Top Five Reasons to Tune In for U.S.M.N.T. vs. Honduras Tonight

Top Five Reasons to Tune In for U.S.M.N.T. vs. Honduras Tonight

It’s been kind of a slow month for the Philadelphia Union, who are in the middle of an 18-day stretch without a league game.

But there’s still been a lot of soccer to watch with the US national team gearing up to play their third World Cup qualifier in the past 12 days tonight with a key tilt against Honduras tonight (ESPN, 9 p.m.).

Why should you bother watching the Americans play a year before the World Cup begins? There are a lot of reasons but here are five big ones:

1. National pride: The World Cup is incredible but there still can be plenty of fanfare for CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. For proof, all you needed to do was watch last Tuesday’s game in soccer-crazed Seattle when more than 40,000 fans packed into CenturyLink Field and created some incredible tifo. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that the US played probably their best game under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, beating Panama 2-0 and rising to the top of the Hexagonal group. Here are the juicy highlights:

2. Michael Bradley, the maestro: You could argue that Clint Dempsey is the best player on the national team or that Tim Howard is the most valuable. But nobody is playing at a higher level right now than Michael Bradley. Against Panama, the 25-year-old central midfielder controlled the game perfectly, completing 78 of the 87 passes he attempted and seemingly always making the right one. As Bradley goes, so go the Americans. And it’s fun to watch.

3. Altidore and the offense: Over the past few years, there have been questions as to when supremely talented striker Jozy Altidore would figure it all out. The answer could be right now. The 23-year-old had scored in three straight games, sparking an offensive surge for the Americans, who have netted 10 goals in the past four games as a team. Considering Altidore hadn’t scored in a US uniform for two years before that, his recent outburst has been one of the most promising things to come out of these recent qualifiers. Can he keep it going tonight?

4. Revenge: It can be a clichéd and overused term in sports but it’s still a tried-and-true American value. In February, the US opened Hexagonal play with an ugly 2-1 loss at Honduras, with many people questioning Klinsmann's tactics at the time. Since then, however, the Americans have gone 3-0-1 in World Cup qualifiers, allowing just one goal in that span. A win tonight would not only bring them closer to qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil but also prove they’re a lot better than they were when they last played Honduras. Oh, and they’d get some revenge too.

5. No more big games until September: Tonight’s contest marks the Americans’ last World Cup qualifier until Sept. 6 when they travel to Costa Rica to begin a final stretch of games. The best way to deal with that kind of layoff: securing a perfect nine points during June qualifying and inching even closer to the spectacle that will be Brazil 2014.

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.