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Fire preview: $2 hot dogs and other notes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 FIRE 77

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire and Kennedy Igboananike (left) hope to get off the ground and score a win against Philadelphia on Saturday.

PHILADELPHIA UNION AT CHICAGO FIRE

WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

FIRE RECORD: 0-1-2

UNION RECORD: 2-1-0

LAST TIME: The teams tied, 3-3, on Aug. 16 in Philadelphia. The Union’s Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 90th minute and Chicago’s Kennedy Igboananike scored seconds later for the tie.

 

 

If the soccer doesn’t bring them in, maybe the hot dogs will.

The Chicago Fire resume play Saturday against Philadelphia at 4 p.m. Toyota Park in Bridgeview and there will be $2 hot dogs on sale as a promotion. Maybe that will help bring a few more fans to the place.

The first two home games have seen vastly different results. The home opener, a wild 4-3 loss to New York City, drew 17,768 on March 6.

On a cold March 19 afternoon however, the Fire drew an announced crowd of 12,605 in a 0-0 draw against Columbus and some speculated that the actual attendance was closer to 5,000.

Regardless, the official figure of 12,605 is the lowest in Major League Soccer this year as the league is averaging 22,537 per game. The Fire is in 17th place out of 20 teams with an average of 15,186 and the list includes Toronto, which hasn’t played a home game yet.

First-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said he wasn’t disappointed in the puny crowd against Columbus.

“The people who came, supported us very well,” he said. “We also know that once this team starts to perform well and win games we will attract more people to come. We are very grateful to the people who come to the stadium and we can assure everyone we will always give our best. I’ve said this many times before, we are in a process of building a team that they will like and enjoy.’’

On paper, opening the season with five of the first seven games at home sounds good but from a fans standpoint, having those games played under frosty conditions will likely keep the numbers in the stands down.

Paunovic said he is not worried about the weather during the early part of the season because it’s something he can’t control.

Meanwhile, the Fire (0-1-2 and ranked last in the recent EPSN FC power rankings) heads into the game with some question marks.

Top player David Accam (two goals in the first two games) may miss his second game in a row with a knee injury and John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez rested their nagging injuries last week and participated in a full workout on Monday.

Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, who have been playing for the United States men’s under-23 national team, are likely to play against the Union but that could change if they are not at 100 percent.

Philadelphia is tied with Montreal for first place in the MSL East with 2-1-0 records.

The Union opened the season with a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas but came back and beat Columbus, 2-1, and New England, 3-0. MLS named the Union its Team of the Week after the New England whitewash.

Goalie Andre Blake is first in the MSL with 16 saves and seven catches. His save percentage of 83.4 ranks third in the league. 

“Soccer is about the moment,” the Jamaican star told MLSsoccer.com, “And right now I’m having a great moment.”

C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius each lead the team with two goals.

Sapong’s pair came against New England on March 19 and he said after the game he wanted more.

Feels good to open the account – I’m always extra critical, I could have had four today,” Sapong said. “It’s a good statement at home and we feel like we can do better but we showed a lot of team camaraderie on the field.”

COACH MUM ON TRADE RUMORS

Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson – the longest tenured player on the team – has not played a minute of action in the team’s first three games and with the play of Matt Lampson (two goals allowed in 225 minutes after allowing three in the first 45) it may be awhile before Johnson sees the field again.

There are rumblings the team could trade Johnson but coach Veljko Paunovic said “I don’t know anything about it.’’

When asked if Johnson is seeking a trade, Paunovic said. “I don’t know anything about that either.”

The coach said Johnson is playing the good soldier in all of this.
Johnson made his Fire debut on Aug. 1, 2010 and was the youngest player to appear in the net at age 21 and has been a mainstay with the team ever since.

“He’s handling it very well,’’ Paunovic said. “He’s a very good guy and he works hard. He’s someone who always helps teammates and we appreciate that. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.’’

The Fire picked up Lampson on Feb. 26 and he was inserted into the starting lineup for an exhibition game against defending Major League Soccer champ Portland and hasn’t come out of the lineup since.

Paunovic said he has talked with Johnson on a couple of occasions about his role.

