Matchday 7: No Nowak, No Garfan, No Daniel, No Problem?

Matchday 7: No Nowak, No Garfan, No Daniel, No Problem?

The Union, who have held the opposition scoreless over the last 332 minutes, host the San Jose Earthquakes (7PM/Comcast SportsNet) and Chris Wondolowski, who coming into play today was tied with Thierry Henry for the MLS goal scoring lead. The Union will attempt to shut down Wondo without the benefit of a number of familiar faces.
Manager Peter Nowak, starting left back Gabriel Farfan and starting midfielder Keon Daniel will all miss the game due to suspension. Losing Garfan will certainly hurt a defense that has kept three consecutive clean sheets. The back line will likely welcome back Danny Califf, who has been out with a hamstring injury. With Garfan out and Califf returning it remains to be seen how they'll line up in the back.
Rookie Raymon Gaddis has done a solid job since being introduced to the starting lineup. I can't imagine the Union coaching staff wants to move him from his right back spot. With that in mind we'll likely see Sheanon Williams get the start at left back. An outside back combination of Gaddis and Williams certainly brings a ton of pace to the table. A back four of Gaddis, Califf, Carlos Valdes, and Williams could be the the back line combination of choice for a Union team recommitted to locking things down defensively.
While they seem to have figured things out in their defensive third, questions remain as to their ability to create and finish chances in the final third. The Union have scored a meager four goals in seven games. Gabriel Gomez is their leading scorer - with two goals (one from a free kick and the other from a penalty kick). The only other players to score a goal are Freddy Adu and Lionard Pajoy. 
Adu has been fantastic since returning from Olympic qualifying. He's flashed the sort of skill and attacking mindset you're accustomed to seeing from him when wearing a US shirt. Michael Farfan has also played really well of late. His ability to get to the end line, take players on 1 v. 1 and deliver a cross have been on display recently - never more so than his cutting run and service on Adu's backheel goal last week against Chivas
The Earthquakes come to town atop the Western Conference table. The Quakes have accumulated 16 points from seven games (5-1-1). They've been paced by Wondolowski, the 2010 MLS Golden Boot winner, who has scored eight goals thus far. Amazingly, Wondolowski is the only San Jose player who has scored more than one goal so far this season. Khari Stephenson, former Union man Shea Salina (who is out injured), Rafael Baca, Alan Gordon and Simon Dawkins have each scored a single goal thus far. 
The Quakes have only conceded five goals in seven games. Jon Busch starts between the sticks. He plays behind a back line of Steven Beitashour, Ike Opara, Jason Hernandez and Justin Morrow.
It remains to be seen who will step into the role normally occupied by Keon Daniel. Could we see the debut of Kai Herdling in the Union midfield? Perhaps homegrown player Zach Pfeffer may get the call?
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: Zac MacMath, Gaddis, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Brian Carroll, Adu, Gomez, Herdling, M. Farfan, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: I know I've predicted a lot of ties, but I see this one ending 1-1. 
Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson, US Presswire

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).