Intergalactic Civil War: Union vs. Galaxy

Intergalactic Civil War: Union vs. Galaxy

Sure, I’ll be there, Enrico and Matt P. will be there, but neither David Beckham nor Peter Nowak will be there as the L.A. Galaxy visit PPL Park tonight to face the Union (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). Becks will be resting his golden balls back in Los Angeles as the Galaxy are in the midst of a stretch of three games in seven days. I am sure he’ll miss being harassed by the incredibly welcoming folks who sit in The River End. Nowak will miss the game because he’s participating in what is apparently a prestigious charity soccer game back in his native Poland.

Beckham’s absence, while disappointing for fans who were looking forward to seeing him drop sixty yard crosses on a dime, could be a massive blow to the Galaxy. As the MLS game notes point out, six of the Galaxy’s 12 goals this season have come from dead ball situations – three from corner kicks, two from free kicks and one penalty kick.

Beckham, still one of the premier dead ball specialists in the world, is the one typically providing that service (as he was on the game winner against the Union out in L.A. back in early April). If nothing else, the Galaxy should be much less dangerous on set pieces, which bodes well for the Union considering all three goals they’ve conceded have come from either free kicks or corners (two free kicks and a corner).

However, that’s not to say that they have no attacking options. Landon Donovan has scored the last four Galaxy goals. Juan Pablo Angel also provides L.A. with a class finisher up top. Not to be overlooked, Juninho is a threat to strike from distance. Yes, they’ll be without Beckham, but the Galaxy still present plenty of scoring options.

The Union should have a full complement of players for assistant coach John Hackworth to choose from. Jordan Harvey is back from his red card suspension. Danny Califf appears to have recovered from the illness which kept him out of the Portland match. Stefani Miglioranzi, Brian Carroll, and Justin Mapp, all midfielders who’ve been nursing injuries, are apparently fully fit.

The story, as it has been all season, is when will the Union offense finally arrive? They’ve yet to score more than a single goal in any game this season. They’ve scored just five goals in seven games. I am not sure what they can do to get the offense going.

I would argue that they’ve had terrible play along the flanks, with no midfielder providing any kind of service into the box. However, the Union don’t exactly have a stout forward capable of getting on the other end of those nonexistent crosses.

I discussed this a bit with Matt, but Carlos Ruiz is not your traditional striker capable of consistently winning aerial battles in the box. He’s a poacher. He’s a guy who will clean up on loose balls in the box. He occasionally can create an angle and some space for himself just on the edge of the box and get shot off. But, and this is a big but, he’s not a guy who is going to present too many problems in the air for center backs.

So, how do the Union go about scoring goals? In my mind their best bet is to let Roger Torres and Sebastien Le Toux combine in the channels between the touchline and the 18 yard box. They need to get to the endline and pull balls back, on the ground, across the area. They need to play the sort of dangerous short diagonal balls which unlock a back four. I’d say Danny Mwanga would thrive with well timed runs across the face of a defender, but he still seems unsure of himself when paired alongside Ruiz.

There are no easy answers as it relates to their offensive struggles, which makes the fact they’ve played shutdown defense all the more important. What else can be said about a group who, coming into this game, have conceded just three goals over seven games? It’s been a stunning turnaround from last season. You cannot underestimate the difference Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes have made on this team.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Daniel, Okugo, Carroll, Le Toux, Mwanga, McInerney (who I think is better suited than Ruiz to dart into those spaces between the opposing backline).

Final Score Prediction: Hmmmm, perhaps a 1-0 game (like shooting fish in a barrel) is in the offing? I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but I just feel like it’s difficult for MLS teams to fly cross country and win games. Relying on that completely made up fact I’ll go with the Union on the good side of that 1-0 score-line.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Carlos Valdes. He plays on the edge quite a bit. Perhaps this is the game he finally goes over that edge?   

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers-Bucks 5 things: Joel Embiid back to face the 'Greek Freak'

Sixers at Bucks
3:30 p.m. - CSN/CSNPhilly.com/streaming live on the NBCSports App

The Sixers (12-26) look to get back in the win column when they face the Milwaukee Bucks (20-19) at the Bradley Center in a Martin Luther King Day matinee.

Let's take a closer look at Monday afternoon's matchup:

1. Back on the Embiid express
The Sixers have started to show flashes of coming together and finally turning the corner on their massive rebuild. However, they are nowhere near the point that they can remove the biggest piece of the puzzle and still expect to win games.

The Sixers found that out again on Saturday night, as they were pummeled during the second half of a 109-93 loss to the Washington Wizards with Joel Embiid sidelined for rest.

The team didn't want to use the rookie phenom's absence as an excuse, but it was clear his presence was missed.

“We didn’t have that extra oomph,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said after the loss. “Obviously, the omission of Joel Embiid clearly is impactful, but that’s the challenge. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Embiid and his 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game will be back in the lineup against the Bucks.

2. Freak of nature
The Sixers won't be the only squad with a star in the making on the court Monday afternoon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has shown plenty of potential since he was selected by the Bucks 15th overall in the 2013 draft (Anthony Bennett, who was recently released by the Brooklyn Nets, was taken No. 1 overall that year, for those of you keeping track at home). But the man known as "The Greek Freak" has taken his game to new heights this season.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 23.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in addition to 8.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals per game this season - all career highs. He's also coming off a 33-point, eight-rebound and six-assist performance in the Bucks' 111-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

With Antetokounmpo playing point guard full time now and the Bucks' starting five boasting players all above 6-foot-7, it's hard to determine how the Sixers will match up on defense. Whatever the plan is to slow down "The Greek Freak," it will have to be a total team effort.

3. Protect the paint
All of that size and athleticism for the Bucks is a big reason they attack the rim so much. Milwaukee is tied with Oklahoma City for the league lead in points in the paint with 50.6 per game.

The Sixers were dominated on the low block for 54 points by the Wizards on Saturday with Embiid out. For the season, they rank 14th in the league in points in the paint allowed at 42.3 a night.

One thing that might help the Sixers is their shot blocking. They swat 5.6 shots a game (sixth in the NBA), which could deter some of those romps to the rim by the Bucks.

4. Injuries
T.J. McConnell (right wrist), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Khris Middleton (hamstring) is out for the Bucks.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost 12 of their last 14 games to the Bucks.

• Ersan Ilyasova spent the first seven seasons of his NBA career with the Bucks (see story on his return to Milwaukee). This will mark the fourth time he has faced his former team.

• Jabari Parker, selected No. 2 overall in the 2014 NBA draft right before Embiid, has emerged this season with 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game.

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

Sixers' T.J. McConnell (sprained right wrist) out Monday vs. Bucks

The Sixers will get Joel Embiid back in the lineup when they meet the Bucks on Monday afternoon in Milwaukee, but they'll be without their starting point guard.

T.J. McConnell will miss Monday's game with a sprained right wrist suffered in Saturday night's loss to the Wizards in D.C., the Sixers announced Monday morning.

McConnell reportedly did not travel with the team to Milwaukee and is back home in Philadelphia.

The 24-year-old McConnell has been a presence this season for a Sixers team that desperately needed something from the point guard spot. In 38 games this season, McConnell has averaged 4.8 points, 5.8 points and 4.8 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists a night in an average of 22.3 minutes a game.

The highlight of McConnell's season, of course, came last week when he nailed the game-winning shot at the buzzer to give the Sixers a 98-97 victory over the Knicks.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to start in McConnell's place Monday against the Bucks.