The U Who Play the Fire

The U Who Play the Fire

To paraphrase the great 80’s
sitcom"What's Happening" - No Carlos, no Sheanon, no points? We'll find
out tonight (9PM/CSN) whether the Union can overcome the loss of their
leading goal scorer (Carlos Ruiz, who has completed a transfer to
Mexican side Veracruz) and the temporary loss of their most effective
outside back (Sheanon Williams, who is out after picking up a red card
against Colorado on Saturday).

If
the Union could hand-pick an Eastern Conference opponent to face under
these circumstances it would undoubtedly be Chicago, who sit in last
place in the conference. The Fire have certainly earned their spot at
the bottom of the table, accumulating a nightmarish 2-6-12 record.

Not
only will the Union be facing a bad team, but due to a scheduling quirk
they’ll be facing a team that has not played an MLS game since July
16th (they lost a friendly with Manchester United 3-1 on July 23rd).
What do you make of the long layoff? It’s hard to say. If nothing else
the Fire will be well rested – although a bad team is a bad team
regardless of the extended time off.

Perhaps
Fire coach Frank Klopas used the time off to integrate new signing
Pavel Pardo into his lineup. The circumstances surrounding Prado’s
arrival in Chicago are straight out of one of those amazingly ridiculous
soap operas you see on Mexican television.

Pardo, a former Mexican international, is involved in a child-support
dispute with his ex-wife Cristina. Cristina, who obviously is the
biggest fan in the world of aging former Mexican internationals, decided
to keep things within the El Tri family and is reportedly now in a
relationship with former Fire and Mexican star Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Pardo,
who apparently is loathe to give his ex any money, is now faced with
the reality of his ex-teammate exchanging one-touches with his ex-wife.
Is there no man code south of the border?

Speaking of goings on south of the border, the Carlos Ruiz to Veracruz rumors have been confirmed.
If Union coach Peter Nowak is to be believed Ruiz has moved on due in part to Union fans being too tough on him. Wait, what? Here’s a quote
from Nowak addressing the Ruiz situation following the loss to the
Rapids on Saturday:

“A lot of fans
even in the stands have a pre-bias toward Carlos and make bad comments
about him being a diver, being that, being that, not working hard, all
these little things, and it was getting tired to us,” Nowak said. “I
always believed fans in the stands will stand behind us and are going to
cheer for us and all the players we have on the roster, and not having
something against a single player. As I said, it’s an unfortunate
thing.”

If the Union fans really
had any influence over personnel decisions then Chris Seitz would’ve
been released in the middle of last season, Shea Salinas would never
have been left unprotected in the MLS Expansion Draft, and Jordan Harvey
would still be a member of the team.

The
notion that fans ran Ruiz out of town is absurd and insulting. Why
would fans of a team that struggles to score want the team’s leading
goal scorer gone? Sure, the guy was on a mission to send every linesman
in the league in for rotator cuff surgery due to repeated lifting of the
offside flag, but results are results. The guy was a poacher. He was
dangerous on free kicks. He scored some incredibly timely goals.

Look,
if the Union received an offer they couldn’t refuse then so be it. All
Nowak had to do was say that the organization appreciated Ruiz’s
contributions, wish him luck with his new team, and discuss how the team
will be relying on Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux to rediscover the
chemistry they enjoyed last season. In other words, simply state that
it was a business decision.

Ok,
with that out of the way let’s look at the game tonight. The big
question is who will step in and start for Williams at right back?
Remember, Gabriel Farfan replaced Harvey as the starting left back. Does
he slide Keon Daniel out there? Will Michael Farfan get the nod? Do you
possibly move Carlos Valdes outside and play Stefani Miglioranzi in the
middle alongside Danny Califf? Or, does local product Ryan Richter
start his first MLS game at right back?

One person who will not be on the technical area tonight is head coach Peter Nowak, who according to the Union is recovering from a minor back surgery. Perhaps Union fans are responsible for that too? I kid, I kid. Here's wishing Nowak a speedy recovery.

Here's the lineup I hope we see tonight:
Mondragon, M. Farfan, Valdes, Califf, G. Farfan, Mapp, Okugo, Carroll,
Paunovic (they’ll likely need his attacking ability), Le Toux, and
Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I am worried
the Union will struggle to score. Combined that with the fact that
Chicago is the master of the tie and I fear we may be looking at a 0-0
draw.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely to See Red:
Seemingly every single time I threaten to retire this a Union player
goes ahead and picks up a red card. Kudos, Sheanon. For tonight I’ll go
with Valdes, who could possibly make some ex-wife jokes at Prado’s
expense in Spanish and get into a shoving match.

