playoff berth while Philadelphia is struggling, and the circumstances surrounding Nowak are a big reason why.
Nowak was the first Fire captain. A former captain of the Poland national team, Nowak led the Fire to a shocking sweep of the Major League Soccer and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups in the clubs inaugural 1998 season. He retired as a player after four more campaigns with the Fire, then went into coaching.
He was as successful as a coach as he was a player. Nowak guided D.C. United to the MLS Cup in 2004, making him the only person to win that trophy as both a player and a coach. He then worked as an assistant to first Fire coach Bob Bradley with the U.S. national team and coached the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad before the Union made him its first coach.
The Union entered MLS in 2010 with Nowak as the manager (head coach) and executive vice president. The club was 8-15-7 in its first season and then made the playoffs after going 11-8-15 in 2011.
So far, so good for Nowak still a popular guy in Chicago soccer circles.
This season, though, has been something else. Despite last seasons successes Nowak opted to rebuild the Union. That led to the trades of striker Sebastien Le Toux to Vancouver, captain Danny Califf to Chivas USA and forward Danny Mwanga to Portland. All three were popular players in Philadelphia, and Nowaks own popularity there declined after the Union started 2-7-2, scoring only eight goals in those 11 games.
Not only did the fans become disenchanted with Nowak, but Philadelphia chief executive officer Nick Sakiewicz had issues as well. They escalated when European media reports had Nowak applying for the vacant head coaching job with Scottish Cup winner Heart of Midlothian.
Though Nowak denied those reports Sakiewicz, tired of the controversies that had hampered his team all season, fired him on June 13. Sakiewicz only cited "philosophical differences" for the firing, but Nowak sued the Union for wrongful termination and unpaid severance money. Subsequent legal documents accused Nowak of hazing and other questionable practices. He was also dropped as coach of the MLS All-Stars for the mid-season match against Englands Chelsea.
With Nowak out, Sakiewicz put assistant coach John Hackworth in charge of the Union on an interim basis. The club has done better under him, going 5-4-0, but Philadelphia is still ninth of the 10 teams in the Eastern Conference. Only Toronto FC, the Fires 2-1 victim in its last game on Saturday, is behind the Union.
Theres a couple of other interesting ties between the Philadelphia saga and the Fire. The Unions last match was a 2-0 loss to the expansion Montreal Impact last Saturday on the road. The Impact is coached by Jesse Marsch, who played with Nowak in the Fires midfield and coached with him in the U.S. national team program.
Marsch has become a coach-of-the-year contender after guiding the new team to a 9-13-3 record and sixth place in the East (the Fire is fifth, five points head of the Impact and holding the final playoff position). Fire coach Frank Klopas, of course, played with both Nowak and Marsch on the first Fire team.
The current Union roster includes Bakary Soumare, who left the Fire under strange circumstances after being a finalist for MLS Defender-of-the-Year in 2008 and an MLS All-Star in 2009. Soumare, played in 63 matches for the Fire from 2007-09 and was part of the Fires last playoff team. His departure reportedly came after a fight with then-head coach Denis Hamlett during the halftime of a game. Hamletts contract wasnt renewed after the 2009 season.
Soumare, who spent the last three seasons primarily with French side Boulogne, has not played for the Union since Philadelphia acquired him on June 26. He had been nursing a right knee injury, but the Union listed him as probable for Sundays match.
Nowak wasnt with the Union when it visited the Fire on March 24 for the Toyota Park opener. The Fire won 1-0 on a Dominic Oduro goal while Nowak remained in Philadelphia with reported flu-like symptoms. Nowak remains fourth on the Fires all-time goal-scoring list with 26, trailing Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe and Josh Wolff. Marco Pappa pulled even with Nowak when he scored his 26th in the win over Toronto FC.
The Fire (10-7-5) goes to Philadelphia with a 3-5-3 record in MLS road games this season. Next home match is Aug. 18 against New England. There are 12 matches remaining before the playoffs begin on Oct. 31. The top five teams in each conference qualify for postseason play with the MLS Cup final is Dec. 1.

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.