Matchday 1: Union Open Season Three in Portland

Matchday 1: Union Open Season Three in Portland

It's finally here. After a long, rollercoaster of an offseason the Union will open the 2012 season on the road in Portland (9:30PM, ESPN2). 
If you're on the fence about getting into the Union this season, tonight should be a good litmus test. The environment in Portland is pretty awesome. Despite their being an opposing team, it's everything any MLS fan should want a club to have. Compared to the venues that still have many empty seats, it's encouraging to see the support the Timbers get. 
This will be an extremely challenging season opener for the Union. In general, road teams are awful in MLS. Only two teams (LA and Seattle) were above .500 on the road last season. Combine that sobering league-wide away record fact with a cross-country flight, add in the fact that the Timbers compiled a 9-5-3 record at Jeld-Wen Field last season, and you've got a recipe for a nightmare of a season opener. 
The Timbers enjoy fanatical fan support - to the point that they averaged approximately 16,000 for their preseason matches. Also, their fans have been featured in an episode of Portlandia.

The field itself will also pose a challenge for the Union. The Timbers play on a short, narrow, turf field. The dimensions are 110 x 70, which just meet FIFA's minimum field dimension requirements. By contrast, PPL Park measures 120 x 75. What does this have to do with anything?

Well, a smaller field means there will be less room for players to operate (it's science!). Like any other sport it's important for a soccer team to be strong up the middle. This is particularly true when playing on a compact field. Fortunately, with Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez the Union are stout in the middle.
One player who would normally operate in the center of the field, Roger Torres, will not play tonight. Peter Nowak told Jonathan Tannenwald of The Goalkeeper blog that Torres picked up an ankle injury during preseason training in Costa Rica. It does not sound like it's too serious, but Nowak cited the turf field and the Portland weather as reasons why Torres did not travel with the team.
Where will the Union generate offense post-Le Toux and without Torres? Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan will likely be called on to carry the bulk of the offensive playmaking responsibilities. Oregon State product Danny Mwanga returns to the Pacific Northwest as the Union's main goal scoring threat. Newcomers Lionard Pajoy and Josue Martinez may see time up top as well.
Defensively goalkeeper Zac MacMath and the back four of Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Porfirio Lopes will have their hands full with Timbers designated player Kris Boyd (the all-time leading goal scorer in Scottish Premier League history) and second year midfielder Darlington Nagbe. Nagbe has been nursing an ankle injury, but should play. 
Timbers captain Jack Jewsbury, the lone Portland all-star last season, contributed seven goals last season and is an engine in the midfield. Diego Chara combines with Jewsbury to give the Timbers two dangerous attacking options out of the midfield.
Two key Timbers will not play tonight. Futty Danso has a broken bone in his left foot and will not play. Franck Songo'o also will not play - he's in Spain dealing with visa issues.
Even without Danso and Songo'o the Union will have their work cut out for them. Portland is truly one of the great atmospheres in the league. 
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Williams, Valdes, Califf, Lopes, Carroll, Gomez, Adu, Okugo, M. Farfan, and Mwanga.
Final Score Prediction: It's incredibly difficult for a road team to earn a result at Jeld-Wen. With that being said, I do not like this spot for the Union. Portland takes the season opener 1-0. 
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Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

Best of NBA: Dwyane Wade hits dagger 3-pointer in Bulls debut

CHICAGO -- Dwyane Wade scored 22 points in a triumphant Chicago debut, Jimmy Butler had 24 and the Bulls won their season opener, beating the Boston Celtics 105-99 on Thursday night.

Wade nailed a 3 from the corner in the final minute to make it a five-point game. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, and the new-look Bulls got off to a winning start after missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 25 points. Avery Bradley had 16, and Jae Crowder 14 points, but the Celtics came up short after opening with a win over Brooklyn the previous night.

The Bulls remade their roster in the offseason, jettisoning one hometown superstar and welcoming another when they traded Derrick Rose to New York and signed Wade to a two-year deal worth about $47 million in a move that stunned Miami.

The three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star is off to a good start with the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Heat.

Wade hit 4 of 6 3-pointers in this game after making just seven all of last season (see full recap).

New-look Hawks roll past Wizards
ATLANTA -- Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn't unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway's performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).