“From my point of view, I understand and know what he’s going through,’’ Paunovic said. “I’ve been through that and I know that every player wants to play. But we really count on everyone. That’s a very important value. At some point you have faith that everyone can help the team when they are called on.’’

CONNOR, DOODY SENT TO ST. LOOIE

The Fire loaned midfielder Drew Conner and defender Patrick Doody to USL affiliate Saint Louis FC on Friday.

"Patrick and Drew need games to remain game fit and sharp," said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. "In addition, we know they will receive excellent training as well as a warm reception from the great fans of Saint Louis FC." 

Conner signed a homegrown contract with the Fire on Dec. 17 after a successful collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. He earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors as a sophomore in 2013 and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2012. The Cary native had six goals and 12 assists in his collegiate career. He also helped lead his squad to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2013. 

Doody, a second-year defender from Naperville, joined the Fire as a homegrown player on Dec. 22, 2014. In his rookie season, Doody started six of the seven MLS games in which he appeared, and tallied an assist on Gilberto's 78thminute goal against the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 25. Doody additionally made 21 appearances while on loan to STLFC and was tied for the team lead with four assists. 

Paunovic said Monday the club is also planning on sending defender Eric Gehrig to St. Louis as well.

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Could SXU athlete become the best NAIA pitcher ever?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Columnsig924

I know there are more important things to ponder in life.

Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?

Will the Cubs win the World Series?

Will the White Sox survive the loss of Drake LaRoche?

Will our next president be (gasp) Trump?

Or will our next president be (gasp) Hillary?

So much to think about.

But my mind is a little odder than most. I’m thinking about something else.

See, for years I kept hearing about all these great things that St. Xavier University softball pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher was doing.

The wins.

The strikeouts.

The no-hitters.

The perfect games – one of which she struck out every batter she faced.

Now that I am the sports editor and she is a senior I began to wonder…could Nonnemacher become the greatest pitcher in NAIA history?

First, I needed to figure out who the best pitcher in NAIA history is.

After a careful examination of the NAIA softball record books, I came up with a name – Rachel Murray.

Murray pitched for Union University in Tennessee from 1999-2002 and is the NAIA leader in victories with 126. She racked up an NAIA best 68 shutouts and 16 no-hitters. Her career strikeout total of 1,257 ranks fourth. Because you are dying to know, Oklahoma City’s Lily LaVelle had 1,411 from 2009-2012 for first in that category.

Murray, originally from way downstate Herrin, was just inducted into the UU Hall of Fame in 2015.

After college, she had a tryout with the USA Olympic Softball team, was an assistant softball coach at the University of Mobile and went to India on a medical mission trip. She is married and her last name is now Buchanan and she is a physical therapist assistant in Houston.

That’s who Nonnemacher has to beat out.

Nonnemacher already has her beat in one category. The SXU pitcher was named NAIA Pitcher of the Year twice and Murray just once.

But Nonnemacher has some catching up to do in other categories.

Through the Cougars’ first 20 games this season, she had 81 wins, 41 shutouts, 10 no-hitters and 1,073 strikeouts in her career.

There were 32 more games left on the regular-season schedule and who knows if they will all get played or not because of our predictably unpredictable weather. Plus, there will be the CCAC Tournament and NAIA postseason tournament games that could be played.

Nonnemacher is not going to start all those regular-season games. She will probably start half or a little more than half.

She doesn’t have a shot at the 126 wins or 68 shutouts.  She needed six more no-hitters and 184 more strikeouts to catch Murray which is a steep climb.

But…

If Nonnemacher wins another NAIA Pitcher of the Year award, that would give her a 3-1 edge over Murray in a pretty significant category.

And if Nonnemacher can lead the Cougars, ranked third in the nation, to a national championship, that will build her case up as well. Then you can have a really good argument.

Now, about Trump and Hillary…

 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Beet crazy and other sweet and sour thoughts

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Columnsig924

Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry:

When I broke into this business, a sports writer gave me these quality-of-life words of wisdom:

“If you gave me a plate of tomatoes and a plate of s--t, I would choose the plate of s—t because I already know what a tomato tastes like.’’

