Matchday 2: The Home Opener

Matchday 2: The Home Opener

PPL Park will be packed late this afternoon as the Union host Colorado in the 2012 home opener (4PM/NBC Sports Network). The Union, who have never beaten the Rapids, look to rebound from a season opening 3-1 loss at Portland on Monday night. Their performance in Portland provided few answers and raised a number of issues which bear monitoring against Colorado.
First, the positive. Lionard Pajoy had a very strong first half before running out of gas and service. In one half he provided the Union with the best back to goal forward presence in its short history. He shrugged off challenges, won 50/50 balls, and held up play. He was physical and intelligent in his runs. For my money he was the best Union player over the first 45 minutes.
It may sound strange to laud the performance of a goalie who conceded three goals - including an absolute mess of a first goal - but I thought Zac MacMath played fairly well. He was incredibly aggressive. I think he came off of his line more in one game than Faryd Mondragon did all last season. I am obviously exaggerating, but MacMath was confident and decisive in dealing with crosses. Importantly, he did not shrink after spilling that awful first goal. He had no chance on the Kris Boyd header and was beaten on a misfired cross for the third and final goal. Going forward, I am not too concerned with MacMath.
The rest of the team? Well, that's a whole other matter. The Union failed to create anything from the run of play. The midfield was completely overrun. The outside backs were undressed all night. New acquisition Porfirio Lopez struggled mightily. He was turned inside out for 90 straight minutes.
Now, I say all of this recognizing that Portland is an incredibly difficult place to play. I did not expect them to get a result, but I did expect them to play better. They played as if they'd never taken the field together before. Which, when you consider the fact that Gabriel Gomez, Josue Martinez, Lopez, and Pajoy were making their Union debuts, wasn't too far from the truth.
So, what do the Union need to do today to pick up the three points against Colorado? Defending set pieces would be a good place to start. Portland caught the Union on a quick restart for their third goal. Yes, it was a wayward cross that ended up in the back of the net, but the Union were not in a position to shut down that service.
Some possession would also be nice. The Timbers enjoyed a 55.6% to 44.4% advantage in possession. Further, there was not a consistent link between the Union back line and Pajoy. Too often the midfield was either completely bypassed or too easily gave up possession. To that end, Roger Torres, who did not play on Monday, should be in the lineup today and will no doubt help with possession. 
Two players who will not be available for the Union are Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo, who are with the US U23 team as they prepare for Olympic qualifying.
Colorado brings a balanced team to PPL Park. In Marvell Wynne and Kosuke Kimura they have two supremely fit backs who can run all day. The holding midfield pairing of Jeff Larentowicz (a Chestnut Hill Academy alum) and former US international Pablo Mastroeni provide a sturdy presence in the middle of the park.  Omar Cummings, who had a down 2011 season, scored 14 goals in 2010, and has the sort of pace that can give the Union back line trouble.
MLS did not do the Union any favors by having them open the season on the road at Portland. Facing Colorado in the home opener isn't any easier a task. I think most fair-minded Union supporters assumed it'd take this team some time to gel. They'll have needed to sort out a number of issues in a short period of time in order to avoid starting the season 0-2. 
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Lopez, Gomez, Brian Carroll, Torres, Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: As mentioned, Colorado is a very sound, balanced team. I am not convinced the Union are a cohesive side capable of putting 90 minutes together. Colorado wins it 2-1 as the Union falls to 0-2.
Photo Credit: Scott Olmos, 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.