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Chicago Fire review of Orlando City/preview of Columbus

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

New Fire coach Veljko Paunovic greets fans after the Fire’s first home game against New York City on March 6. The team returns to Toyota Park Saturday with a game against the Columbus Crew.

 

 

This could have been a disaster.

It could have been the Chicago Fire’s version of hosting a Donald Trump rally at the University of Illinois Chicago.

On the same evening rioters took to the streets swinging fists and baseball bats at the aborted Trump rally, thousands of miles south, Fire and Orlando City players were mixing it up in a brouhaha of their own Friday night.

And when the referees cleared things up in the 32nd minute of the match, they gave out a red card and threw out the Fire’s Michael Harrington for what appeared to be a kick close to Orlando’s Brek Shea’s private parts. That came four minutes after Matt Polster was given a yellow card for a foul on Adrian Winter. In all, seven cards were flashed.

The score was 1-1 at the point that Harrington had to hit the showers and despite playing more than 60 minutes short one man on the field, the game stayed tied at that score and the Fire came up with the first point in the Veljko Paunovic era in front of an announced crowd of 29,041 at the Florida Citrus Bowl.

It wasn’t a victory. But the fact that playing 10-on-11 for that long and not losing against the Lions was something the 0-1-1 Fire can take as a positive.

“Even when we were a man down, we believed we could get a point or even win,” said midfielder David Accam, whose second goal in as many games gave the Fire its lone score. “The boys did really well. They worked hard and dug in.

“I don’t know where we found the energy, but we played hard and everyone did well. We believe we can beat anyone in this league. That belief is what will carry us forward.’’

The new head coach was relieved.

“It’s never easy being down a man,” Paunovic said. “They performed well and adapted well and most of all, they left their hearts on the field.’’

Recently acquired goalie Matt Lampson was back in the net instead of veteran Sean Johnson and gave up a goal to Cyle Larin in the fourth minute of the game. Larin’s first shot was deflected by Jonathan Campbell right back to him and hit gold on the next kick.

Lampson gave up three goals in the first half and four overall in the Fire’s 4-3 loss to the New York City Football Club in the season opener March 6 at Toyota Park but the early goal in Orlando didn’t rattle him or the defense as the Lions were shut out the rest of the way.

“It’s not easy to come back from a goal early, but the team showed resilience and we did everything we could to stay in the game,” Lampson said. “That shows the heart of this team and how hard we work for each other.’’

Accam scored in the 14th minute on an assist from John Goossens, who was making his Fire debut. Accam also had a chance to give his team a lead in the 26th minute but his shot hit the post.

“The kid’s quick,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said of the Fire star. “He had a great goal. (Our defenders) have to be better. I mean, the ball is three quarters of the way on their half. We don’t expect it 10 seconds later to end up in the back of our net.’’

Crew-cial game ahead for Fire and Lampson

Which Matt Lampson will show up Saturday at Toyota Park?

Will it be the goalie who gave up four scores in the Fire’s 4-3 home loss to the New York City Football Club on March 6? Or the one who gave up just one in a 1-1 tie in a road game against Orlando City including more than 60 minutes of shutout work when his team played a man down?

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic is hoping for the latter, but there is another wrinkle to consider. The Fire is playing the Columbus Crew – an organization Lampson had been with since 2011 when he signed as a homegrown player until signing with the Fire in February.

“It depends on you manage the emotions you may have in a game against a former club,” Paunovic said. “I’m sure he has a lot of friends there but we are professionals and if you control those emotions in the right way, it can be very helpful. You can be motivated in the best possible way.

“I’ll tell you, in my career almost every time I played against my former teams I scored a goal. For me, it was very motivational.’’

The rest of the Fire players will be motivated to try to kick a good team while it is down. The Crew, which made it to the MLS Championship game before dropping a 2-1 decision to Portland last year, comes into a game 0-2 after identical 2-1 losses to Portland and Philadelphia. After two weeks, just four of the 20 teams in Major League Soccer are 0-2.

“Every opponent is a great opponent,” Paunovic said. “We never underestimate or overestimate anyone.’’

The first-year coach is still looking for his first victory even though he said he celebrated Friday’s tie as if it were a victory because of playing most of the game a man short after Michael Harrington was thrown out of the Orlando City game for rough play.

The Fire’s last victory was a 3-1 triumph over New England on Oct. 3.

Four of the next five games for the Fire will be at home so this is a chance to get off to a fast start.

“The next game is the most important game,” the coach said. “We have that big picture look at the coming games but we want to concentrate on focus on the next game. That’s what I believe. That’s how we should think about it.''

 

 

Wild Wednesday, frustrating Friday

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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So last Wednesday, I was in Tinley Park watching Stagg’s offense go Stagg-nent against Oswego East for the first half in the Class 4A Andrew Regional boys basketball semifinals.

While coach John Daniels took his team to the locker room for a talking to, I ramped up the handy-dandy IPhone to see what our other teams in the area were doing.

We had three Class 4A teams still alive and one Class 3A team still going.

The phone didn’t have good news.

Sixth-seeded Marist was losing to 12th-seeded St. Rita at the Marian Catholic.

Ninth-seeded Brother Rice was getting trounced by eighth-seed host T.F. North.

St. Laurence’s Class 3A ping-pong match at King saw the Vikings losing to the host Jaguars by one at the time.

And, looking up at the Andrew scoreboard and the news was not much better. Oswego East had a 26-19 lead over the Chargers.

At that point, I wondered if I was going to have Friday night off or if I should maybe plan to watch Providence – a team that we don’t cover primarily but a school that has local students and athletes – since they had shocked Joliet Catholic earlier in the tournament.

Oh, and if those results panned out, it would have marked two years in a row that the area would have been shut out of having someone even make it to the regional final. Last year, the area went 0-for-10.

For the most part, however, things sorted themselves out on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.

Marist kept inching closer to St. Rita, but the Mustangs put an exclamation point on its frustrating season by hanging on to beat the RedHawks, 62-56 in Chicago Heights. So the RedHawks were gone.

But in front of my eyeballs, Stagg mounted a nice comeback in the last 16 minutes of play. Not content to get beat in the semis, John Contant and Josh Sterma put on a scoring show and the Chargers scored 19 points in the third quarter to take a 38-34 lead and rang up 29 more points in the fourth to win, 67-57.

Over in the city, St. Laurence was able to pull away for a 62-51 royal win over King.

And in Calumet City, Brother Rice, which was trailing 40-23 at one point, pulled off the wildest finish of the night when Josh Niego buried a 3-point basket with a  couple of clicks on the clock for a 49-48 victory over the hosts.

Three out of four teams were still alive.

Not bad, especially considering where things stood when I checked things out at halftime.

And with Chicago Christian breaking the two-year skid of an area team not winning a regional title with its Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional championship on Feb. 26, I had some hopes one of these bigger-school teams was going to pull off an upset.

But then came Friday.

Frustrating Friday.

Oh, our teams did some teasing.

At Calumet City, Brother Rice got out to a 9-0 lead and clung to a 20-18 halftime advantage over state and national power Simeon.

Stagg roared out of the gate in Tinley Park to grab a 14-3 lead over Oswego.

And in the city, St. Laurence jumped out to an 11-6 lead.

Things were looking pretty good for a little while, but reality set in.

Brother Rice lost its scoring ability in the second half in a 44-28 loss. Niego got so much attention for his heroic 3-pointer against T.F. North that Wolverines coach Robert Smith put 6-foot-7 longarm defender Ben Coupet on him most of the night and the junior didn’t see the ball much and finished with three points.

Stagg couldn’t maintain its scalding start and dropped a 66-52 decision to Oswego.

And while St. Laurence was thrilled to earn its first winning season since 2007, it suffered an 88-54 setback to Bogan.  

The area is making some progress. Last season, we had just one team with a winning record – Marist – and two teams with even records – Chicago Christian and Richards.

This year, Chicago Christian, Brother Rice, Marist, Stagg and St. Laurence finished with winning records while Richards was at .500.

Chicago Christian’s big regional win was great but the Knights lost a Clifton Central Sectional woulda-coulda-shoulda three-point game to Reed-Custer, which lost a woulda-coulda-shoulda one-point game to Aurora Christian.

Here is hoping the area can take a bigger step forward in 2016-17.

When the regional championships are played, I would like nothing more than for the area to have a fantastic Friday instead of a frustrating Friday.

