Between the Lines: For McInerney and Casey, chemistry class in session

Between the Lines: For McInerney and Casey, chemistry class in session

I've been playing soccer since I was a little kid, and watching it on
TV for more than a decade at this point. But aside from one U.S.
National Team game in 2009 at the Linc, I didn't start watching soccer
(not counting high school or college soccer) in person until the Union's
first home game -- also at the Linc -- in 2010.

After just a few
games, I quickly learned how much there is to actually watch when you
can see outside the boundaries of the TV screen.

So,
on occasion here at The Level, I'll try to showcase something that the
average fan might not have noticed "Between the Lines."

I've been
pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I've gotten from my posts,
not only from die-hard Union fans, but even more-so from
self-proclaimed "novices" who have gotten into the Union and really
would love to know more about what they're watching (see: Campitelli,
Enrico).

Take a look at the Union's first goal from Sunday's win over D.C. United. Just watch it through once, I'll wait.

So, you might have noticed a few things: An absolutely stone-cold,
precise finish from Jack McInerney, for sure. Maybe the nice through
pass from Conor Casey. If you were really paying attention, you might
have seen the atrocious turnover by Dejan Jakovic that started
everything.

But go back and watch it again. This time, focus on
McInerney from the beginning of the clip (No. 9, starting at the bottom
of the frame).

He jogs slowly toward the center circle, and even
applies a bit of token pressure on Jakovic at midfield. But as Jakovic
hits the soon-to-be-failed pass, you'll see McInerney curl upfield
BEFORE Brian Carroll even slides to intercept the pass. By the time
Carroll hits Casey with a short pass, McInerney is already running,
nearly at full-speed.

Casey gets the pass from Carroll and doesn't
even look up before sliding the ball in front of McInerney. The D.C.
player at the top of the screen -- Brandon McDonald -- doesn't realize
what's happening until it's too late. His slow reaction keeps McInerney
onside, and the current Major League Soccer scoring leader does the
rest.

Granted, McInerney still had a lot to do to finish the play,
and he did it without even looking like he broke a sweat. With his left
foot. But the story of that play -- and the Union's second goal by Casey, where Danny Cruz delivered a perfect pass -- was the chemistry up front for the Union.

If
you've followed the Union since their inception, you haven't seen that
kind of chemistry, maybe ever, save for a few glimpses from Sebastien Le
Toux and a few teammates in 2010 and 2011. In fact, one of the few
really "pretty" goals that I can remember off the top of my head -- by
"pretty" I mean a goal with a perfect setup from a teammate and a great
finish -- was Le Toux's second goal in that home opener at the Linc in
2010, off an unreal cross-field pass from current Union TV analyst
Alejandro Moreno (skip ahead to 1:30).

Why do the Union seem to have at least the beginnings of some
chemistry up front? Of course McInerney is coming into his own -- and
may find himself wearing the red, white and blue this summer -- and
Casey is an experienced player in this league. But for the first time in
a while, the Union have some sort of consistency up front.

In
this case, "consistency" is a relative term. Casey and McInerney have
now been paired together up front for THREE MATCHES IN A ROW! You'll
have to pardon the all-caps, but former Union manager Peter Nowak
would've used McInerney's inclusion in the MLS Team of the Week to bench
him this Saturday night in New England. Nowak made changes in his
lineup just to prove he knew more about soccer than the average fan.

So,
while Union manager John Hackworth still makes a few lineup decisions
and substitutions that baffle me (more Kleberson, less Lauhoud), he
seems to see what the rest of us are watching: that McInerney and Casey
are developing that unspoken communication that makes soccer fun to
watch. For goal-starved Union fans, that can't be a bad thing.

So,
the next time you watch a game on TV (the Union face New England
Saturday at 7:30 on The Comcast Network) or watch from the stands (the
team is home three times in May: the 4th, 15th and 18th), take your eye
off the ball for a few minutes and focus on a player seemingly on the
periphery. You just might notice something worth talking about.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).