PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

A perfect storm of soccer story lines will converge at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey tonight as the Union face the New York Red Bulls (8PM/ESPN2).

Playoff spots, playoff positioning, a suspended superstar, a heated regional rivalry, and ESPN's cameras combine to make this must watch TV.

Oh, and the plot is thickened considerably thanks to the potential 1,000 Union fans who are making the trip up I-95. No, that’s not a typo. Early indications are that between 750-1,000 Union supporters will be there tonight.

Quick tangent - it's phenomenal for the league that so many Union fans are traveling to the game. I want to say it was Sir Alex Ferguson who pointed out during one of Manchester United's trips to the U.S. that one of the challenges MLS faces is the sheer size of the United States.

What did he mean by that? If you're a Tottenham fan living in London, you can hop on a train to Manchester to see Spurs play Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in about two hours. That's the case pretty much across the board in the Premier League. It's easy to travel to away games.

Here? Not so much. I don’t know too many fans who are willing or able to travel from Philly to Portland to see the Union play the Timbers. A regional rivalry is one of the great things about sports. The league and the game need these sort of rivalries to thrive, which makes the fact that an estimated 1,000 Union fans are going to wreak havoc tonight all the more fantastic.

Ok, tangent over.

So, what's on the line tonight? Win, and the Red Bulls are in. Lose, and New York will need some help. You know there's nothing Union fans would like more than to deliver a near-fatal blow to New York's playoff chances.

The Union clinched a playoff spot by virtue of their tie with Toronto on Saturday. They can take a step towards clinching first place in the East with a win.

The second step towards clinching the East is contingent upon what happens with Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. If the Union win tonight, and SKC ties or loses on Saturday against D.C. United, then the Union win the East.

If the two teams end up tied in points then the first tie-breaker is goal differential (both teams have a +9 differential right now), followed by total goals scored (SKY has scored 49 goals to the Union’s 44).

Ok, so the actual on the field stuff? Right. Red Bulls leading scorer Thierry Henry will miss the game due to a red card suspension. New York will obviously miss Henry, but they boast a number of other dangerous goal scoring threats.

Luke Rodgers has scored 9 goals, Joel Lindpere has 7, Dane Richards 6, and Juan Agudelo, who will likely start in place of Henry, also has 6. NYRB is tied with SKC for second in MLS in goals for with 49 (Seattle is first with 53).

On the flipside, New York is vulnerable defensively. Look no further than the game these two teams played earlier in the season when New York center back Tim Ream played an atrocious ball right to Union forward Danny Mwanga. Mwanga simply found and fed Roger Torres the ball for the only goal of the game.

Between Ream's shakiness, and Rafa Marquez' complaining about the quality of his teammates, the NY back line is a bit of a mess right now.

Another Red Bull weakness is their inability to defend set pieces. The Red Bulls have conceded 10 goals from corner kicks this season, most in MLS. Sixteen of the 44 goals allowed by the Red Bulls have come directly from set pieces, also the most in the league.

The Union simply need to continue what they've been doing. They are unbeaten over the their last eight. They welcomed Faryd Mondragon back into the lineup Saturday against Toronto. Aside from Veljko Paunovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury, they are healthy. Things are coming together at the right time.

Aside from perhaps protecting Sebastien Le Toux down the stretch of this game, I cannot imagine Peter Nowak changes much in terms of his approach. Make no mistake, the Union want to win this game. The fact remains that they can still finish anywhere from first to fourth in the East.

They desperately want to avoid falling the fourth, where they'd be forced to play a wildcard playoff game against a Western Conference opponent.

Yeah, so there's a lot on the line tonight.

Lineup I'd Like to See Tonight: Mondragon, Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I am basing my prediction on nothing other than the fact New York seems to be a cursed organization. They've been in MLS since its inception, and have failed to win a trophy (be it an MLS Cup, or a US Open Cup). If something can go wrong, it will. With that in mind, I like a goal at the death by 75th minute substitute Jack McInerney to crush the Red Bulls playoff chances. Union win it 2-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red: I am going with a big fan N/A tonight. If anything, I'll predict Luke Rodgers gets sent off, if for no other reason than karma's a bitch.

Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

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Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. – No. 22 Butler scored 18 straight points down the stretch and stunned No. 2 Villanova 74-66 Wednesday night at the Pavilion.

The loss was the third this year for the defending national champs and the second to Butler. It was also Villanova’s first loss on campus in more than four years.

Villanova led by as many as eight points early in the second half and by seven at 49-42 with 9½ minutes left before Butler scored 18 straight points over a 5½-minute span to take a 60-49 lead with four minutes left.

Villanova went scoreless from 10:35 left in the game to 4:05, a span of 6½ minutes.

Villanova cut the lead from 11 to four in the final minute but Butler made its final eight foul shots to secure its first win ever on the road against the Wildcats.

