Cubs

Portland downs Fire in memorable debut

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Portland downs Fire in memorable debut

Friday, April 15, 2011Posted: 1:25 AM

By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com

The city of Portland made a loud, emphatic entrance into Major League Soccer Thursday night. Two goals by Jorge Peralza and a rain-soaked, fevered pitch at Jeld-Wen Field lifted the Portland Timbers to a first victory in MLS, defeating the Chicago Fire 4-2.

Portland, spurred on by 18,827 fans, started the match with sustained pressure on the Fire defense and didnt let up for the next 90 minutes.

In the 10th minute, Timbers defender Steve Purdy struck a net-bound ball from 20 yards out, eliciting a spectacular save from Fire goaltender Sean Johnson, who dove to his left to deny. It was the only highlight of an otherwise forgettable night for the 21-year-old Fire goaltender.

Portlands star striker Kenny Cooper thought he headed in a goal off the ensuing corner, but referee Ricardo Salazar disallowed the first MLS home goal for the Timbers. Upon further review, Johnson was contacted on the play by Eric Brunner, but the ball appeared to have crossed the goal line before the foul. The call left the Portland team and crowd incensed. It was later explained that the ball was ruled out-of-bounds on the service. Like the phantom foul, video replay showed no indication of the ball being completely out of play.

In the 16th minute, a failed Gonzalo Segares tackle on Cooper furthered the fervor. Cooper took offense to the challenge, getting in the face of Segares after the play was whistled dead. The takedown earned Segares a yellow card.

The Timbers finally broke through in the 29th minute and the ovation was hardly subdued, despite, or perhaps because of, the earlier tease. Peralza, led by a well-placed through ball, beat Fire midfielder Logan Pause into the box and hesitated as Pause caught up with the play. Fooled by the stop, Pause ran past the Portland striker and Johnson went to the ground, allowing Peralza to easily slide it into the net. The goal was not only the first MLS goal for Portland, but it also gave the Timbers their first lead of the season.

The supporters of the Timbers, the Timbers Army, have a motto of No Pity. Up 2-0, the Timbers on the pitch upheld a similar motto.

Fire centerback Cory Gibbs earned a yellow card in the 37th minute for a hellacious tackle in the corner The resulting free kick was poorly cleared by the Fire defense, with the ball bouncing out past the 18-yard box. Thats where Timbers left-back Rodney Wallace put a cracking volley on the ball. The high-velocity shot deflected off Brunner and into the back right corner of the net for Portlands second goal of the game and Wallaces goal first of the season.

Down at halftime, Chicago brought on two new players to start the second half. Dominic Oduro replaced Gaston Puerari as an attacking forward, and Marko Maric came in for Michael Videira. Puerari, who had been so brilliant for the Fire in the seasons first three games, earning breakaways in each contest, was locked-down by the Timbers defense and was never given any space in which to create an attack.

The Timbers scored their third goal in the forty-seventh minute off another set piece with the same cast. Rodney Wallace took a lay-off from the Portland free-kick and put a poor, low cross into the chest of a falling Sean Johnson. The ball bounced off Johnsons chest and directly to the feet of an opportunistic Perlaza, who netted the gift for his second goal of the game.

The Fire made a late push, breaking up the clean sheet in the 66th minute, when Timbers defender Eric Brunner made a slide tackle to break up a Orr Barouch pass to Marco Pappa. Brunners clearance attempt found the back of the Portland net and quieted the crowd momentarily.

The own-goal was followed up by a curling left-footed strike by Pappa the 81st minute, and for a moment, the contest contained some late drama. But the Timbers struck back three minutes later, with Mamadou Danso netting his first goal of the season off a scrambled play along the Fire goal line. The goal came from a corner kick and a possible, but ultimately uncalled hand-ball by Cooper knocked the ball down. After several failed attempts at clearance by Fire defenders, Danso was able to put it past the line.

The loss leaves the Fire with only four points in four games and knocks the team down to the cellar of the Eastern Conference. Coming off consecutive losses, the road doesnt get any easier for Carlos de los Cobos team the Fire return to Toyota Park Sunday to take on Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Potential Cubs target Shogo Akiyama is reportedly in the U.S. during the winter meetings

Potential Cubs target Shogo Akiyama is reportedly in the U.S. during the winter meetings

The Cubs could use a leadoff hitter and a center fielder. One player who can fill both of those holes is available is looking to sign soon.

Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama is in the U.S. with his agent, according to Sports Nippon, while the winter meetings take place in San Diego.

Akiyama is a center field option when center field options are limited this offseason. Brett Gardner is a free agent, but the 36-year-old wouldn’t be easy to pry away from his only professional organization.

Akiyama is 31 and saw a dropoff in his numbers in Japan last season, but still had a .392 on-base percentage with 20 home runs in 143 games.

Albert Almora’s struggles last season left the Cubs with uncertainty in center going forward. That saw Jason Heyward spending some time in center with Kyle Schwarber and Nicholas Castellanos on the corners. That’s not a pretty defensive outfield. Meanwhile, Akiyama has two Golden Glove awards in Japan.

He would also bring on-base skills and speed to a Cubs lineup that has resorted to having power hitter Anthony Rizzo play leadoff at times.

Akiyama would also likely not be an expensive option, which is key for a Cubs team reportedly looking to get under the luxury tax this offseason.

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Report: Cubs have discussed Kris Bryant with the Phillies

Report: Cubs have discussed Kris Bryant with the Phillies

While most teams with World Series aspirations are looking to bolster their roster in free agency, the Cubs are in a precarious situation.

Theo Epstein and team need to shed payroll before being able to make any moves, and have reportedly been telling representatives of free agents as much.

And the easiest path to shedding payroll is trading away high-priced players. Two names that have come up frequently are former NL MVP Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras.

While that's all been speculation, 670 The Score's Bruce Levine reported the Cubs talked to the Phillies about a Bryant deal.

The big hold up surrounding could be Bryant his unresolved service time grievance. What the arbiter will determine is how many years of team control are left, one or two years. That would impact Bryant's value on the market and a trade partner would be foolish to not wait to see how that plays out.

But as free agents come off the board, it could make teams more desperate and create a bidding war. That market could have already been shaped by Stephen Strasburg's extension in Washington.

It's worth nothing, Bryant's friend Bryce Harper signed with the Phillies last offseason for a mega contract and he could be intrigued by the option of playing with his pal. Not to mention, former Cubs teammate Jake Arrieta is on the Phils' pitching staff.

But with Harper's massive contract on the books for another 12 seasons, would a Bryant move land him a big, long-term contract to stay in the City of Brotherly Love? Perhaps not.

The Phillies entered free agency with about $150 million in committed payroll for the 2020 season, there is a lot of room under the expected $208 million luxury tax threshold to add a player like Bryant.

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