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Fire GM says past suspension of new player was an "unfortunate decision''

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 2 Rodriguez

 

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez vouched for the character of recently signed Joao Meira, who served an eight-month suspension for failing a drug test in Portugal.

One of the first fires the Chicago Fire’s new general manager, Nelson Rodriguez, had to put out on the first day of practice involved one of his newest acquisitions, Joao Meira.

Meira, a top player in Portugal, btings some baggage with him in the form of an eight-month suspension in 2012 for failing a drug test in 2011. The Fire signed the defender/midfielder on Saturday and on Monday Rodriguez vouched for his new player.

“We spoke with the player about it at length,” Rodriguez said. “We spoke to the Portuguese [Football Federation’s] disciplinary committee who rendered the decision. We shared all the information with the league office prior to signing the player to make sure there was an extreme comfort level.

“We believe that the player made an unfortunate decision. It was not a recreational drug and it was not a performance-enhancing drug. He took an over-the-counter supplement that had an ingredient that was on the banned list. It came from the U.S. and on the translation to Portuguese, it was not translated correctly. He even asked his team doctor if he could take that medicine and he was given the OK.’’

The team opened practice Monday at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch in Chicago but Meira is not yet with the team.

“It’s an unfortunate mistake and one that he is repentant about,” Rodriguez said. “But this is something we fully investigated. We’re very comfortable with Joao’s character. He understands the drug testing process of Major League Soccer.’’

On the same day of the Meira signing, the team also re-signed midfielder Razvan Cocis. Both players inked one-year deals with club options for 2017.

 Ch-ch-ch-changes

With a new general manager, head coach and assistant coaches in place and several new players on the roster, there is a whole new feeling in camp.

Midfielder Harry Shipp is the player on the roster with the second-longest tenure of two years behind goalie Sean Johnson (six years).

“It’s going to be my third year but I feel like I am starting over as a rookie,” Shipp said. “We’re starting from scratch with a new coaching staff and everything is pretty new. It’s a fresh start that I needed, personally and everyone who is sticking around needed.’’

The past two seasons, the Fire went 6-10-18 and 8-20-6, costing coach Frank Yallop his job. Enter new coach Veljko Paunovic, a 38-year-old Serbian player who spent a good chunk of his career in Spain.

Shipp noticed right away the new coach is detail oriented.

“Every minute of our first session was planned out,’’ Shipp said. “That’s something that is a change from last year. As players, it helps get your mind set on what you are going to be doing. He is youthful but in a smart way. It’s not just crazy energy running around. It’s applying a focus toward a few key points every day.

“We have our six weeks mapped out on what we want to accomplish and we know what the end goal is six weeks from now.’’

The new coach said players appreciate the detailed approach.

“They are very receptive and they want to learn,’’ he said. “I’m very grateful for that. We are teaching a style of play from the global perspective. They have to be very focused and willing to learn.’’

Fire fan now on team

Cary native Drew Connor is with the team and he has been a fan from way back.

“I was going to games when the Fire played in Soldier Field,” he said. “My family took me when I was real little. I grew up a Fire fan. I even went to a few games when they played a year at North Central College.’’

He said he played scrimmages at Toyota Park a handful of times.

Red Stars make trade

The Chicago Red Stars acquired midfielder Amanda Da Costa and a natural fourth-round pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft from the Washington Spirit on Monday. In exchange for Da Costa and the draft pick, the Spirit will receive a player to be named later from the Red Stars.

Da Costa, 26, spent one season with Washington where she appeared in 17 games, tallying three goals. Before her time in the NWSL, Da Costa spent two years playing overseas with Liverpool Ladies in the FA Women’s Super League, where she helped lead the team to back-to-back championships and claim its first appearance in the UEFA Champions League.

