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Saturday, December 7

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Bears in Five

Time to Silence the '72 Dolphins
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and Friends

One: Much More Sexy, Far Less Gross, Man
Rex Grossman showed no lingering effects of his horrid appearance on Monday Night Football two weeks ago. Sure, one can argue that his impressive performance on Sunday came against one of the worst teams in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers. But that isn't the point. He bounced back from arguably one of the worst performances in his life and made it look easy. He threw the ball with more confidence than he has shown in weeks and seemed to be making more accurate throws as a result. Do you think maybe it's because of the commercials that the NFL and Sprint have been running during games? The ones that remind fans to vote for the Pro Bowl? The answer is more than likely yes.

Two: Who's Overrated?
As you may have heard, Brian Urlacher was named as the second most overrated player in football in a poll conducted amongst current players. You could have fooled us. For the second game in a row Urlacher was everywhere on the field. If he didn't start the play on defense, he finished it. If he didn't finish it... you get the idea. He isn't the reigning Defensive Player of the Year for no good reason. Actually it is for a good reason, he's an amazing athlete and football player. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera put it best last week when addressing the topic of players believing that Brian is overrated. "Bunch of haters." Nicely put, Ron. We couldn't agree more.

Three: 1 Carry, 10 Yards
Adrian Peterson touched the football while the Bears offense was on the field this week. Just thought you might like to know.

Four: We're Undefeated and We're Playing Miami
The 7-0 Bears will be facing the Miami Dolphins next week. And there is nothing more that the members of the 1972 Dolphins would like more than a Miami victory. They did it in 1985. Then they can go on sounding like a broken record about how they are the greatest team ever assembled in the history of professional sports. But that won't happen. The Bears are going to win. And continue to win. And win the Super Bowl. And finally, the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins will shut up. Because they won't be the only undefeated franchise anymore. It's a bold statement. Hopefully we don't have to eat it.

Enough Already.
The 2006 Chicago Bears are not the 1985 Chicago Bears. It isn't fair to compare the two. But we just can't help it. And neither can every other Chicago media outlet. It's just so darn fun. And a whole lot of wishful thinking. We do really need to take it easy. Look, we all know the truth that the 1985 Chicago Bears are the single greatest single-season team ever — that's as true as algebra, ya'heard? Complete dominance unseen before or since. This year's Bears team can never be that team simply because they were the first, and we're later. So cut this team some slack, and easy with the comparisons.

Fire in Five

Aaaargh! Penalties
by Steve Gillies

Well, the season ended in heart-breaking fashion with the Fire blowing a two-goal lead and losing in a penalty shootout to the New England Revolution. Sure, you could complain about penalty shootouts or say that if we were going by the standard European system of away goals as the tie-breaker we would have pulled through. But everyone knows the rules going into it and they're the same for every team, so you just have to accept that and move on. Which in my case means spending the winter watching games in the English Premiere League and European Champions League featuring fantastic teams which I have no emotional connection to. Here's the last Fire in Five for the season.

One: Can We Stop Playing the Revolution in the Playoffs?
It's kind of getting ridiculous. New England has ended our season three years in a row. This one definitely hurt the most. Penalties are always the worst way to lose a game. Add to that the two goal lead and the fact that the Revolution had to play with star midfielder Clint Dempsey out injured and the backbone of the midfield, Shalrie Joseph, suspended. You have to give a lot of credit to the Revolution for coming back with some pretty fierce odds stacked against them (and I hope to see them go on to finally win their first MLS Cup), but I'm also wondering if they put some kind of crazy voodoo curse on us back in 2003.

Two: So Are We Back on the Fire Dave Bandwagon?
When something like this happens, fans' natural reaction is to look for someone to blame and the coach is always the easiest target. Dave Sarachan's a particularly easy target after the very mediocre performance early in the season and the fact that he doesn't seem to have the most fiery personality out there. It's also possible that people don't take him seriously because he's a very short man.