 

Charley cheer cheers for her decision to go to old Notre Dame

  • Written by Anthony Nasella

PAGE 3 NIEGO

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego is just a sophomore but already made her college choice, giving a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.

 

Despite being a sophomore, Charley Niego put together a noteworthy season for the Mother McAuley volleyball team and on the travel circuit with Michio over the years that colleges have taken notice.

Niego’s collegiate future is now in place after she verbally committed this past week to Notre Dame. She will not be able to officially sign, however, until she is a senior.

“Charley really didn’t have set college in mind at first,” Might Macs head coach Jen DeJarld said. “Then the recruiting process started this past summer, and Notre Dame came forward with a scholarship offer back in October.

“She took some time to make her decision, but she gave her verbal commitment to Notre Dame. She’s very excited about her future, and we’re excited about her next two years at Mother McAuley and her becoming a true leader in all areas.”

A year ago, the South Bend school wasn’t even on the sophomore’s radar; however, circumstances helped her change her mind.

“When I started getting recruited and noticed last year, Notre Dame wasn’t even an option much as less a future college,” Niego said. “I was thinking more about a Big 10 school. Then the process went on, which was stressful, and I was feeling a lot of pressure from coaches. That knocked a lot of schools of the list.”

In contrast, Niego said she was drawn by the hands-off approach of Notre Dame.

“At that point, Notre Dame was now on my list, and they were interested in me,” she said. “I visited and really liked the campus. I got to know the school and definitely got interested. They gave me an opportunity, and I took it.

“There was pressure or time frame to commit. The coaches were really understanding, which made the decision pretty easy.”

Niego’s will become the third McAuley volleyball player to choose Notre Dame. The First was Megan Dunne, who played in the late 2000’s and the most recent was Ryann DeJarld, who helped the Mighty Macs to a state championship in 2013.

Notre Dame, however, is struggling. The Irish went 7-25 ovetrall and 2-18 in the Atlantic Coast Conference in Jim McLaughlin’s first year at the helm. McLaughlin has won national championships with USC’s men’s team and the University of Washington’s women’s team.

One of the McAuley’s top kill and block leaders, Niego said she gained valuable experience by star players Kayla Caffey and Jane DeJarld and said she looking forward assuming a greater leadership role next season.

“I learned so much from them,” she said. “They never treated me like a sophomore but more like one their sisters. I really looked up to them, and now I have the opportunity to fill the role that they carried out so well this season.

“They taught me a lot and pushed me to be the best player I could be, and my sophomore year was exceeded all my expectations. I’m so excited about next season and what’s ahead.”

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Charley Niego is just a sophomore but already made her college choice, giving a verbal commitment to Notre Dame.

Fire stumbles in season opener

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 Fire 9 stumble

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire player Gilberto, right, has his jersey pulled by a New York City Fire Club defender a second before hitting the ground in Sunday’s MLS loss at Toyota Park. 

It was entertaining.

But it was still a loss.

The first real match in the Veljko Paunovic era of the Chicago Fire was wide open but in the end, the team suffered a setback in a 4-3 loss to the New York City Fire Club Sunday in front of 17,768 at Toyota Park.

Paunovic, the rookie coach, and nine players making their Fire debuts (the most since the club’s first season in 1998) have made this a new-look club. While scoring three goals is fun, giving up four is troublesome.

“There was good and bad,” midfielder Razvan Cocis said.

Cocis was a part of the good as he scored the first goal in the Paunovic era as the Fire trailed 3-1 at half and Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam added second half goals.

But it wasn’t enough.

Recently signed goalie Matt Lampson got the nod over Fire elder statesman Sean Johnson, fueling speculation that Johnson could be shipped out. First-year general manager Nelson Rodriguez has shown he can pull the trigger on deals whether or not a player is popular or not. He dealt Harry Shipp to Montreal for cash during training camp in February.

Lampson, who had not played an MLS game since 2013 but owns a 9-6 career record all with Columbus, gave up three first half goals before settling down in the second half.

“I don’t think it was my best game – the first half was definitely not good,” he said. “The third goal (off the foot of Khiry Shelton, who shielded rookie Fire defender Brandon Vincent and then rounded goalkeeper Matt Lampson before tapping into the net) was on me and it’s something I need to learn from.’’