“I am very excited to add Amanda to our group,” said coach Rory Dames. “Besides being a terrific person, Amanda possesses the qualities we were looking for to fill our attacking midfielder role. We are excited to see what she is capable for once she has some time to work with our front line. She also knows what it takes to win a league championship as she showed in England. She is the perfect fit for what we need in this season.”

The Florida State University All-American will join forces with former college teammate Casey Short for the 2016 season.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Hey mom and pop, learn the concept of commitment

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

Columnsig924

Boys and girls and (especially) moms and dads, let’s talk about the c-word.

No, not cancer or one of the worst expletives out there, I am talking about the word “commitment.’’

If you drive east on 111th, the street will turn into West Monterey and you will pass this big school with a tiny gym – Morgan Park.

For years, the Morgan Park/Simeon basketball game that was supposed to be at MP was moved elsewhere so that more people could watch it. The Mustangs’ gym supposedly holds just 250, but it is like the United Center compared to the even smaller gym they had my daughter’s freshman basketball team play in a few years ago.

But, I digress.

Well this year, the MP parents decided this wasn’t a good arrangement and decided to have their kids boycott the game because it wasn’t held in their bandbox. They held protests and made a big stink about it last week even though this game was scheduled months ahead of time. That’s when they should have been protesting.

So Morgan Park was nearly given a forfeit but the game is on ice and it’s unclear when – or if – it will take place.

Look, I have no problem with the parents protesting the want of a new gym, even though dollars to help the woeful public school education system in the city would be better use of the money.

I have no problem that they are mad at the world because they don’t get to host Simeon at home.

But play the damn game.

Their kids and their coaches made the commitment to the season. This wasn’t some surprise that just popped up. Fans and scouts planned on going to this game. Workers and security people had to be assigned to the event.

And these parents decided to just let the kids boycott because they can’t get their way.

This is the second time this season that interfering parents were sticking their noses in where it didn’t belong.

In the fall, Andrew’s volleyball team was involved in a tournament and the T-Bolts were in a consolation match on Saturday afternoon. It was getting late and it there was a big dance that night and these bonehead parents gathered up their daughters and left, leaving the other team and tournament organizers ticked off.

You get in sports and you make sacrifices.

It’s called commitment.

My kids have had games cancelled because the other team forfeited and it’s frustrating. The kids are ready for a game. They are warming up, ready to play and the other team just leaves the tournament for no good reason other than they are mad they can’t win the championship so they are going home.

On the other hand, my son was playing for a team that was playing in a tournament in Mundelein, which is not close. The team got into a consolation situation where it would play just one game on Sunday.

The coach, who I respect, thought it was a stupid idea to go all the way to Mundelein just to play in one game after the long Saturday we all just had, so he told the tournament organizers well in advance the team wasn’t showing up so the other team wouldn’t be standing around waiting for a game that was never going to happen.

Was it a good idea? Well, we thought so at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Was it the right thing to do?

Not at all. We were guilty of not honoring our commitment.

So, parents, I want you all to do one simple thing. Look at your son or daughter’s schedule before the season starts. If there is a problem, bring it to the coach’s attention then.

Then keep quiet.

Ultimate Spartan

This has been going on for three years, but since I am the rookie at this sports editing game, this is the first I’ve heard of it.

The Oak Lawn softball team is hosting the fourth Ultimate Spartan competition.

A group of senior male athletes will vie for the honor as they will compete in formal wear, beach wear, talent, interviews and audience appreciation. And when it’s over, Steve Harvey will present the wrong guy a trophy.

OK, I made that last part up. It was a cheap joke but in these economic times, that’s all I can afford.

Anyway, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Liam Blake, Vinnie Caprio, Alexander Kenny, Miles O’Brien, Lucas Palacios, Jorge Ramirez, and David Ward will battle it out for the title in the Oak Lawn gym. Tickets are available at the school for $5 in advance and $7 at the door.

Judges will be teachers Lauren Klenn and Kate Mellone plus secretary Jill Malkowski.

