SECOND LEVEL: Clint Dempsey has 8 goals ... the Union have 9; this could be a problem

SECOND LEVEL: Clint Dempsey has 8 goals ... the Union have 9; this could be a problem

Seattle's Clint Dempsey moves the ball against FC Dallas on April 12. (AP Photo)

In our continued quest to give you great pretty good adequate soccer coverage here at The 700 Level, we’ll be launching a new feature where Philadelphia Union writers and old newspaper buddies Steve Moore and Dave Zeitlin discuss (read: argue about) a Union-related topic every week until the end of time. We'll call it "Second Level" until we come up with something better.

As someone who covers the team for and, Dave will bring you the perspective of a seasoned, award-winning journalist. And as someone who watches games from the River End while drinking a beer, Steve will give you the perspective of an occasionally sober fan.

This week’s question: between zero and one zillion, how many goals will red-hot striker Clint Dempsey score against the Union on Saturday in Seattle (10 p.m., The Comcast Network).

Dave: I really just picked this topic so we can show you some videos of Dempsey, who’s been LIGHTING IT UP for the Sounders of late.

After mostly struggling at the end of last season (and drawing unjust criticism from a sector of jump-off-the-cliff-at-the-sign-of-any-trouble fans), Dempsey is now hitting his stride in MLS.

The 31-year-old star currently has more goals (eight) than anyone else in the league – and just one fewer than the Union have scored all season. Here’s one of them in which he makes a ridiculous pass before finishing the job himself on a rebound.

[nbcsports_video src=// width=620 height=349]

It’s nice to see one of the best American soccer players playing so well leading into next month’s World Cup (holy crap, is the World Cup really next month?!?). And that extends to Union manager John Hackworth, who used to coach Dempsey on the national team and gave the old I’m-happy-for-him-but-this-weekend-he-is-the-enemy routine before leaving for Seattle.

The big question is whether a Union backline that features a converted midfielder (Amobi Okugo) and converted striker (Aaron Wheeler) at center back slow him down.

When asked about Dempsey this week, most Union players said they have to pay close attention to him but not at the expense of forgetting about other players on the first-place Sounders, especially his partner-in-crime, Obafemi Martins. In other words, they didn’t reveal any sort of gameplan about how they plan on stopping the leading MVP candidate, on the road, in perhaps the toughest place to play in the country.

Dave's Prediction: since the Union seem to be better in an “underdog” rule than when they play winless or slumping teams, I’ll say Dempsey finishes with zero goals and one assist while the Union manage to escape Seattle with a 1-1 draw.

* * *

Steve: So the underachieving Union are going on the road, to play the best team in MLS, in front of the biggest crowd in the league, on crappy artificial turf, against the best American goal-scorer there is.

That probably means a 4-0 Union win.

Seriously though, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the Union Saturday night. Hackworth might start Austin Berry at striker and Antoine Hoppenot at goalkeeper. I don't know which way is up anymore.

One thing I do know is that Dempsey is going to be a nightmare for the Union back line. Whether it's Berry or Wheeler (it'll be Wheeler, and I'll be upset), Dempsey will get loose and create problems.

As an aside, my favorite Dempsey goal of the year so far:

[nbcsports_video src= width=620 height=349]

As much as the "we need to watch him but not at the expense of others blah blah blah" is just coach speak, it's the truth in this case. I have a feeling it'll be other Sounders players who burn the Union Saturday night. Wheeler and Okugo will need to be on their game, but the responsibility will also fall on Brian Carroll to track back with Dempsey and Martins.

And as much as Maurice Edu wants to push forward more often, he'll really need to pay attention to Dempsey and Martins, too.

Hackworth's seat is absolutely heating up in recent weeks, but this is not really a game that will make or break him. The Union are expected to lose this one.

Unfortunately, I think they will.

Steve's Prediction: Dempsey gets on the end of a rebound for a goal, Martins gets another, and the Union give up a header from a defender on a set piece. Conor Casey gets one for the Union. Sounders 3, Union 1.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).