Paunovic, who is not announcing who will start Saturday’s game at Orlando, had nothing but good things to say about Lampson after the game.

“We’re happy with him,” the coach said. “Matt did very well in the last game of the preseason (a 2-0 win over defending MLS champion Portland) and the team feels comfortable with him playing. We didn’t read the game well early because there was a lot of wind against us. But after that, he did very well. He tried his best and that’s all you can ask.’’

Lampson said he will go into the Orlando City start with the same attitude he had since the Fire picked him up on Feb. 26.

“I prepare every week like I’m going to start,” he said. “I found out (before the game) that I was going to start. You have to be ready. Next week, I will prepare like I need to play. It’s good for competition. Everyone is out there trying to earn a spot. That’s all I’m going to do.’’

The Fire finished with 17 shots while New York had 20. New York picked up goals from Thomas McNamara, Tony Taylor, Shelton and Mix Diskerud. NY is just in its second year of play and finished 0-1-1 against the Fire last year.

Vincent, a former Stanford star making his pro debut, said there is work to do.

"Our job is to defend and not let in goals, so giving away four is tough,’’ he said. “But looking forward, that's what we'll work at." 

 

Double-double dynamic duo

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photos by Jeff Vorva

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles. 

 

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Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.

 

 

 

When Mother McAuley’s Erin Drynan and Andrew’s Michelle Borgen signed up to play at Moraine Valley Community College on the same day last offseason, it was uh-oh time for the two power players.

After meeting each other, both wondered how much they would get to play.

“I looked at her and said ‘it looks like I’m going to have to split playing time with her,’ ’’ Borgen said.

“I was thinking the same thing when I saw her,” Drynan said.

Fortunately for both and unfortunately for opponents, Cyclones coach Delwyn Jones decided to use the 6-foot-3 Drynan and the 6-1 Borgen on the court at the same time. The Cyclones closed their season with a 20-10 record after losing to Waubonsee in the Region IV semifinals on Saturday and the two freshmen finished the season with a huge collection of double-doubles and, in Drynan’s case, a handful of triple-doubles as well.

All told, the two Cyclones combined for 45 games where they had at least a double-double showing. That included six games in which Drynan had six triple-doubles.

They were the double-double dynamic duo of Moraine Valley.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn, a longtime basketball coach in the area, was puzzled when watching the two work during a late regular season game.

“I can’t believe these two aren’t playing Division I basketball somewhere,” he said. “They are so strong inside and can run the floor. I’ve seen a lot of players at this school and these are two real good ones.’’

Both said that they received little notice from colleges coming out of high school.

“In high school, I was more of a quiet player,” Drynan said. “We relied on a lot of outside shooting and not as much inside play for offense. But coming here, I had to be more aggressive and help lead the team.

“It’s definitely a turnaround for me and people were surprised to see me doing this.’’

Drynan averaged 17 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots per game. She was ranked No. 1 in the nation in NJCAA Division II play with 191 blocks and No. 2 in rebounds with 404.

Borgen was also taken aback by her numbers as she averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per contest. She was seventh in the nation with 610 points and 12th with 333 rebounds. She was also No. 1 in the nation with 199 free throws.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this type of season,” Borgen said. “This is a much higher level than high school. But playing with Erin and having us do so well was the most fun I’ve ever had playing. We didn’t win a lot in high school and this was great.’’

So far, bigger schools are not knocking on either star’s doors yet.

“We’re returning a lot of freshmen and I think we can really go far next year,” Borgen said. “I would rather play with a team that should have success rather than risk going somewhere else and losing.’’

Drynan has a method to her successful blocking.

“You have to stay on your feet and it helps that I have long arms,” Drynan said.

Speaking of long arms, she comes from a basketball family with some pretty long arms. Her twin brothers , juniors Patrick and Mike, play for Evergreen Park and were listed at 6-10 and 6-8 respectively at the beginning of the season.

“They are almost 7-feet tall,” she said. “I was always taller than them until they got into high school. I used to beat them all the time. Now, I usually always lose against them because they just dunk on me.’’

Their father, Tom, played at Brother Rice and was a walk-on at the University of Illinois in the Lou Henson era.

“Basketball was passed down to my brothers and me,” Erin said.

And she didn’t try to swat it away.

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles.