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.

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

Sixers-Pelicans 5 things: Joel Embiid takes on dominating Anthony Davis

76ers (4-18) vs. Pelicans (7-15)
8 p.m. on TCN and CSNPhilly.com, Pregame Live starts at 7:30

The Sixers will try to snap their eight-game losing skid when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center on Thursday night.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Walking wounded, part II
After the Sixers were limited to nine available players in Tuesday's loss to the beat-up Memphis Grizzlies, things won't be much better in the health department in New Orleans.

Sure, Joel Embiid's expected return after sitting out the second half of a back-to-back set for rest will be a welcome boost. However, the Sixers are still dealing with a host of other ailments that will likely limit them to just 10 healthy bodies on Thursday night.

The Pelicans surely won't shed a tear for the Sixers because they have their own injury issues. New Orleans could have as many as five players sidelined, including former Sixer Jrue Holiday with turf toe.

2. The next big thing
All of the injuries won't decrease the game's intrigue, mainly because of the matchup at center between Embiid and Anthony Davis.

Embiid is coming off a subpar performance in his last outing against the Denver Nuggets, but the big man has still been as advertised this season. The rookie is putting up 18.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 23.3 minutes a game. Embiid is also shooting 46.8 percent from the field and an even 50.0 percent from three-point range.

On the other side, Davis has been an absolute monster for the Pelicans this season, even if it hasn't translated into many wins. 

The three-time All-Star leads the NBA in scoring with 31.6 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. While carrying the scoring load, Davis has still been able to average a career-high 11.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.

This should be the first of many meetings between two big men that look to dominate the future of the league.

3. Glass repair
With Embiid out on Tuesday, the Sixers were dominated 69-54 in the rebounding battle against the Grizzlies.

They should find things a little easier in that department against the Pelicans. Despite Davis' best efforts on the boards, New Orleans has allowed a league-high 48.9 rebounds to opponents this season. 

With Embiid back in the lineup, Ersan Ilyasova coming off a 17-rebound game and Richaun Holmes always active, the Sixers should be able to control the rebounding category.

4. Injuries
Jahlil Okafor (illness) is questionable. Robert Covington (knee/illness), Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Holiday (toe) and E'Twaun Moore (toe) are questionable. Tyreke Evans (knee), Dante Cunningham (knee) and Quincy Pondexter (knee) are out for the Pelicans.

5. This and that
•  The Sixers are trying to avoid a franchise-record 24th straight road loss.

•  The Sixers and Pelicans split the season series in 2015-16 with each team winning at home.

•  Ilyasova is averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 boards so far in December.

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

Eagles repeating pattern of digging first-quarter hole in defeats

It’s a pattern that keeps repeating itself. And it’s not a winning pattern.

Week after week, the Eagles are digging themselves a first-quarter hole. And week after week, they’re too far behind to catch up.

They trailed the Lions 14-0 in the first quarter. They trailed the Redskins 14-0 a minute into the second quarter. They fell behind the Cowboys 10-3 early in the second. The Giants jumped up on them 14-0 just six minutes in. And on Sunday, the Bengals led 10-0 before the first quarter was over.

If football games began at the start of the second quarter? This would be a different season. The Eagles would be 7-4-1.

The Eagles has actually outscored their opponents in the second, third and fourth quarters.

But the first quarter has been fatal.

The Eagles have been outscored by 32 points in the first quarter – 65 to 33. That’s their fourth-worst first-quarter scoring margin in the last 25 years, behind only three other nightmarish seasons – 1998 (minus-52), 2005 (minus-51) and 2012 (minus-75).

It’s also fourth-worst of any NFL team this year, ahead of only the Jets (minus-36), Broncos (minus-37) and Dolphins (minus-56).

Some teams – like the Broncos and Dolphins – have enough firepower to fight from behind.

The Eagles don’t.

They’re 4-0 when leading after the first quarter, 1-1 when tied after the first quarter and 0-6 when trailing after the first quarter.

At 0-6, they share the second-worst record in the NFL when trailing after 15 minutes with the Jaguars and 49ers. The Browns are 0-8 when trailing after the first quarter.

Last time the Eagles didn’t win a game all year when trailing after the first quarter was 1998. Before that 1977.

“It’s tough, especially in this league, to dig yourself a hole,” Carson Wentz said. “Whether the defense is struggling or the offense giving them points with turnovers and different things, it’s been a variation of a lot of those things. 

“It’s tough to dig yourself a hole against anybody, especially against good teams. So we’ve got to avoid that and we’ve got to come out swinging a little better early in games.”

The last time the Eagles won after trailing following the first quarter was the Dallas game last year, when they trailed 7-0 and won 33-27 in overtime.

What does it say about a team when it’s allowed twice as many points as it’s scored in the first quarter?

It sure seems like the Eagles several times this year simply haven’t been ready to play.

“The start to games, it's a mindset,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “It's truly a mindset. It's one of those things where as a team you want to come out and you want to kind of make the first punch, so to speak, or swing first. 

“We did it against Green Bay. We went down and scored, we matched touchdown for touchdown there. And we've done it throughout the course of the season. We've got to be a little more consistent offensively, too. That can also help. And then defensively it's just a matter of working to get off the field.

“It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the game if you can do that early in a football game.”

The Eagles have scored just three first-quarter touchdowns all year (only the Broncos have fewer) and haven’t scored more than seven points in any of their 12 first quarters.

They’ve allowed nine first-quarter touchdowns, and only one team has allowed more – the Dolphins with 10.

Wentz has completed 67 percent of his first-quarter passes but with just one TD pass and four interceptions.

Incredibly, the Eagles have only five plays all year of more than 20 yards in the first quarter – just one in the last four games. Only the Saints, Jaguars and Broncos have fewer.

Why are the Eagles so bad early in games?

“There is no other answer than to execute one play at a time,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “There's no magic formula. I think we've had good energy at practice. I like the way we practice. I feel like we are putting together good plans.

“We're showing flashes of being a good football team. We need to be more consistent. We need to make more big plays. It's hard to sustain 14-play drives. We've missed a few plays here and there. We just all – coaches, players together – need to make it work one play at a time.”

The only teams to outscore the Eagles in the second half are the Cowboys (13-10), Seahawks (10-8) and Packers (13-3).

When a team has outscored its opponents by 61 points in the second, third and fourth quarters combined and it’s 5-7, the focus has to be on the first quarter.

That means preparation. That means being mentally and physically ready. 

“Yeah, I do look at all of that, and that's part of my job is the (pregame) schedule and all,” Pederson said. “But these guys are in a great frame of mind on game day. They're loose; they're energetic; they're ready to go. They're focused. 

“You see it in pregame. It's been unfortunate, but it's something we've got to focus in on a little bit more … and try to strike first.”

The Eagles will try to end their three-game losing streak at 1 p.m. Sunday when they face the Redskins at the Linc.

The Redskins, 6-5-1 but with a two-game losing streak, beat the Eagles 27-20 in Landover, Md., in October.

“I think it just comes down to being focus and locking in,” Wentz said. “You’ve seen us. There’ve been games where we’ve come out and we’re rolling right away.

"We just have to find a way to maintain that and be consistent with that. The goal is to come out swinging right away.”