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?   

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

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Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”