His hatred of tomatoes made me laugh and I often wondered if given the choice, I would choose the dung over any food.

Maybe, beets.

Maybe.

My hatred of beets could rival his hatred of tomatoes and I am not alone.

Now beets are in the sporting world.

On our front page, Anthony Nasella wrote about our Boys Swimming Player of the Year, Aiden Farley, drinking beet juice this season on a suggestion his mother, Jennifer, made.

“She got me to drink beet juice, which tastes terrible,” he said. “Oh my gosh, I had to drink so much of it. It’s good for your endurance, but drinking it is still feels like a punishment.”

Before that, I read a Los Angeles Times story about how USC basketball players are also drinking beet juice this season.

"You ever have some spicy food, and it kind of comes back up?" forward Malik Martin told the paper. "That's what it tastes like."

The team reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 so those guys are drinking a lot of it.

The theory is that drinking this hideous drink will allow athletes to do more physical activity while using up less energy.

Another use for it is to pour it on ice in your driveway or sidewalks to help it melt faster.

In my opinion, it’s better to have it in your driveway than in your mouth.

The $13 million question

So White Sox player Adam LaRoche is willing to retire and give up $13 million because management doesn’t want his kid in the clubhouse all the time?

If that was my choice, and I was really concerned about my son, I play one more year, take the $13 million and make sure the kid goes to the best college in the world.

Heck, for $13 million he could probably buy his kid a college – especially a state school in Illinois.

Cups and mugs

One of the cool things about covering high school sports is that you never know what’s going to happen to the people you write about or photograph in future years.

I’ve taken a few photos of Nile West’s Jewel Loyd four years ago and now she is on McDonald’s cups hawking the McDonald’s All-American Games at the United Center March 30.

I’ve also taken some shots of Kendrick Nunn when he played for Simeon and last week I saw his mug shot all over the place after the University of Illinois players was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery.

Trump’s running mate should be…

OK, this has nothing to do with sports but back in the day when I was editor of the Reporter, I did a lot of columns about sports in the news section.

I don’t know if Donald Trump is actually going to win this thing or not in November but if he does, I am not afraid.

But I have a suggestion for his running mate – Orland Park native Bill Rancic.

Rancic won Trump’s first “The Apprentice” competition (I have to admit I liked that show) and has been trusted to build Trump Tower in Chicago.

If not, then Trump should call up actor Kevin Spacey, who plays the oily President Francis Underwood in “House of Cards.’’

I mean, if we’re going to get silly about this, let’s go all out.

 

Chicago Fire injuries: 'Disappointed' Accum to miss Ghanaian Team qualifier;

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 DAVID

 

Chicago Fire midfielder David Accam, the MVP of the team in 2015 who opened the 2016 season scoring two goals in the team’s first two games, missed Saturday’s home 0-0 tie with Columbus and will miss the chance to play for the Ghanaian National Team’s qualifying matches due to an injured left knee.

                “Of course this is a disappointment – this is huge for me,’’ Accam said Saturday. “Missing this game was big and missing to play with the Ghanaian team…it’s tough but it’s also part of the game. I just need to be stronger and come out stronger again.’’

                Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said he hoped Accam could come back for the team’s next game, an April 2 home game against Philadelphia at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. The MLS takes time off for international competition in late March. 

                Accam said he hurt the in a March 11 tie at Orlando City.

                “I practiced a little early in the week and it got worse,” he said. “The best thing to do is rest it. I knew  I was going to make the team and I was happy at first but now I’m injured.’’

            Ghana will compete in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches against Mozambique on March Thursday and March 27.

A native of Accra, Ghana, Accam made his senior debut against Senegal on Jan. 19, 2015 in the Black Stars' Africa Cup of Nations opener and has since earned five caps and scored one goal. 

                Heading into Friday’s slate of Major League Soccer games, Accam and 11 others led the league in goals with two each. Orlando City’s Cyle Larin scored a third goal Friday night in his team’s 1-0 victory over the New York City Football Club. He also led the team with 10 shots and was one of three players on the Fire with an assist.