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

Best of NBA: Wall, Wizards top Knicks for 4th straight win

NEW YORK -- John Wall had 29 points and 13 assists, scoring Washington's final four points in the last 32 seconds as the surging Wizards beat the New York Knicks 113-110 on Thursday night.

Otto Porter Jr. made six 3-pointers for the second straight night and added 23 points, but the Wizards needed big plays from Wall down the stretch to win their fourth in a row.

He made two free throws to put Washington back on top after New York had rallied to take a 110-109 lead, then rebounded Carmelo Anthony's miss and left all the Knicks in his dust as he raced down the floor for a dunk with 13.7 seconds to play.

Anthony finished with 34 points but Wall stole the ball from Brandon Jennings to prevent the Knicks from attempting a 3-pointer that could have tied it (see full recap).

Leonard scores 34 to lead Spurs over Nuggets
SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points, rookie Dejounte Murray added a season-high 24 and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a pregame injury to Pau Gasol in beating the Denver Nuggets 118-104 on Thursday night.

Denver's three-game winning streak was snapped despite a career-high 35 points from Nikola Jokic.

Leonard had his fifth straight 30-point performance, right after learning he will start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.

The Spurs were unexpectedly without Gasol, Tony Parker and then coach Gregg Popovich. Gasol and Parker were both late scratches due to injury, and Popovich was ejected for the first time this season.

Gasol broke the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand by jamming it against Kyle Anderson's shoulder during pregame warmups while attempting a running hook. The 16-year veteran center immediately clutched his hand and left the court.

X-rays revealed the break, and the Spurs said there is no timeline for Gasol's return.

Irving, James lead Cavs over Suns
CLEVELAND -- Kyrie Irving scored 26 points, All-Star teammate LeBron James had 21 points and 15 assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers looked more like themselves at home in a 118-103 win over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.

The Cavs were back in Quicken Loans Arena following a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) that concluded with an embarrassing 35-point loss at Golden State. But on their home floor, they had better offensive balance and ball movement while improving to 30-11 -- the same record Cleveland had at the halfway point of its 2016 NBA championship season.

Channing Frye scored 18, Iman Shumpert 17 and James Jones 14 while filling in for star forward Kevin Love, still bothered by back spasms.

Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 16 rebounds, but the Suns lost for the fourth time in five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

Best of NHL: Surging Capitals rock Blues in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Andre Burakovsky, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 7-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Jay beagle, Brett Connolly, Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams also scored, and Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik each had two assists to help Washington earn at least a point in its 12th straight game (10-0-2) for an NHL-best 66 points.

Braden Holtby bounced back from his roughest outing of the season with 22 saves. Holtby was pulled after giving up a season-high five goals on 26 shots in an 8-7 overtime loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. He improved to 22-8-4 and 5-0 lifetime against St. Louis (see full recap).

Grabner scores 2 goals, Rangers top Leafs
TORONTO -- Michael Grabner scored two goals against his former team, helping the New York Rangers snap a three-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and J.T. Miller added goals for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist made 23 saves following a series of rough outings.

Tyler Bozak and Zach Hyman scored for Toronto, which had a three-game winning streak stopped. The Maple Leafs had earned 21 of a possible 26 points in their previous 13 games (10-2-1). Frederik Andersen gave up four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

Tavares leads Islanders to shutout of Stars
NEW YORK -- Getting a new coach this week didn't change things much for the Islanders -- and oddly enough, that's a good thing for New York.

John Tavares narrowly missed out on his second hat trick in a week, Thomas Greiss got his second straight shutout and the Islanders beat the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night in their first game since firing longtime coach Jack Capuano.

New York canned Capuano in the middle of his seventh season Tuesday, replacing him on an interim basis with Doug Weight (see full recap).

Niederreiter, Wild dodge letdown, edge Coyotes
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Nino Niederreiter had two power-play goals and an assist, including the go-ahead score for the Minnesota Wild with 7:06 remaining in a 4-3 victory over Arizona on Thursday night after the Coyotes came back from a two-goal deficit.

With Shane Doan in the penalty box for hooking, Niederreiter knocked in a nifty redirect of Mikael Granlund's slap shot for the winner. Devan Dubnyk stopped 20 shots for the Wild, who are 18-2-2 in their last 22 games.

Louis Domingue made 21 saves for the Coyotes, who lost their fourth in a row and fell to 2-12-1 in their last 15 games starting with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota in Arizona on Dec. 17 (see full recap).