Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Last weekend's MLS action offered little comfort for local fans who were either worried about the Union's ability to make positive headway or angry at the team's decision to trade Danny Califf. The U struggled through a first half they were lucky to have played against a mediocre Dallas side that was missing a handful of regulars, though the Union's somewhat more cohesive second half effort and salvage of a point was a hell of a lot better than an outright loss. 
Immediately after that game concluded, Califf's debut with Chivas USA began and was televised nationally. Califf, who'd previously been deemed too injured to play for the Union and even publicly debated the fact amidst tensions with Peter Nowak, was instrumental in Chivas' first win over the LA Galaxy since 2007. The former Union captain was named Man of the Match in the 1-0 victory. While I couldn't have been happier to see Califf succeed, the night begged to be labeled "bittersweet." 
It's in the past now, and the Union face Toronto FC (0-9-0) at 4:30 [TCN] on the banks of Lake Ontario. Will they take three points from possibly the worst team in North America, who also happen to be the Canadian champions? 
The Union could use a decisive victory, even against a team that so far can't beat anyone. But from the depths of Toronto, your eye doesn't have to travel too far up the table to find Philadelphia, who are in second place with only 8 points (2-6-2) of their own. So let's not chalk this up as anything just yet… Toronto fans are probably saying there's no better opportunity for their side to earn their first points of the season.  
Last Week RewinderMy worries heading into the Dallas match and the start of the post-Califf era were somewhat widespread, but for the purposes of the on-field product, I hoped they wouldn't miss his height on the backline. Before 8 minutes were off the clock, they were beaten on a corner, with 6'1 striker Blas Perez heading home a volley in the box. While Califf's presence didn't stop those same things from happening while he was with the Union, Keon Daniel was clearly overmatched and miscast in trying to slow Perez on a few set pieces in this one. 
The Union lacked any consistent or threatening form in the first half, which isn't a surprise given a few key absences. Chase Harrison filled in admirably for the concussed Zac MacMath, taking a sound physical beating but withstanding the barrage after Perez's early goal. Newcomer Michael Lahoud was mixed into the starting XI, as Peter Nowak likes to get the new blood flowing as soon as its the kit. Not sure I agree with the logic, particularly in a match that already had a few key players out for the Union. The second half featured more control by the Union though, who equalized and narrowly missed on some solid opportunities that would have put them ahead. 
The latter 45 minutes were an overall good sign heading tonight's Must Win Or It Will Be Completely Embarrassing tilt with Toronto. 
Kings of the North(?)TFC will also be looking to build on success from their last time out. Although they have lost all of their MLS matches this season, they did beat Vancouver, 1-0, on Wednesday in CONCACAF play to take the Canadian Championship. Again, they may not be the pushover you might expect from a team looking to avoid a tenth straight loss to start the season. 
Toronto's offense has scored only seven goals through nine matches, and the team has conceded 21. Their offense is underachieving so far, which is to say, they're not quite as bad as their results have been. Kevin Kinkead points out that designated player Danny Koevermans has missed time due to a groin injury, while fellow DP Ryan Johnson has missed all but one of his 28 shots. 
KK has more on Toronto's offensive and defensive sets here. 
The last time the Union were in Toronto, they put together their most explosive effort in the young franchise's history, winning 6-2. However, with all the turnover since that time, it's a stretch to apply anything from that match to this one. Remember these guys? That was a year and 2 days ago. The various factors affecting both sides in the current season to date the only things worth looking to for an idea of how this matchup will work out. 
Re-UnionPeter Nowak hopes to have MacMath back in goal today afters sitting out last match with concussion symptoms. Harrison is not available, which is no surprise given how often the physical match against Dallas involved decleating contact with the Union backup. [UPDATE: @thegoalkeeper says MacMath is out again, so Chris Konopka is the man for the Union...]
Gabriel Gomez scored the Union's lone goal last weekend, but a late, hard, arial leg-whipping from Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman on the play cost Gomez the rest of the match with a quad injury:
No word as of this posting as to whether Gomez will play tonight, but after the game, he will leave the Union, answering a call-up from his Panama national team for World Cup qualifying. [UPDATE: He's out.]
Getting Freddy Adu back should significantly help the Union's chances of getting a result. He was playing his best match with the Union against NY Red Bulls two weekends ago when he was issued his second yellow card, a BS diving call that also forced his absence in Dallas. With Adu back, Nowak will likely look to attack with two strikers (presumably Danny Mwanga and Lio Pajoy), with Adu pulling the strings against a shoddy defense that should find itself overmatched by a Union attack that has shown signs of life in this formation. He also resumes the majority of the free kicks and corners, another area Keon struggled to fill in last week. Nothing against Keon, one of our favorite players here at the Level, but hopefully the returning players allow his game to focus on its strengths. 
Carlos Valdes was bloodied in Dallas, but Nowak has said he's fine to play today. With his former centerback partner gone, Valdes gets the captain's armband and control of the backline. They're in good hands with #5. Sheanon Williams will presumably lineup inside with him again, a miscasting of his size and speed, but the team is limited in its CB options. The expensively disappointing Porfirio Lopez could see his season salvaged as an interior defender, but for now, he's still a reserve. 
In this particular matchup, the team's desire to play its defenders high should provide the desired benefit of sustained attacks against a weak defensive opponent, without quite as much potential for counterattack as most other MLS sides. We hope, anyway. 
The Union could really use a full-game effort, rather than the good-half/bad-half efforts we've seen recently. We'll try to update with Nowak's chosen lineup if we're still in front of computers when i
t's released. Planning on watching this one through the smoke of a barbecue... 
(Photos by John E. Sokolowski and Jerome Miron, US Presswire)