Last year, Accam led the Fire with 10 goals.

The Fire is also hoping that midfielder John Goosens’ left hamstring injury isn’t serious. He said it didn’t feel right at the 30th minute of the first half against Columbus and was replaced  by Michael Stephens in the second half.

“It was a hard and important call to tell the coach I was unable to play the second half,” Goosens said. “We will see Monday what’s going on with it. It’s nothing special but we have to be careful with it. It’s been a hard two weeks for me with travelling and a difficult game last week (against Orlando City). I think maybe my body was too tired but we have two weeks before the next game.

“I’ll be there.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Giving spring sports some respect

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924 

PAGE 1 MARIST 3 17

 Photos by Jeff Vorva

MARIST – Marist’s Lizzie Annerino and the RedHawks hope to keep raising softball hardware in 2016 as they defend their Class 4A state title.

                                                                                                                         

Welcome to the high school spring sports season.

I call it the Rodney Dangerfield Season of sports because it doesn’t get as much respect as some of the sports in the fall and winter.

The two biggest sports are baseball and softball and not only are they beholden to the weather, many of their games start at around 4 or 4:30 p.m. Not a lot of student support. Not a lot of parent support either, until the later innings after many of them get out of work.

There is boys and girls track, boys tennis and girls soccer – again, not big-time draws.

Some people snicker at the remaining sports – boys and girls water polo, boys volleyball, boys gymnastics and girls badminton.

The other negative is that many of the state tournaments are held after school is out. Students are either on vacation or aren’t thinking about high school events as they enjoy the start of their long break.

No respect.

So for the next couple of months, we will try to inject some glamor in sports that probably won’t draw thousands of fans, but that should be easy. Whether a team or athlete plays a big-time sport such as football or a seldom-watched sports such as badminton, there are great stories to tell. And we hope to tell as many as we can.

A few spring sports got rolling on March 7 and all of the others started on Monday. Inside this issue, we have a photo page dedicated to a Shepard-Stagg boys water polo match. And here on the front page, we have a look at some of last year’s spring thrills and some things to look out for this year:

 

Softball

Marist became the first two-time Class 4A champion when it beat Lincoln-Way East, 1-0, last year. The RedHawks also won in 2012.

Can the RedHawks become the first softball team since Glenbard South (2012-13 in Class 3A) to win back-to-back titles? They lost some firepower especially with the graduation of pitcher/slugger Zariya Gonzalez but Emily Reilly returns. She was put on the spot in the Lisle Supersectional and picked up a relief win against Downers Grove South to advance to the state semifinals. Reilly also hit .471 on the season.

Regional champions Mother McAuley and Sandburg (which finished second in the state in Class 4A in 2014) are going to be dangerous and keep an eye out for Shepard, which lost 1-0 in 13 innings to Hinsdale Central in a regional championship game.

In Class 3A, Evergreen Park reached the sectional final before dropping a 2-1 decision to Nazareth.

In Class 2A, Chicago Christian beat Queen of Peace, 5-0 for the regional title in Burbank before falling to Bishop McNamara in the sectional semifinals.

Baseball

Providence Catholic became the first baseball team in the state to win back-to-back titles since Maine Township did it in 1958-59 (I wasn’t born yet, that’s how long that record lasted) but Marist made the Celtics sweat in a 3-2, nine-inning decision in the Class 4A Marist Sectional semifinals.

St. Laurence, another perennial power, was the only other 4A regional champ from the area as the Vikings reached the sectional semifinals before dropping an 8-4 decision to St. Rita. The Vikings have won five straight regional titles.

Sandburg, Richards, Oak Lawn and Brother Rice shouldn’t be taken lightly this season.

In Class 3A, Evergreen Park outscored regional opponents 23-3 before the Mustangs were stalled by Manteno, 13-6, in the Joliet Catholic Sectional.

In Class 2A, Chicago Christian outscored its regional opponents 33-2 before being topped by Herscher, 8-6, at the Reed-Custer Sectional. The Knights have won five regional titles in a row and 13 overall but have yet to win a sectional crown.

