Soccer Royalty in South Philly: Real Madrid Faces the Union at the Linc

Soccer Royalty in South Philly: Real Madrid Faces the Union at the Linc

They call them friendlies, which is a very European way of saying "scrimmage". My question is - how friendly can a match possibly be when there's a distinct possibility that one of the world's richest/most talented clubs hangs a six spot on you? Don't believe me? Manchester United just went into Seattle and dropped seven goals on the Sounders.

The Union face Real Madrid at the Linc tonight, where 50,000+ people are looking for the Madrileños to put on a show. The talent Madrid coach Jose Mourinho brings to town is nothing short of absurd.

The roster reads like a who's who of FIFA royalty. Ronaldo, Casillas, Kaka, Ramos, Özil, Benzema, Alonso, Higuaín, di Maria, Carvalho, and on and on the names go. It's truly a staggering amount of skill and pedigree.

I almost fell out of my seat during the last Champions League campaign when my squad, Tottenham Hotspur, faced Madrid in the quarterfinals. Mourinho had the gall to bring Kaka and Las Diarra (who didn't even make the trip to the U.S.) off the bench.

It was at that point that I realized just how big a club Madrid really is. I realize Kaka hasn't exactly been fit and in form recently, but come on. They brought Kaka, a former FIFA World Player of the Year, off the bench.

If you put together a tale of the tape for this match it'd look ridiculous, and that's no fault of the Union. Our local squad is only in its second year in MLS. Madrid? They've been playing since 1902.

Trophies? The Union have won zero (again, I am not going through this exercise to disparage the Union, but to hilight the history and success of Real Madrid). Los Blancos? They've won 31 La Liga titles, 18 Spanish "Copa del Rey" Cups, 8 Spanish Super Cups, a record 9 UEFA Champions Leagues, 2 UEFA Cups, 1 UEFA Supercup, and 3 Intercontinental Cups.

I suppose what I am getting at is that this is not a opponent against which the Union should be measured. This is a celebration of soccer.

This is about Ronaldo executing 15 step-over's in the blink of an eye.

This is about Mesut Özil slipping an a ball at an impossible angle behind the Union back line.

This is about the accepted best keeper in the world, Iker Casillas, patrolling his box.

Yes, it will be fascinating to see how Danny Mwanga fares against Ricardo Carvalho. Yes, it'll be worthwhile to see how Brian Carroll deals with Madrid's precision passing. And yes, it may very well be exhausting watching Danny Califf turn and chase Madrid's forwards.

But, and this is a big but, all of this soccer excellence will be taking place in South Philly.

Real Madrid is playing right in our backyard. Enjoy it.

NOTE

- Real Madrid's website reports that it is undetermined whether Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Sergio Ramos will be able play. Fabio Coentrao is out tonight.

- Yes his embellishing and histrionics rub everyone the wrong way, but as this video shows, Ronaldo is ridiculous.

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Sixers merchandise sales on the rise along with win total

Between recent wins and Joel Embiid’s All-Star push, fans are buying their Sixers gear.

According to Fanatics.com, a sports apparel website partnered with the four major sports, the Sixers rank fourth among all NBA teams in total merchandise sales over the past seven days. The Warriors, Cavaliers and Bulls are ahead of them.

Joel Embiid was the fifth-best selling player over that period. His popularity has risen during his enthusiastic All-Star campaign, which included celebrity shoutouts and an outpour of social media activity. Embiid is now up to 553,000 Twitter followers.

The Sixers have ranked in the league’s top 10 of merchandise sales since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They hold the largest year-over-year increase during that time frame in the NBA this season.

In September, Ben Simmons ranked in the top 10 of NBA players in merchandise sales since draft night.

Sales from the Sixers' and NBA's official online stores are included in these statistics.

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

Sixers clicking just in time to face surging Raptors on Wednesday

The Sixers are clicking just in time to face their toughest competition in over a month. The Raptors (28-13) come to Philadelphia as the Sixers have won six of their last eight games by holding one another accountable and taking each outing step-by-step.

“You feel like the group is coming together,” Brett Brown said. “You feel like all the work that we have put in is starting to pay dividends in relation to a solid foundation.”

The Raptors sit second in the Eastern Conference, just one and a half games behind the Cavaliers. The last time they met, the Raptors beat the Sixers 123-114 on Dec. 14 at the Wells Fargo Center.

A lot has changed since then, especially the rotations. Brown started Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together against the Raptors, an experiment that waned out after six games. The Sixers have found a formula to winning with an established starting lineup and a consistent second unit, with the added experience of Gerald Henderson and Nerlens Noel. They will be tested Wednesday as both Joel Embiid (illness) and T.J. McConnell (wrist) are questionable.

“When you look at this team, it’s a lot of talent but we didn’t play as a team,” Ilyasova said of the start of the season. “Now we come together. I think it’s all about the chemistry, we trust each other.”

The Sixers are looking to carry over the momentum of a 113-104 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee on Monday. They got a test of All-Star caliber talent against Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom they held to two points in the second half. The Sixers will have their hands full with the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry (22.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.2 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

One key to countering talent like that placing an importance on accountability. The players are not letting each other off the hook for mistakes on the court, regardless of who the opponent is.

“I could see it over the past couple weeks, guys coming out here and being more vocal on both ends of the court,” Noel said. “If one guy messes up, you’ve got to let him know so it won’t be a recurring thing. With that, guys are taking steps in the right direction, both leadership roles because everybody on this team can be a leader in their own way.”

The Raptors come in on a four-game winning streak.