Still, I don't think Sarachan gets the credit he deserves as a coach. He's shown an extremely good eye for young talent, possibly the best in the league. He rescued a young Justin Mapp who was languishing on the bench at DC. He's drafted complete unknowns like Gonzalo Segares, Dasan Robinson, Chris Rolfe and Damani Ralph who all turned out to be very good MLS players. He also put together a very organized, tactically sound team. The man knows his soccer. My gut feeling is that he's done enough to warrant another season in charge. He won the US Open Cup, and with the late season run it looks as though he's got the team going in the right direction. And most importantly, there aren't any candidates out there that you could say would definitely do a better job.

The usual complaint I had this year — that the team played over-cautiously when protecting a lead — didn't really apply to Saturday's game. They came out, took control of the game and scored an early goal. Even after that, they didn't really sit back and let the Revolution come at them. They just lost concentration on a couple of plays (and to be honest, more than just on the goals). It's that lapse in concentration, though, that points out what I think is the real question mark over Sarachan as a coach. Does he bring that intangible mentality to the team for the games that really matter? Is he a winner?

Three: Who's Going to Be Back Next Year, Who's Not
Every supporter's favorite off-season pastime is speculating about changes. With the MLS salary cap, US clubs tend to change with a lot more frequency than in the rest of the world. So chances are the Fire will have to cut loose some very solid veterans to keep the core of young players they've developed. Tony Sanneh brought a ton of composure and experience to the team once he finally got healthy. But I believe his contract is up, and with his age and injury problems you have to wonder if he's going to be able to get the kind of money from the league a player of his stature deserves and if he'll stick around for less. Zach Thornton probably won't be in Chicago next season, with the emergence of Pickens making it pretty difficult to justify a six-figure salary for someone who may be on the bench. With Brian McBride rumored to be on his way back to Chicago, you have to wonder what that means for Andy Herron's future. There's also a question how much longer the aging tandem of Diego Gutierrez and Chris Armas can hold down the center of the midfield. And there's the matter of finding a real right-sided midfielder and who we might have to trade to get one. So chances are it could be a very different team next year and there's plenty of time to speculate about it.

Four: It Could be a Very Different League Next Year
League officials will be meeting at the MLS Cup Final and there are a lot of things on the table that could greatly impact the future of MLS. One is the long-rumored "Beckham exemption," which would allow teams to bring in one high-priced superstar (like the overrated player the rule is named after) without it counting on the salary cap. I'd personally rather see the money spent on raising the salary cap, and the overall quality of the players with it, but I'm not going to get too upset about bringing in some players that will get the league a little bit of attention, provided there are steps taken to improve the overall quality of play. One of those steps under discussion is the development of a youth academy system, where clubs can develop youth players and not lose the rights to them in the draft. Hopefully this will lead to more young talent getting involved in a professional system early, rather than wasting crucial time in a college system that just doesn't work for soccer.

There could also be changes to the league structure that could make regular season games more competitive. With the addition of a Toronto team, chances are very high that they'll do away with "conferences" and have all the teams play in a single table (which might lessen the chance that we'll have to play New England in the playoffs). There might be a split-season with two different championships up for grabs, or at least very long summer break, so games won't be played in 100 degree weather while major international tournaments like the Copa America (which the US will be going to next summer in Venezuela) or the World Cup are going on. Oh, and there's also a tournament in the works pitting the top MLS teams against the top Mexican teams (which will force us to improve the quality of teams in the league just to compete). So yeah, there are a lot of changes possibly in the works, hopefully for the better.

Five: Here's a Positive Note to Go Out On
Chris Rolfe. Chad Barrett. Justin Mapp. Dasan Robinson. Gonzalo Segares. Calen Carr. Thiago. Brian Plotkin. Matt Pickens. What do all these names have in common? They're all 25 or under and have their best years ahead of them.

Pucks in Five

...is sidelined this week.
by Jeremy Piniak

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About the Author(s)

Steve Gillies watches too much soccer to be completely healthy. He's been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

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