Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

The agita started when the teams filed out of the tunnel and onto the field. I scanned the jersey numbers to see which eleven players Peter Nowak had selected to start the first playoff game in franchise history. The #6 stuck out like a sore thumb.

Before allowing the panic to set in I checked to make sure Brian Carroll was out there. He was. If Carroll hadn’t suffered an injury in the lead up to the game, then why was Miglioranzi out there? Next, my thoughts turned to Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes. Perhaps one of them was unable to go, and pressed for a starting center back Nowak plugged in Miglioranzi. Nope, both starting center backs were out there.

Ok, so why in the world was Miglioranzi, who played fewer regular season minutes than Carlos Ruiz (who left the team in JULY!), starting this game? I only became more incredulous when I saw how Nowak decided to deploy him.

The Union came out in a five man back line. With Miglioranzi stationed between Califf and Valdes. In a playoff game. At home.

Wait, what?

The Union came out, at home, in an aggregate goal two-leg playoff series, with six of their ten field players decidedly defensive-minded (Sheanon Williams, Califf, Miglioranzi, Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, and Brian Carroll).

The bizarre decision to plug Miglioranzi into the starting lineup backfired almost immediately. Six minutes in, Brad Davis whipped a free kick into the box, which was headed home by Andre Hainault. The man Hainault beat to win that header? You guessed it, Stefani Miglioranzi.

So much for that five man backline paying defensive dividends.

To some degree I understand what Nowak was hoping for when he dreamed up the lineup. The formation enabled Williams and Gabe Farfan to run the flanks. At times the formation morphed into a 3-5-2, with Williams and Gabe Farfan joining Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Justin Mapp in the midfield.

What I don’t understand is why he used Miglioranzi as a de facto third center back. Why not slide Carroll back there and use Amobi Okugo as the holding midfielder? Or, why not just stick with the 4-4-2 you’ve employed the entire season?

To be fair, the Union did not play all that poorly. They created chances, scored a gorgeous goal (Le Toux slotting home a beautiful floated chip from Michael Farfan), but in the end, unlike Houston, they were unable to finish their chances.

Substitutes Roger Torres and Freddy Adu injected some much-needed attacking verve. I’d look for one of those to start during the second leg on Thursday night.

All things considered, the Union have an opportunity to win this thing. They are only down single goal. Here’s hoping Nowak has scrapped the Miglioranzi experiment.


Video highlights:

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).