For those scoring at home, past winners were Bobby Kametas, Kyle Kuzur, and Peter Ruane.

 

For SXU nothing was jolly in Joliet

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 SXU HALLBERG crop tight

Photo by Jeff Vorva

SXU coach Bob Hallberg has a hard time watching as his women's team scored seven points against USF in the fourth quarter on Saturday night.

 

Just about everyone in the crowd of 550 at the Pat Sullivan center, including the guy the building was named for, was thinking that shot was going in.

St. Xavier’s Kyle Huppe pulled down an offensive rebound in the closing seconds of it matchup with the NAIA’s Division II second-ranked team in the nation, the University of St. Francis. He put up a shot that, if it went in, would have given the unranked Cougars a one-point victory over the Saints.

But the way things were going for SXU in Joliet on Saturday night, it was not meant to be.

Roughly two hours after the Cougars’ No. 1-ranked women’s team dropped a 73-61 decision to the Saints to have their 18-game winning streak snapped, Huppe put up a shot that looked like a game-winner, only to have the ball roll around a couple of times and fall out.

Huppe hit the ground in agony over the missed shot while St. Francis players celebrated its 82-81 victory. And in the stands, longtime former USF coach Sullivan smiled and cheered.

But for St. Xavier, it was not a jolly night in Joliet.

The lousy night, however, isn’t going to derail the Cougars’ attempts at trying to win Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference titles or deep runs in the postseason.

“How rare is it to see a team go undefeated?” asked sophomore guard Kara Krolicki, who had 13 points in the women’s game. “It’s a goal and we all want that and it would be great. But in reality, they came out and played better than us and they deserved this win. We have to realize that things happen and that doesn’t make us a worse team.

“We still have the potential to make a mark this season. It’s not like one game is going to define us.”

The Cougars (18-1 overall and 8-1 in the conference) got out to a 25-14 lead after the first quarter but the Saints chipped away at the lead. SXU had a 54-50 lead heading into the fourth quarter but the Saints outscored the Cougars 23-7 in the final 10 minutes.

“Seven points in the fourth quarter – that’s not us,” Korlicki said. “And it wasn’t just the offense. We weren’t playing the defense we usually play. We made it too easy for them.’’

A couple of former SouthWest Suburban Blue Conference members did the most damage.

Former Homewood-Flossmoor star Charnelle Reed led the Saints with 26 points and added 10 rebounds while former Bolingbrook standout Kamari Jordan had 16 points for the Saints (16-1, 8-0).

Mikayla Leyden led SXU with 19 points.

Hours before the No. 1 NAIA women’s team was knocked off, the No. 1 team in the NAIA men’s division, Indiana Wesleyan, was stunned by Grace College.

St. Francis’s chances of moving into that No. 1 slot, however, were damaged when the Saints dropped a 63-57 decision at Calumet St. Joseph. The Saints (15-2, 7-2) were using this as a game to get back on the right track but trailed most of the game.

“One of the things that was good was that we played well against a very good team,” SXU men’s coach Tom O’Malley said. “I think we had a lead in the game for about 35 minutes. There is such a thing as a loss being a confidence builder. We could say ‘we lost, but we didn’t get beat.’ ’’

Larry Motuzis led the Cougars (10-7, 7-2) with 32 points while Stanley Moore had 13, Tony Core 11 and Quinn Niego 10.

Edvinas Presniakovas led the Saints with 26 points.

Saints coach Ryan Marks, who three years ago was coaching at the Division I level at the University of Texas-Pan American and recruited former Marist star L.J. McIntosh, said he is not worried about missing the No. 1 ranking because of Thursday’s loss.

“There is so much parity at this level,” Marks said. “The national polls are great for the institution and for fans, but it really doesn’t affect us at all. We just want to be up there at the end of the year.’’

Earlier in the week, the Cougars’ women set a school record for best start at 18-0 with an 88-64 road win over Judson on Jan. 5. It also tied the 16-year program’s longest winning streak.

 Junior forward Sarah Vozel finished with a season-high 25 points as well as six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Krolicki had 23 points, three rebounds and two assists.  Sophomore center Brittany Collins posted 10 points to go along with her team-leading seven rebounds.  Senior center Caitlin McMahon and junior guards Sidney Prasse and Leyden each chipped in seven points towards the victory.  Defense was also an instrumental component to the victory with Saint Xavier scoring 35 of its 88 points off 27 Judson turnovers.

Last Thursday, the men beat Roosevelt University, 70-64.

Huppe came off the bench to hit four three-pointers en route to a team-leading 16 points.

Sophomore forward Motuzis posted a double-double of 12 points, a game-high 11 rebounds and a career-high four blocks for the Cougars.  Senior forward Mitch Uratchko added 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting.

Motuzis also scored 31 points, including a pair of late free throws, in a 75-71 victory over Judson in Elgin on Jan. 5.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Puny early numbers don't scare half marathon bosses

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

 

I am calling this the race to the race.

Organizers of the ninth Southwest Half Marathon and 10K event announced Friday that because of a late switch in sponsorship from First Midwest Bank to CNB Bank and Palos Community Hospital and some software/website changes and issues, only 375 people have registered for the event.

That sounds like a pretty puny number to me.

Last year at this time, race committee members were smiling and all but turning cartwheels on their tables when they announced that 922 athletes signed up.

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer in all of this but it sounds like this year’s event could struggle to hit four figures. Co-race director Jeff Prestinario said it has drawn as low as 900 to as high as 2,100 over the years. Last year, more than 1,700 athletes participated.

I am thinking that people who register early are those who plan their running seasons well in advance and the Palos event may have lost out on the 500 or so who may have made alternate plans for the May 1 running of the two races.

Prestinario, however, is not worried. He said he did his worrying a few months ago when it appeared there would be no sponsor.

“But somehow, someway, we are doing it again,” he announced at Friday’s first committee meeting for the races at the Palos Heights Rec Center.

After the meeting, he said he understood why the numbers were down and expected them to rise.

“It’s still early,” he said. “It still January. We had a delay in getting the information out. I’m not really worried. We’re somewhat behind but we think we will do better moving forward.’’

Jennifer Taylor of the Chicago Special Events Management team, which runs huge races all across the country, said that these low figures were still higher than those in January, 2014. By February, the registration figures swelled to more than 700.

“I don’t think we have anything to worry about,’’ Taylor said.

Here is hoping they are right.

To me, it looks there will be a hard race ahead just to hit four figures.

To register, the new website is southwesthalfmarathon.com.

 Staying busy in retirement

Former St. Laurence football and baseball coach and Stagg athletic director Bob Fabrizio is now on the half marathon committee.

He retired from Stagg after the 2013-14 season -- if you could call it retirement.

“I have some volunteer things that I do that I find very, very rewarding,” he said. “I play golf on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Jeff (Prestinario) and he asked me to join this committee and help out with the volunteers.

“I taught a class at Trinity Christian College last spring. I worked at Shepard High School for the first six weeks as an athletic director when their athletic director (Curry Gallagher) had a medical problem. There is no shortage of things to do, believe me.’’

The Orland Park resident said he had never been to the half marathon before.

“I’m a rookie,” he said. “I heard it’s a lot of work but I have time and I have energy and that’s what it’s all about. It’s nice to see people from the community come together and it’s a great thing for the city and south suburbs.’’

 Learned something new

I’ve covered this bad boy three times and never knew that the turnaround point of the half marathon was actually located in Lemont.

Insert your own Palos Park joke, here.

Holiday highlights -- Brother Rice closes 2015 with Luther North title

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Anthony Nasella

PAGE 1 BROTHER RICE SHEPSKI

File photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice's Mike Shepski was the MVP at the Luther North Tournament.

The 2015 portion of the 2015-16 boys basketball season ended in odd fashion for many teams in the state.

Weather-related issues, power outages and some close games in holiday tournaments made the final week of 2015 exciting and area teams were a part of the fun. What will 2016 bring? If the end of 2015 is any indication, it won’t be boring. Here are highlights from the area – and around the state – from holiday tournaments:

We are the champions: Brother Rice won the 16-team Luther North Tournament with a 49-37 victory over Maine East on Dec. 30.

Mike Shepski was the tournament MVP but John Ryan and Josh Niego did the heavy lifting in the title game as both had 14 points. The Crusaders also beat Steinmetz, Robeson and Jones en route to the title game.

Marist won its own tournament Dec. 23 but went 1-2 in the 16-team Centralia Tournament. Oddly, the tournament did not host a seventh-place game so Marist and Alton finished in the seventh-eighth slots. None of the RedHawks made the All-Tournament team but Chamar Hawkins led the tournament in 3-point shooting with 60 percent.

It’s Déjà vu all over again: When Chicago Christian dropped its first game of the Romeoville Holiday Tournament to Lemont on Dec. 26, the Knights were able to rebound in its final three games – defeating Lincoln-Way East, Oak Forest and the Argo to capture the consolation championship.

Ironically, Chicago Christian (12-2) followed the same pattern at the Richards Thanksgiving tournament after dropping its opening game against Marist and then winning the next three in the consolation bracket.

Head coach Kevin Pittman is remaining hopeful that his Knights will be able to break that cycle in the critical win-or-go-home IHSA postseason in a few months.

 “We just don’t seem to fare well in that first game,” Pittman said. “We didn’t have our usual routine before the Lemont game and were pretty lifeless on both sides of the ball – so I’m looking forward to getting the kids back into a normal routine.”

Glass half full: Despite Richards going 1-3 at the Hinsdale Central Holiday Tournament, coach Jevon Mamon is optimistic that the quality of teams that his Bulldogs competed against will work in their favor in the state tournament.

Richards opened the tournament with a win over Hope Academy but dropped a 31-point loss to Stevenson and a 29-point setback against Rockford Auburn before finishing the tournament with a 16-point defeat to DePaul College Prep.

A bright spot for the Bulldogs (7-7) was the play of Jaylan Catledge, who named to the all-tournament team after averaging 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in the four game and registering three consecutive double-double performances. He poured in game-high 29 points against Stevenson.

“The quality of competition we played against is going to help us in conference and in the state tournament down the road, without question,” Mamon said. “We would have liked to have had more success, but those games definitely opened our eyes to what we need to work on and become better.”

We forgot our uniforms: Memphis’s Raleigh-Egypt competed in the Centralia Tournament but the players left their uniforms at home. They had to play in Centralia JV uniforms.

Close shaves: St. Laurence’s trip to the York Tournament featured four nailbiters but only one victory.

The Vikings dropped the opener, 53-52 to Downers Grove South, nipped Elk Grove 55-54, lost to Sandburg 54-51 and finished with a 58-54 loss to St. Ignatius.

Burn the film: Neither coach is probably going to want to watch the video from the first half of the Sandburg-St. Patrick game in the consolation semifinals of the York Tournament on Dec. 30.

Sandburg led 11-4 at halftime after shooting 4 for 17 from the floor while the Shamrocks shot 1 for 21. St. Pat recovered in the second half and pulled off the 34-31 win.

Stagg-ered: Stagg went into the York Tournament with plenty of steam after beating Joliet West and Joliet Central. The Chargers opened the York tourney with a win over Waubonsie but then had their seven-game win streak snapped when they dropped games to Naperville North and Lake Forest before recovering for a 59-47 win over Providence.

Meanwhile in Pontiac, where the tournament was delayed a couple of times because of power outages, one of the teams Stagg beat, Joliet West, made it to the final four after stunning Benet, 59-53, on Dec. 30.