PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

A perfect storm of soccer story lines will converge at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey tonight as the Union face the New York Red Bulls (8PM/ESPN2).

Playoff spots, playoff positioning, a suspended superstar, a heated regional rivalry, and ESPN's cameras combine to make this must watch TV.

Oh, and the plot is thickened considerably thanks to the potential 1,000 Union fans who are making the trip up I-95. No, that’s not a typo. Early indications are that between 750-1,000 Union supporters will be there tonight.

Quick tangent - it's phenomenal for the league that so many Union fans are traveling to the game. I want to say it was Sir Alex Ferguson who pointed out during one of Manchester United's trips to the U.S. that one of the challenges MLS faces is the sheer size of the United States.

What did he mean by that? If you're a Tottenham fan living in London, you can hop on a train to Manchester to see Spurs play Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in about two hours. That's the case pretty much across the board in the Premier League. It's easy to travel to away games.

Here? Not so much. I don’t know too many fans who are willing or able to travel from Philly to Portland to see the Union play the Timbers. A regional rivalry is one of the great things about sports. The league and the game need these sort of rivalries to thrive, which makes the fact that an estimated 1,000 Union fans are going to wreak havoc tonight all the more fantastic.

Ok, tangent over.

So, what's on the line tonight? Win, and the Red Bulls are in. Lose, and New York will need some help. You know there's nothing Union fans would like more than to deliver a near-fatal blow to New York's playoff chances.

The Union clinched a playoff spot by virtue of their tie with Toronto on Saturday. They can take a step towards clinching first place in the East with a win.

The second step towards clinching the East is contingent upon what happens with Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. If the Union win tonight, and SKC ties or loses on Saturday against D.C. United, then the Union win the East.

If the two teams end up tied in points then the first tie-breaker is goal differential (both teams have a +9 differential right now), followed by total goals scored (SKY has scored 49 goals to the Union’s 44).

Ok, so the actual on the field stuff? Right. Red Bulls leading scorer Thierry Henry will miss the game due to a red card suspension. New York will obviously miss Henry, but they boast a number of other dangerous goal scoring threats.

Luke Rodgers has scored 9 goals, Joel Lindpere has 7, Dane Richards 6, and Juan Agudelo, who will likely start in place of Henry, also has 6. NYRB is tied with SKC for second in MLS in goals for with 49 (Seattle is first with 53).

On the flipside, New York is vulnerable defensively. Look no further than the game these two teams played earlier in the season when New York center back Tim Ream played an atrocious ball right to Union forward Danny Mwanga. Mwanga simply found and fed Roger Torres the ball for the only goal of the game.

Between Ream's shakiness, and Rafa Marquez' complaining about the quality of his teammates, the NY back line is a bit of a mess right now.

Another Red Bull weakness is their inability to defend set pieces. The Red Bulls have conceded 10 goals from corner kicks this season, most in MLS. Sixteen of the 44 goals allowed by the Red Bulls have come directly from set pieces, also the most in the league.

The Union simply need to continue what they've been doing. They are unbeaten over the their last eight. They welcomed Faryd Mondragon back into the lineup Saturday against Toronto. Aside from Veljko Paunovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury, they are healthy. Things are coming together at the right time.

Aside from perhaps protecting Sebastien Le Toux down the stretch of this game, I cannot imagine Peter Nowak changes much in terms of his approach. Make no mistake, the Union want to win this game. The fact remains that they can still finish anywhere from first to fourth in the East.

They desperately want to avoid falling the fourth, where they'd be forced to play a wildcard playoff game against a Western Conference opponent.

Yeah, so there's a lot on the line tonight.

Lineup I'd Like to See Tonight: Mondragon, Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I am basing my prediction on nothing other than the fact New York seems to be a cursed organization. They've been in MLS since its inception, and have failed to win a trophy (be it an MLS Cup, or a US Open Cup). If something can go wrong, it will. With that in mind, I like a goal at the death by 75th minute substitute Jack McInerney to crush the Red Bulls playoff chances. Union win it 2-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red: I am going with a big fan N/A tonight. If anything, I'll predict Luke Rodgers gets sent off, if for no other reason than karma's a bitch.

Flyers-Panthers 5 things: Eyeing longest win streak since Ilya Bryzgalov was in net

Flyers-Panthers 5 things: Eyeing longest win streak since Ilya Bryzgalov was in net

Flyers (14-10-3) vs. Panthers (12-11-3)
7 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers, on the NHL’s longest current win streak, will try to extend it to six games when they host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s get you set for the matchup with five things to know:

1. Push it to the limit
The Flyers beat the Predators, 4-2, on Sunday to give them their most consecutive wins since March 15-22, 2014, when they also won five in a row.

A victory on Tuesday would mark the team’s longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when it won seven straight and Ilya Bryzgalov was in net — yeah, that long ago.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol has been pleased with the consistent effort by his club after it collapsed Nov. 11 in a 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs.

“You go back to that poor performance up in Toronto, which was about a dozen games ago,” Hakstol said Monday. “Since that point in time, I think we’ve really taken pride in the consistency of our play and worrying about what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s real important that we continue to do that.”

2. Leier hops right in
With Matt Read out approximately a month because of an oblique muscle pull, winger Taylor Leier has been recalled from AHL affiliate and will join Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Dale Weise on the Flyers’ third line Tuesday.

Leier, a 2012 fourth-round pick of the Flyers, gets his chance after proving himself with the Phantoms in 22 games, putting up 20 points on six goals and 14 assists.

The Flyers decided it was Leier over Scott Laughton, who has been sent back down to Lehigh Valley. Leier's earned his second call-up of the season with the Flyers. The first was just for one game on Oct. 25 in which he was a healthy scratch. Last season, the 22-year-old made his NHL debut, going scoreless in six games.

3. Mason on a roll
Speaking of consistency, goalie Steve Mason finally finding a rhythm is a big reason why the Flyers are stringing together wins.

In his last four games, the 28-year-old is 4-0-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. He was honored for his play by being named the NHL’s first Star of the Week.

“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me,” Mason said Monday. “Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Ever since Michael Del Zotto returned to the lineup from his three-game benching, the orange and black have won five straight. Now there’s no direct correlation, but Del Zotto is providing a stable presence defensively and chipping in offensively with four points (two goals, two assists) over the five-game run.

Panthers: Center Aleksander Barkov leads Florida in assists with 12 and has eight points (two goals, six assists) over his last nine games for a plus-5 rating.

5. This and that
• Mason is 8-3-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 13 career games against the Panthers.

• Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, who has a 2.15 goals-against average this season, is 9-10-3 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 23 games lifetime against the Flyers.

• The Panthers are 1-1-2 since general manager Tom Rowe took over head-coaching duties for the fired Gerard Gallant.

• The status of Radko Gudas (sick) for tonight’s game is uncertain. He’s missed the last two contests.

• Florida defenseman Keith Yandle’s ironman streak of 577 games will come to an end Tuesday as the 30-year-old is expected to miss some time with a lower-body injury.

• It’s unknown if Panthers leading goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault (lower-body injury) will play Tuesday. 

Philly brewery creates Ghost Bear beer in orange and black can

Philly brewery creates Ghost Bear beer in orange and black can

Who doesn't love a good dance around sports league licensing deals?

The bootleg T-shirt business is a cottage industry keeping sports fans in Philadelphia sharply dressed for years.

There's something to be appreciated about the creative marketing that hints at something but doesn't expressly break any rules.

Conshohocken Brewing absolutely killed it with the naming and branding on their latest beer: the Ghost Bear Golden Ale that just so happens to be in an orange and black can.

Now, some hockey fans who watch plenty of Flyers games might say it's in honor of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, but whose to say it's not simply a beer named after a couple of wonderful emojis. Namely the ghost and the bear,

I, for one, applaud them on their branding. You can pick one up at their local brew pubs or at the release party over in Fishtown on Friday.

And what a world we live in where Joel Embiid wants to create his own line of Shirley Temple beverages and there's a beer seemingly named after a Flyer who gets the healthy scratch.