The loss was the first ever on campus for Villanova’s seniors. Villanova hadn’t lost at the Pavilion since February of 2013.

Sophomore Jalen Brunson shot 9 for 13 after his 7 for 7 against Seton Hall Saturday and finished with 24 points.

The rest of the Wildcats shot a combined 16 for 44.

Josh Hart scored 18 points on 7 for 18 shooting.

Kris Jenkins shot just 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three for three points, and Mikal Bridges also had three points on just 1 for 3 from the field.

Butler led 8-0 after 3½ minutes before Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes to take their biggest lead, 44-36, with 13 minutes left.

What it means 
Butler, which beat Villanova 66-58 on Jan. 4 in Indianapolis, completed a season sweep of Villanova. Butler was 0-7 before this year against the Wildcats.

Villanova fell to 26-3 and 13-3 in the Big East. Butler improved to 22-6 and 11-5, keeping alive its hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss and Creighton loss would deliver the conference title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament to the Wildcats.

The loss ended Villanova’s record 48-game winning streak at the Pavilion. The Wildcats’ last loss on campus was by a 55-52 score to Providence on Feb. 3, 2013.

Stat of the day
Hart, a 79 percent foul shooter, was 0 for 4 from the foul line and missed two front ends of one-and-ones.  

Turning point
The Wildcats led by six when Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis made threes 45 seconds apart to tie the game at 49 and start that 18-0 run. Villanova never got the momentum back.

By the numbers
• Martin led Butler with 16 points and Kamar Baldwin added 15 before fouling out.

• Butler shot 7 for 13 from three in the second half and 10 for 25 overall.

• Villanova was just 5 for 19 from three.

• Villanova committed 10 of its 15 turnovers in the first half 

• Villanova shot just 10 for 16 from the foul line, with seven of the 10 makes coming in the final 79 seconds 

• Butler had 21 assists on 27 baskets, Villanova had eight assists on 23 baskets 

• Villanova scored 17 points in the game’s final 4:05 

• Senior post Darryl Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fourth straight game with a rib injury. He’s considered day to day.

What’s next
On Saturday afternoon, Villanova plays its final game at the Pavilion until November of 2018, facing Creighton at 3 p.m.

Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year.

The Wildcats finish the regular season at Georgetown on March 4 and open play in the Big East Tournament five days later.

Instant Replay: Capitals 4, Flyers 1

Instant Replay: Capitals 4, Flyers 1

BOX SCORE

Fresh off their poor Western Canada road trip, the Flyers faced the top team in the NHL for a Wednesday Night Rivalry tilt at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
The last time the Washington Capitals met the Flyers in mid-January, the Caps humiliated them, 5-0, in D.C.
 
No rout this time, but the Caps still defeated the Flyers, 4-1, as more precious points slipped away in the search for a wild card. 
 
Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals for the Caps. His second was a crusher, coming in the final 2:01 of the second period to give Washington a 3-1 lead.
 
The Flyers are 3-6-1 since coming out of the All-Star break and 9-15-4 since their 10-game win streak.
 
Coach’s challenge
Barry Trotz challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal 23 seconds into the game for goaltender interference. It was an easy goal to overturn, too, as Dale Weise clearly pushed Braden Holtby aside before Voracek scored.
 
No goal
Trailing 2-0, Flyers rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov thought he scored in the opening minute of the second period. The game stopped and the Flyers celebrated while the officials huddled. Replays showed the puck hit the crossbar.
 
Points
Nick Backstrom’s first-period goal was his fifth goal and 15th point in his last 10 games.
 
Notable goals
Kuznetsov’s power-play goal went in and out of the net so quickly, no one was really certain it was a goal. That is why Sean Couturier remained in the box a good 30 seconds after it was scored.
 
Goalie report
Michal Neuvirth was making his fifth straight in goal.

Holtby had an excellent stop on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s backhander at the right post with 6:18 left in the first period.
 
Power play
The Flyers were 0-for-2. They mixed up their first unit and changed the personnel back to its former self, even putting Shayne Gostisbehere back on the point and Voracek back at the half-wall. Their second power play had several passes just a hair off for a clean shot.
 
Penalty kill
The Caps had the Flyers chasing their passes all over the ice on their power play. They were 1-for-2 in the game.
 
Injuries
The Caps lost defenseman Matt Niskanen in second period with a lower-body injury.
 
Fights
There were several scrums on one board play in the second period but no fights.
 
Scratches
Forwards Jordan Weal (concussion) and Travis Konecny (left ankle and knee), defensemen Nick Schultz (healthy) and Michael Del Zotto (healthy).
 
Up next
The Flyers practice on Thursday 11 a.m. at Skate Zone. They leave later that day for Pittsburgh and will practice Friday at 5 p.m. at Heinz Field for the Stadium Series outdoor game against the Penguins on Saturday.