MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

More than any team in this town, aside from probably
the Eagles, Union games have become an all-out event for most fans.

There is very little “going to the game.” 
By that I mean the guy who says, “Eh, I’m going to the game,” 
then heads out the door, parks his car and finds his seat.

Plans are made well ahead of time, themed tailgates
are created (I plan on crashing one of these in Lot A – stop
by and say hi), supplies are purchased and entire schedules are altered.

Off the top of my head, via my Union fan-heavy Twitter
feed, I can think of fans who travel for most or all Union games from
the following locations: Central Pennsylvania, Long Island, Maryland,
Delaware, Allentown, North Jersey, the Poconos and Rhode Island. Yes,
Rhode Island.

Unlike Eagles tailgates – which can often feel exactly
like the macho, beer-chugging, fist-fighting stereotype Bradley Cooper
made famous in Silver Linings playbook – the lots at PPL are very
family friendly.

So this is my one and only request that before you
rip the sport for being stupid, the team for being amateur, the league
for being sub-par or the fans for being weird, find a few friends and
plan a tailgate. Or better yet, park your car, whip out a case of beer,
and share it with the group parked next to you.

While you’re there, maybe watch a soccer game.

* * *

Hoping to keep the gameday posts relatively light
this year. A few predictions, a few facts. We’ll save the analysis
for midweek. Today you get the added benefit of some season-long predictions
sure to fail.

So without further ado.

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (0-0-0, 0 pts) vs. Sporting Kansas
City (0-0-0, 0 pts)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: 6ABC

Today’s Opponent, in Limerick Form:

There once was a team called the Wiz

With the worst
uniforms in the biz

They changed their name to sound Euro

Now their style is anything but a bore-o

Their goalie sorta looks like The Miz

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

The Sons of Ben will mock goalie Jimmy Nielsen (they’re
chanting “BRIG-ITTE NIELSEN”) and might even sing a
song about manager Peter Vermes’ DUI arrest
. But
make no mistake, this is a VERY good team.

Despite losing Kei Kamara to Norwich City of the English
Premier League, Sporting KC is solid on both ends. They attempted more
shots than any team in MLS last year (granted, Kamara led the league
in that category) and midfielder Graham Zusi is one of the few MLS players
who is considered for a United States starting lineup when a full-strength
roster is available.

Nielsen is still one of the league’s better goalies,
and 2012 all-star Aurelien Collin proved to be one of its most efficient
central defenders. The addition of Ike Opara from San Jose only further
bolsters the backline.

In so many words, while Union fans will want a win
on Saturday when they think with their hearts, bu they should gladly
take a draw if using their heads.

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City (from visitkc.com):

“KC ignored Prohibition during the 1920s, leading
to an abundance of jazz clubs, brothels and gambling halls. This earned
KC the moniker ‘The Paris of the Plains’ after one journalist wrote
‘If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and head to Kansas City.’

The Player Most Likely to “Doop”

Since Union goals are now more rare than Red Bull
sellouts, Rev’s “Player Most Likely to See Red” will be adjusted,
at least until the Union score more often than not. (Although Saturday’s
official is Mark Geiger, who may hand out a card before the national
anthem).

I’m going to go with the obvious choice, Sebastien
Le Toux. The ovation he will get Saturday will be something to remember,
and the Frenchman has a flair for the dramatic (see: hat trick
in first-ever Union home game at the Linc
).

Lineup We Might See:

Macmath

Williams – Parke – Soumare – G. Farfan

Cruz – Carroll
– Okugo

         
M. Farfan – Casey – Le Toux

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I think the Union come out flying and get the first
goal as they open their season at home for the first time, before Sporting
gets a second-half equalizer. I’ll be generous and predict that’s
all they get.

Union 1, Sporting K.C. 1

BONUS Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

It’s hard to know what to expect from this team.
I think they will be more cohesive and more offensive-minded, but Hackworth
must find a semi-regular lineup he can count on.

I predict 47 points and at least a chance at a playoff
berth as October nears.

In these parts, that might be seen as something to
build on.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117.

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.