Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

The Union, winless in league play since a 1-0 road win against Chivas USA on April 21st, host Sporting Kansas City this evening at PPL Park (7PM, The Comcast Network). The U need three points in the worst way. As Matt P. pointed out last week, despite falling at home to D.C. United in their last match, the Union were a much more confident team than they had been.

Interim coach John Hackworth trotted out a 4-3-3 which carried the game for long stretches against United. Gone were the hopeful long balls into space. Gone was the maddening frequency with which the Union bypassed the midfield. Granted, the lone goal they conceded was on a set piece - a bugaboo they've struggled with for far too long now - but overall the performance was much crisper and better organized than we'd seen in quite some time.

Yes, it was a loss. Yes, they still sit in ninth place in the ten team MLS Eastern Conference. But, and this is a big but, they played really well. Finishing in the final third is still a major issue. Perhaps Lionard Pajoy, who missed the D.C. game while serving a suspension, will thrive in Hackworth's system.

For me, the most positive development from last week was Hackworth's decision to pair Amobi Okugo alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union back line. Okugo brings a deft passing touch out of the back. Having played so much as a holding midfielder he is sound defensively, is aggressive going into challenges, and perhaps most importantly is composed on the ball. His skill on the ball, paired with Valdes' rugged play, is a nice combination.

Another positive was the manner in which Hackworth used his bench. With the game level at 0-0 with just under 30 minutes left he introduced rookie Antoine Hoppenot into the game. Hoppenot was a revelation. He played with incredible confidence - never hesitating to take someone on 1 v. 1. He consistently ran at people and drove to the end line.

Similarly, after going down a goal Hackworth inserted the recently acquired Jorge Perlaza into the game. Perlaza's greatest attribute is his pace. Bringing him in late in the game, after the United back line had expended so much energy chasing the Union around, was great to see. Hackworth actually played to Perlaza's strength - letting him try to stretch the United defense. It sounds elementary, but too often Peter Nowak's substitutions left you scratching your head.

The challenge this evening is just as difficult as it was against first place D.C. Sporting K.C. comes to town in second place in the conference. Should he choose, SKC head coach Peter Vermes has the ability to send out one of the most offensively talented lineups in the league. Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury and Soony Saad (who I fell in love with when he played at Michigan) are all incredibly gifted in the final third.

In the run up to the game Hackworth has talked about just how devastating SKC is in transition. With that in mind the Union will need to be incredibly organized and disciplined in getting back and behind the ball. That task will be more difficult without the services of Sheanon Williams, who is out with a toe sprain.

Perhaps the Union will benefit from the fact that SKC played midweek - traveling out to Seattle where they played to a 1-1 draw against the Sounders. Maybe the short turnaround and the cross-country flight will leave SKC a little heavy-legged. The Union can obviously use all the help they can get.

Granted, SKC is a terrific team. However, considering the totality of the circumstances (the way the Union performed last week, the short turnaround and cross-country flight for SKC and an inspired home crowd) I think the Union have a realistic shot to end this winless streak.

Union win it 2-1.

Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

NFL Notes: LeSean McCoy doubtful for Bills; Matt Jones out for 'Skins

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills look to be short-handed on offense in a pivotal divisional matchup against the New England Patriots.

Bills running back LeSean McCoy (hamstring) is doubtful and not expected to play. Wide receiver Robert Woods (foot) is questionable, and receiver Marquise Goodwin (concussion) is out.

Buffalo (4-3) is home against New England (6-1) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

McCoy has not practiced all week due to a hamstring injury. He originally injured the hamstring on Oct. 19, leading up to Buffalo's Week 6 game against Miami before suffering a setback against the Dolphins.

"Obviously, he never practiced so you can guys can figure that out," Bills coach Rex Ryan said.

McCoy has been the driving force on offense for the Bills this season. He is fourth in the league in rushing with 598 yards and six touchdowns.

Backup Mike Gillislee is expected to start in place of McCoy. Gillislee is questionable with a foot injury but expected to play. He's performed well with limited reps and had a 44-yard touchdown against San Francisco in Week 6.

Redskins: RB Matt Jones out
LONDON — Redskins running back Matt Jones says he will not play in Washington's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday because of a knee injury.

Jones, who has 99 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns this season, says he has "a bruise and some cartilage damage" after getting hurt in the second quarter of the Redskins' 20-17 road loss to the Detroit Lions last Sunday.

He has not practiced at any point this week and was the only Redskins player who did not participate Friday at Twyford Ground in Acton.

With Jones out, the Redskins will turn to Chris Thompson, who ran for a career-high 73 yards against the Lions, and rookie Robert Kelly. They also signed Mack Brown off their practice squad, cutting safety Josh Evans.

Browns: Josh McCown to start vs. Jets
BEREA, Ohio — Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns against the New York Jets on Sunday.