Boys volleyball

Sandburg brought home its seventh state trophy with a fourth-place finish in 2015 and figures to be strong again with the return of 6-foot-10 Ohio State-bound Jake Hanes.

But Brother Rice and Marist, two teams who won their regionals and have plenty of talent returning, hope to make state appearances of their own this year.

A sneak preview on the three powers comes early in the season as they will compete at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic March 30 through April 2.

Boys tennis

Sandburg won the sectional title beating Stagg by six points last season but Stagg finished 29th in the state tournament while Sandburg was 35th.

Sandburg’s JonLuke Passett was the area’s underclassman with the longest state run as he finished 3-2 while teammate Nate Carper finished 1-2. Stagg graduated star Brendan Wolan but his brother, Michael, qualified for state as a freshman in doubles with Warren Wudtke.

Shepard’s Paul Mikus qualified for state as a sophomore last season and finished 0-2. The Astros will be saying goodbye to longtime coach Dmitri Cooper, who is retiring after 32 years.

Boys water polo

Brother Rice and Sandburg each made it to their respective sectional finals but Sandburg fell to Lincoln-Way Central, 8-6, at Lincoln-Way North while Brother Rice dropped a 15-6 decision to host Lyons Township one day after a thrilling 13-12 win over St. Rita.

Brother Rice has qualified for state eight times while Sandburg qualified five.

The Illinois Water Polo website ranks Brother Rice 10th, Sandburg 14th and Stagg 15th in the state in its preseason poll.

Girls water polo

Mother McAuley, which qualified for state two seasons ago, was stopped in the sectional final last season with a 6-3 loss to host Lyons. Sandburg bowed out of the Neuqua Valley Sectional in the semifinals with a 10-7 loss to Naperville Central.

The Illinois Water Polo website ranks McAuley ninth and Sandburg 11th.

Boys track

Sandburg is at it again.

After winning state in cross country and finishing fourth in the nation, the Eagles figure to finish strong in the distance events in track this spring.

The fabled 4x800 team, which won the Class 3A state title in 2015, is looking for a repeat. It ran a 7:45.80 on March 7 at the Downers Grove South Relays indoor event, which was ranked No. 1 in the country, according to MileSplit Illinois and the second best indoor time ever in Illinois behind York’s 7:42.6 in 2000.

Martin Skucas, Sean Torpy, Dylan Jacobs and Chris Torpy were the four who recorded the eye-popping time.

Evergreen Park, a sectional champion which had two relay teams score points in the state meet last year, is primed for another big run in Class 2A and Chicago Christian lost a bevy of state qualifiers to graduation and hopes to reload in Class 1A.

Girls track

Graduated Briana Driver was a driving force in Mother McAuley’s 10th place finish in the state in Class 3A but underclassmen Ashley Bryja, Stacey Mahahan, Alexandria Bryant, Raquel Funches and Evelyn Gorman helped the Mighty Macs score points in relay events.

In Class 2A Chicago Christian underclassmen Alexis VanRyn, Allie Boss and Cassidy VandeKamp qualified for state for state last season. The Knights hope that the success of their seventh-place finish in the Class 1A cross country meet in the fall can carry over in the spring.

Girls soccer

Stagg had a 21-win season and made it to supersectional play in Class 3A before dropping a 3-0 decision to Collinsville. Stagg beat Lincoln-Way East, 1-0 in the regional final and Sandburg, 1-0, in the sectional semifinal before claiming the sectional crown with a 3-0 victory over Lincoln-Way North.

In Class 1A, Chicago Christian won its own regional and was stopped by Herscher, 6-0, in sectional competition.

Badminton

Stagg and Sandburg took second place in their respective sectionals and both are hit hard by graduation.

Sandburg’s Emily Tunney was the only area underclassman to advance to state last year as she beat her first opponent, Streamwood’s Kristie Toondarack, in three sets but dropped her second round and consolation matches.

Winter note

In lieu of running two all-area teams, the Reporter/Regional is naming six Players of the Year in winter sports in which we had at least 50 percent of our teams compete in.

Next week, we name boys and girls bowling and boys swimming. In the March 31 issue, we name the top athlete in wrestling, boys basketball and girls basketball.