Doopocalypse Now: Union Look to Put Out Fire

Doopocalypse Now: Union Look to Put Out Fire

The Union (4-3-2), who still sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, host the Chicago Fire (1-3-5), a team Peter Nowak helped lead to an MLS Cup as a player, this evening at PPL Park (8PM/Comcast SportsNet).

Chicago has not won a game since March 26, which helps to explain why they are currently the eighth place team in the East. Amazingly, they've played four consecutive ties. An even scoreline tonight against the Union would tie a single season MLS record for consecutive draws.

The U have had a rough go of it lately, going winless over their last three games (loss at Portland, tie at home against the Galaxy, and last week's 2-0 loss at FC Dallas). True, the loss at Dallas was their third game in ten days, but for the first time all season they were way too loose in the back.

Uncharacteristically, the marking was poor. Sheanon Williams either
completely lost sight of Brek Shea, or felt he had to provide some cover
to the middle of the box on the first Dallas goal. It was one of the
few times all season where the Union were caught scrambling in the back.
It looked like the type of goal they gave up all too often in 2010.

Then, for the first time all season, they conceded a second goal when Fabian Castillo (who set up the first Dallas goal) slipped between two Union players and headed home the knockout punch past Faryd Mondragon. Tonight they'll have to focus the bulk of their attention on Marco Pappa and Diego Chaves, who are tied for the team lead in goals with four apiece.

On the flip-side, the Union offense looked downright dangerous the first 25-30 minutes of the game. Justin Mapp was playing out of his mind early on, running at and past people, beating his man to the endline, cutting towards the middle a la Arjen Robben (For the record: no I am not comparing Mapp and Robben. I am simply saying Mapp made a few cutting runs towards the middle of the box in much the same patented way Robben does).

Even Brian Carroll got forward. Perhaps they were so caught up in their discovery of actual positive play that the end result was an uncharacteristically lax defensive effort.

Despite looking so threatening early on, the Union were unable to actually put a ball past Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman. Even their lineup coming out of halftime, Carlos Ruiz, Jack McInerney, Roger Torres, Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux (by far the most attacking lineup I've ever seen Nowak trot out) was unable to solve Hartman.

It's somewhat interesting that right now the Phillies and Union have to play similar styles in order to win games. They have to be clean defensively and just grind out the offense in the hopes that they can somehow scratch across a run/goal. It's not the prettiest thing to watch, but to date both teams have found a way to get results. If either team could get their offense and defense to click at the same time it'd be scary.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Daniel, Torres, Carroll, Le Toux, Mwanga, McInerney (yes, I am still beating the Jack Mac drum).

Final Score Prediction: Offensively Chicago just isn't all that threatening. Unfortunately, the same can be said about the Union. However, playing at home will make all the difference as the Union win it 1-0.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Brian Carroll. I have zero basis for that prediction. Honestly. None whatsoever. Just go with it.

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

The kid finally has his first NHL goal.

Travis Konecny scored at 4:30 of the third period (see video) during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Tuesday night (see story).  

His was the first of three power-play goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and get the Flyers into overtime.

First markers are always that much more special when they make a difference in a comeback victory, such as this one with the Flyers in a brutal stretch of six games in nine days.

“I am just excited that it happened,” Konecny said. “But the thing for me that was more exciting was coming back after that 3-0 [deficit] and an overall exciting night for us.”

The three power-play goals were a season high for the Flyers.

“We got going those two power plays ... our power plays set a tone,” Konecny said. “When that gets going, it makes it hard for the other team to stop us.

“It’s awesome because we know what they can do [on the top power-play unit]. They have been sticking with it and fighting the puck, whatever it’s been the past couple of games, but you know what they are capable of — you can see it the past couple of years. 

“You knew it was coming and tonight is the perfect night to get it going and I am sure that they are going to keep rolling with it.”

Schultz sits
The decision to sit 15-year veteran blueliner Nick Schultz to get Radko Gudas back into the lineup wasn’t easy but it made sense on several levels. Gudas had been suspended for six games.

First, Schultz doesn’t play on the power play, whereas Andrew MacDonald carries heavy minutes with the power play and penalty kill.

Brandon Manning? Not happening. He’s been the Flyers' best defenseman this season. Mark Streit? Doesn’t work because he quarterbacks the second-unit PP and is essentially teaching that duty to rookie Ivan Provorov.

“It’s real tough,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s part of the business and [Schultz has] done an excellent job. He’s always very well-prepared.

“We talked about what’s best for our team and we feel like Gudy going in, especially on a back-to-back, gives us fresh legs and a fresh body coming back into the lineup.”

Hakstol recently has had to switch around his defensive pairs to get more defensive coverage and consistency on the ice. For instance, moving Provorov from Streit to Manning.

He discounted Schultz’s age (34) as a true factor in the decision.

“I think the more flexibility you have, the better, whether it be for rest or for the injury situations,” Hakstol said. “First and foremost, I think we’re still looking for the true consistency that we need through our entire team, but certainly your D pairs are a big part of that. 

“Before we start getting to a comfort level of guys playing with different people, first we have to find true consistency. We’ve been pretty good, but we’ve had stretches where the consistency needs to improve, as well.”

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' MVP, win total and more for 2016-17

The Sixers officially get back to work Wednesday night in their regular-season opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder (see game notes).

Before tip-off, Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, producer/reporter Matt Haughton and producer/reporter Paul Hudrick run the Give and Go to break down some burning questions surrounding the team.

What is the one stat that will most define the Sixers' season?

Turnovers: The Sixers want to build a defensive identity and understandably so — they ranked last in the league in rebounds with a minus-518 differential and were outscored by a last-placed 10.2 points per game. That being said, I am looking at turnovers this season. Last season, they were prone to throwing away points with errors. They ranked 29th (second to the Suns) with 16.6 turnovers per game. The team is down two ball handlers in Jerryd Bayless and Ben Simmons (both injured), which heightens the challenge. In order for the Sixers to get into any type of rhythm and build an offensive flow, they have to actually maintain possession.

It's got to be defense. Brett Brown is banking on Joel Embiid being the centerpiece to the team's defense, and he better be for the head coach's sake. Embiid also better get some help from the guys around him on that end of the floor or it will be another year-long parade of bad rotations, easy buckets at the rim and wide-open jumpers. In Brown's three years as Sixers head coach, the team has ranked 29th, 20th and 30th in opponents' points per game. That has to change if the Sixers want to take the next step in their rebuild.

With an abundance of big men and Simmons eventually taking the court as the team's main facilitator, the Sixers need players that can shoot. Last season, they took the eighth-most three-point attempts in the NBA while finishing 24th in three-point percentage. That second number has to go up if the Sixers ever want to create floor space.

Who will be the Sixers' MVP?

Embiid: The towering 7-foot-2 presence is going to be the dominating force on both ends. Brown intends for Embiid to become the “crown jewel” of the defense and the offense to go through Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, whose role is restricted (knee). Embiid has shown in a small sampling of preseason games he is capable of leading the team on all sides of the floor.

Of course the answer is Embiid, but let's go another route and say Brown. The coach got an extension last season and also received a boost in roster talent. Now he just has to figure out how the pieces fit together. That didn't go so well with Okafor and Nerlens Noel a season ago, but playing those two together was essentially the only intriguing thing about the Sixers in 2015-16, which is why Brown stuck with the pairing. With better players to mix and match this time around, I believe Brown will figure out some solid options to have the squad in better position to compete on a nightly basis.

The easy pick is Embiid, but I'm going a little outside the box with Dario Saric. The 22-year-old Croatian showed off the versatility of his game during the preseason. He's an old school player that excels in the team game. He's what's often referred to as a "glue guy." He has skill, but the skills he lacks he makes up for with grit and basketball savvy.

What is your season projection for the Sixers?

This season was supposed to be a bridge year, the start of rebuilding. That will be delayed until the team is healthy with key players like Simmons, Okafor and Noel back at 100 percent. In the meantime, the Sixers' outlook is better than last season’s 10-win total but less than earlier projections with Simmons in the lineup. Because of injuries, I am shifting their win projection to 19.

The injury bug, starting with No. 1 overall pick Simmons, has certainly put a damper on the Sixers' projected win total. Las Vegas odds books originally set the mark at 27½, which seemed like a long shot even with a full roster. I say they show strides but fall just shy of doubling last season's win total and finish with 19.

This really depends on the return of Simmons. Simmons will make this team so much better on both ends of the floor. Bayless' absence early will hurt this team as well. And don't forget about all the minutes restrictions. They're going to struggle early on, but if Simmons returns in January, I think this team can double its win total from last season and win 20 games.