The 14th-year pro has been sidelined since Sept. 18, when he broke his left collarbone in a home game against Baltimore. McCown began the season as the backup to Robert Griffin III before both injured their non-throwing shoulders.

McCown was medically cleared to play earlier in the week, and coach Hue Jackson formally chose him as the Sunday starter following the team's morning walkthrough.

The winless Browns have used six quarterbacks in their first seven games, including starters Griffin, McCown and rookie Cody Kessler.

Third-round pick Kessler suffered a concussion last week at Tennessee and remains in the NFL's head trauma protocol. He had been Cleveland's starter since Week 3.

Broncos: No timetable for Anderson's return
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — C.J. Anderson tweeted early Friday that his knee surgery was a "super success" and he was in "great spirits" but he added there was still no timetable for his possible return to the Broncos lineup.

Anderson had surgery in California on Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

He got hurt Monday night on his second carry against Houston but returned to the game and ran 14 more times for 84 yards and a touchdown, finishing with 107 yards in his best performance of the season.

Rookie Devontae Booker will make his first start Sunday when the Broncos (5-2) play the Chargers (3-4), with Kapri Bibbs backing him up.

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

Rival Penguins may be what Flyers need to get off to fast start

VOORHEES, N.J. — Saturday might be a good time for the slow-starting Flyers to meet their cross-state archnemesis.
The Pittsburgh Penguins often bring out the best in the Flyers.
They’re sitting atop the Metro Division with 11 points and their veteran leaders, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are having an impact.
“Stanley Cup champs, it’s going to be emotional,” Jakub Voracek understated. “Something has to change tomorrow. That team is very fast. If we’re gonna have a slow start, they’ll jump out 2-0 or 3-0 and it will be hard to come back. We can’t afford to do that tomorrow.”
The Flyers had been living off comebacks lately, but fell short against the Coyotes in Thursday's 5-4 loss.
Since 2014, the Flyers are 4-1-0 against the Penguins at Wells Fargo Center. That’s the good news. 
The bad news is the Flyers have given up 30 goals this season — tied for worst in the league — and they’re meeting an offensive machine.
“These are always intense games with a fun atmosphere and we’ve got to be ready for it,” said goalie Steve Mason, whose slot has been under siege with uncontested shots lately. “We don’t want to take them lightly and get off on the wrong foot like we did [against Arizona]. 
“We've got to take the play to them and not sit back and let them dictate things. They’re too good for that.”
Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers’ poor first-period performance against the Coyotes that it shouldn’t matter who they face next, they simply need to start faster. It’s been a problem most of this season and haunted them early last fall, as well.
“They’re a team that comes out hard and it’s as good a challenge as any for us,” Hakstol said. “After the loss in our building, it shouldn’t matter who we’re playing at the start of the hockey game.”
Interestingly, Mason said following that loss that the Flyers seem hellbent on trying to outscore their opponents without taking care of their defensive responsibilities. 
Given the influx of speed and some new offensive talent, perhaps the emphasis has switched to offense at the expense of defense.
Offensively, Claude Giroux (9 points) and Voracek (8) are among the top 10 in NHL scoring. Giroux leads the league in three areas: nine assists, six power play assists and six power play points.
Rookie Travis Konecny is tied for fifth with six assists. Wayne Simmonds’ four power play goals rank first with Matt Moulson (Buffalo). 
Lotta offense behind the Flyers' 28 goals scored.
“It’s a good question,” Voracek said. “It’s tough to say. It’s still early, but if you’re going to get scored on so many goals a game, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Might be the case. It’s hard to answer. 
“We have to make sure even if we have talented players offensively ... we have to be responsible defensively. In today’s hockey, everybody can play defense.” 
You never know which direction these games against Pittsburgh will go. They can be very physical and low-scoring. Or they can be wide-open, pond hockey with a goal fest. 
“Bluntly, last year, they played a fast, pressure-type game and I didn’t think we dealt very well with it,” Hakstol said. “That won’t be any different tomorrow. 
“They’ll play a fast, pressure-type game and we have to be ready to deal with it and take advantage of it. That will be a challenge for us.”
Defensive pairs
Hakstol changed his defensive pairs in practice. 
Brandon Manning worked with Radko Gudas; Ivan Provorov worked with Mark Streit; and Nick Schultz was with Shayne Gostisbehere.
Why the changes?
“They weren’t very good [against Arizona],” Hakstol replied. “It’s not all on the D-pairs, that’s for sure. There is some thought process behind ... switching the pairs. But ultimately, the goal is to have a more competitive group of six back there playing below the top of our circles.”
Andrew MacDonald, who had several turnovers/miscues this week, will sit against the Penguins.
Hakstol didn’t mince words when asked why he was reinserting Schultz into the lineup.
“Absolute, competitive, prideful defender,” he said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
As for the lines, it would appear Nick Cousins will be scratched because he centered Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton in practice and both are injury-scratches right now.