Houston Visits PPL Park as Union Look to Reclaim First Place

Houston Visits PPL Park as Union Look to Reclaim First Place

The Union, who were fortunate to get out of Chicago with a point
on Wednesday night, return home to PPL Park where they'll face the Houston
Dynamo (8PM/ABC).

With the point on Wednesday the Union, with 32 points from
21 games, remain in second place in the Eastern Conference - two points behind
Columbus, but with two games in hand. Houston sits fifth in the Eastern
Conference table, with 27 points from 22 games.

Sheanon Williams, who missed the Chicago game due to a red
card suspension, will likely return to his familiar right back spot. Michael
Farfan filled in adequately, but as assistant coach John Hackworth pointed out
in this excellent
interview with Adam Cann from The Philly Soccer Page
, the Union struggled with
Chicago’s pace and pressure and had difficulty building out of the back without
Williams.

Williams will rejoin back four mate Carlos Valdes, whose
permanent rights were acquired by the Union from his Colombian club team Independiente Santa Fe. Valdes has been a rock in the middle of the
back line. The decision to lock up his rights could not have been a difficult
one. He’s just 26 years old, and has adjusted to the MLS in a hurry.

The other Carlos – that’d be Ruiz – was officially
transferred to Mexican club Veracruz. Speaking of transfers, Peter Nowak and
the Union front office have just eight days left in the transfer window to
bring in some reinforcements. Inquirer
columnist Marc Narducci
, citing a team source, claims that the Union is
working on acquiring a young international striker.

To date, speculation has centered on 21 year
old Costa Rican international Josue Martinez. However, the price for Martinez,
who plays for Saprissa in Costa Rica, may be too rich for the Union. As
The Brotherly Game points out
his transfer fee is rumored to be as high as
$2 million.

The Dynamo has already dipped into the
transfer market, acquiring Honduran international Carlos Costly. Costly, who is
an incredibly physical and skilled forward, also sports what may be the worst
hair in all of CONCACAF
.

Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear has some
seriously physical options to choose from along his front line. He’s got
Costly, Brian Ching, Cam Weaver, and when healthy rookie Will Bruin. Ching, who
checks in at 6’1”, is the shortest of the bunch.

Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis is the key midfield cog
responsible for providing service to the Dynamo’s stable of forwards. Davis leads
MLS with 10 assists and has also chipped in three goals. Sheanon Williams will
likely be charged with the task of shutting down Davis’ tireless and dangerous
runs down the left flank. Union keeper Faryd Mondragon must also be wary of
Davis’ technical ability in dead ball situations.

On the flipside, the Union looked absolutely punchless in
the offensive third on Wednesday night. Veljko Paunovic bailed the Union out with
a tremendous strike from 25+ yards away
. Beyond that the Union did not have
a whole lot of chances. Their best scoring opportunity, which came in stoppage
time, didn’t even result in a shot on goal. Danny Mwanga was alone in the box
with the ball on his left foot, but curiously opted to play a ball across the
six yard box to an oncoming Brian Carroll. Mwanga needs to know the situation
there and shoot the ball. Ohhhhhhhh, Danny Mwanga….shoot the ball!

A number of you have astutely pointed out that Nowak needs
to inject some more creativity into the center of his midfield. Carroll
provides fantastic defensive cover, but ideally he should be paired with a
string pulling midfielder who controls tempo and pace. Roger Torres may
ultimately develop into that player, but right now he’s too inconsistent. I don’t
know if there’s a guy on the roster capable of filling this much-needed role.
Perhaps there’s someone available through the transfer window who can be that
guy?

Here's the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Williams,
Valdes, Califf, G. Farfan, Mapp, Carroll, Torres (while inconsistent he remains
their most creative midfield option), Daniel, Le Toux, and Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I remain doubtful that the Union will be able to get things going
offensively. I think we’re looking at another 1-1 draw.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely to See
Red: Valdes celebrates his permanent transfer by having to deal with the
massive Dynamo frontline. I’ll say he picks up two yellows for persistent
fouling.

Photo Credits: Kyle
Terada-US PRESSWIRE, Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

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).