NBA Notes: Magic Johnson takes over Lakers, trades Lou Williams

NBA Notes: Magic Johnson takes over Lakers, trades Lou Williams

With the Los Angeles Lakers mired in the worst years in franchise history, owner Jeanie Buss has turned to Magic Johnson to lead them back to championship contention.

And she removed her own brother from his job to do it.

Jeanie Buss fired general manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday and put Johnson in charge of basketball operations. Jim Buss also was dismissed as the Lakers' executive vice president of basketball operations in a major shake-up of the struggling team's front office.

Jim Buss retains his ownership stake in the team, but Jeanie Buss has final say under the structure set up by their late father, Jerry Buss. She used it to chart a new course for the 16-time NBA champion franchise, which has the NBA's third-worst record at 19-39.

The Lakers are almost certain to miss the playoffs for a team-record fourth straight season, and they posted the worst record in team history during each of the previous three years.

"It was such a hard to decision to make, that I probably waited too long," Jeanie Buss said in an interview on Spectrum SportsNet, the Lakers' television network. "For that, I apologize to Laker fans. Now, with clarity and direction, and after talking with Earvin, a change was needed" (see full story).

Lakers: Deal reached to trade Williams to Rockets
The Los Angeles Lakers have swung their first deal of the Magic Johnson Era, agreeing to send Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and a future draft pick.

Brewer's agent Wallace Prather confirmed the terms of the trade, which were first reported Tuesday by Yahoo Sports. Neither team immediately revealed the trade publicly.

"Thanx for the love L.A., I've enjoyed my stay," Williams wrote on Twitter.

Williams led the Lakers in scoring at 18.6 points per game, playing off the bench. Brewer was averaging 4.2 points for Houston.

The trade came hours after the Lakers announced the firing of general manager Mitch Kupchak and put Johnson in charge of basketball operations -- part of a massive front office shake-up.

And while the draft pick will help the Lakers' future, the Rockets just got deeper (see full story).

Grizzlies: Healthy roster for stretch run
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Memphis Grizzlies' latest injury reports need a second glance, they appear a bit suspect.

Nobody is listed as hurt or nursing an injury. If someone is out, it's simply for rest.

No knee problems requiring forward Chandler Parsons to sit. No ankle issues for reserve forward Brandan Wright. No lingering problems from point guard Mike Conley's broken back earlier this season, and no more groin issues for defensive stalwart Tony Allen.

There's not even foot problems for All-Star center Marc Gasol.

Having no injuries to report is a relief for a team that has been hit hard the last two years. The Grizzlies are 34-24 and sixth in the Western Conference heading down the stretch.

"I think our chemistry is starting to come," forward Zach Randolph said. "Guys are starting to fill into their roles and starting to play a lot better, especially on the defensive end."

It was just a year ago on Feb. 20, 2016, that Gasol had season-ending surgery to repair his broken right foot, sending the Grizzlies spiraling into a historical season for injuries that finished with Memphis using an NBA-record 28 players . Memphis limped into its sixth consecutive playoff appearance and was mercifully swept out of the first round by the San Antonio Spurs (see full story).

Report: Jahlil Okafor 'will get moved by Thursday'

Report: Jahlil Okafor 'will get moved by Thursday'

Will Jahlil Okafor be traded?

That is the big question surrounding the Sixers as Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline inches closer.

According to one report, there’s already an answer.

Appearing on NBA TV Tuesday night, NBA.com’s David Aldridge said Okafor “will get moved by Thursday.”

Aldridge, who said the Sixers have “a lot of offers to sift through,” mentioned the Pacers and Kings as potential landing spots. Following the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Sacramento is left with Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein, who aren't offensive bigs. Koufos is averaging 6.1 points in 57 games this season, while Cauley-Stein is scoring 5.8 per game in his second NBA season.

“[The Kings] can offer more minutes and more opportunities for [Okafor] now,” Aldridge said.

According to multiple reports earlier on Tuesday, the Pacers have emerged as a suitor in the Okafor trade talks. Indiana is 29-28 and in sixth place of the Eastern Conference, but only a game ahead of Chicago — also a reported Okafor suitor — and two in front of Detroit.

Through a trying season, the Sixers’ second-year big man is averaging 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. He’s played in 38 contests, 22 of which he has started after playing 53 games (48 starts) as a rookie and averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds.