Union have real chance to make it hurt for rival Red Bulls tonight

Union have real chance to make it hurt for rival Red Bulls tonight

The Union's Leo Fernandes, left, and Maurice Edu, right, congratulate teammate Andrew Wenger (9) who scored during the second half against Real Salt Lake at PPL Park last Saturday.

First thing's first: Because of the Sixers and Phillies, the Philadelphia Union game tonight against the rival New York Red Bulls is on something called WACP TV-4 (7:30 p.m).  It sounds like a channel you probably don't get, but you definitely do:*

*UPDATE: Apparently the game is also on The Comcast Network, which I was unaware of. I'm assuming this plan was set into motion in case the Flyers opened their playoff series tonight and we had Phillies/Flyers/Sixers/Union overload. But, if you have Verizon FIOS, then you should find the channel below since you don't get TCN in HD (yet).

  • XFinity - Channel 789 (HD) or Channel 4 (SD)
  • FIOS - Channel 504 (HD) or Channel 4 (SD)
  • DirecTV and Dish Network - Channel 4
  • BONUS: It is also designated as the MLS Free Stream of the Week online.
  • NOTE: It seems to not be showing up on my FIOS guide, so if you plan on DVRing the game, you might have to set it manually by time.

Now that that's out of the way: the Union have never had much luck in the swamps of New Jersey against the Red Bulls. The Union have lost five times and drawn once at Red Bull Arena -- a frustrating stat that doubles down on the team's frustrating 1-1-4 start. In all four of the team's draws so far, they've allowed a goal in the final ten minutes.

Tonight' game poses a major opportunity for the Union to not only put that start behind them, but also send their archival into a panic button-worthy tailspin.

The Red Bulls have yet to win a game, posting two losses and four draws. As one of the Eastern Conference favorites entering the season, things are getting pretty dicey for last year's league darling, New York head coach Mike Petke. A loss at home to your nearest rival wouldn't help that cause any.

It appears it'll be all hands on deck for the Union tonight, which is a good thing considering the team has a quick turnaround before Saturday's home date with Houston. Cristian Maidana should be back in the starting lineup after coming on in the second half against RSL and delivering a perfect assist on Maurice Edu's equalizer. And newcomer Andrew Wenger, who was mighty impressive in his Union debut, at least has a few training sessions under his belt.

The real question mark tonight won't be the midfield or attack, it'll be if the back line can get it together. For the first time all year, the Union trotted out what has to be considered their preferred defensive lineup on Saturday, with Austin Berry and Amobi Okugo in the center and Sheanon Williams and Ray Gaddis on the outside.

Berry did not exactly bathe himself in glory. First he surrendered an early penalty, then failed to cover on the ensuing penalty kick, negating an amazing save by Zac MacMath as Luke Mullholland came in untouched for the rebound. In the second half, he botched a challenge in the penalty area that led to Kyle Beckerman's go-ahead goal.

Berry will obviously have some growing pains this early with a new team, but he and Okugo need to figure things out fast, or Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls will make him regret it tonight.

The consensus prediction seems to be a draw tonight, especially considering the two teams have combined for eight draws in 12 games. Sadly (or not, if you go by the accuracy of most of my predictions), I think New York gets it together and prevents the Union from getting their first win in Harrison.

PREDICTION: Red Bulls 2, Union 1

 

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

Despite blowout loss, Sixers see potential in Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor playing together

BOX SCORE

Brett Brown was ready to do it Wednesday night. The matchup against the Kings presented an opportunity to experiment with playing Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor together. That pairing had to wait two days, though, after the Kings game was postponed

On Friday, Embiid and Okafor shared the court for just under 13 minutes in the Sixers' 105-88 loss to the Magic (see Instant Replay), who also rolled out a duo of bigs in Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. 

“I thought we had our moments,” Embiid said. “We shared the ball, we made shots. Obviously we need to play more together and learn how to play with each other.”

Embiid and Okafor first played together for 5:29 in the second quarter. They scored all of the Sixers' 12 points during that time, including a pair of threes by Embiid. They also combined for five boards. The Sixers outscored the Magic, 12-9, with the bigs in together.

The benefits of the floor spacing was apparent. Oftentimes in the game, Okafor could be seen open at the basket with a hand up for the ball while Embiid was also getting looks from long range. 

“I liked our spacing, I liked the high-low stuff we were doing,” Brown said. “I think when you post Joel, that Jahlil is going to play sort of hide-and-seek on the other side of the floor, and work that low zone, and become — I hope — a potent offensive rebounder. When you post Jahlil, Joel has the ability to space to three.”

Brown turned to Embiid and Okafor again in the fourth. At that point, the Magic had a 23-point lead. Their next 7:25 together was a chance to give them a long run in live game action. They combined for another 12 points and four rebounds. All of their buckets were layups, dunks or free throws. Both teams scored 19 points with Embiid and Okafor in that segment.

Both Embiid and Okafor finished the game with double-doubles: 25 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for Embiid; 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Okafor. 

“I thought they played well together,” Vucevic said. “I thought it was tough to guard them because they’re both really good offensively.”

Okafor credited his friendship with Embiid, which dates back to high school, as a key to coexisting well on the court. Both emphasized their off-the-court relationship would help them in a game situation. 

“I think the communication piece went really well,” Okafor said. “He was talking to me, I was talking to him.”

Scoring and communication always seemed to be the easier parts of the pairing to tackle. Defense, though, was the challenge given that one of the centers would have to guard the four spot. Okafor noted their transition D as an area that needs improvement.

“We’re both used to going right to the rim,” Okafor said. “I think I had a couple easy buckets. That’s something we’ll be able to fix.” 

Brown had based his decision of when to play Embiid and Okafor together on the matchups. While the two could boast their own edge on the offensive end, Brown didn’t want to play them in a scenario in which they’d be at a huge defensive disadvantage. 

“It’s not offense to me, it’s defense. That’s the thing that is most challenging,” Brown said. “We want to play fast. We want to put points on the board. You don’t want to play in the 80s. You don’t want to do that, that’s not our sport anymore. So you want to make sure that you're capable of guarding the opposition.”

Vucevic noticed the challenge from an opposing perspective. He understands the necessary changes since playing alongside Biyombo.  

“It takes time for them to get adjusted, especially for the guy that will be playing the four defensively,” Vucevic said. “They’re not used to that because they always back down to the paint guarding the fives. It’s a different look. They have to work on it, communicate, and I think they’ll be fine.” 

On a night with few highlights in a 17-point blowout loss, Brown was able to take away a positive from this anticipated duo.

"I thought Jahlil and Joel did a really good job," he said. 

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Sixers Notes: Joel Embiid unhappy with effort; Robert Covington hurt

Joel Embiid didn’t see four quarters of basketball from the Sixers in their 105-88 loss to the Magic Friday night (see Instant Replay). Their efforts were inconsistent as they fell flat in long stretches and allowed the Magic to build up double-digit leads as high as 29 points.

The Sixers gave up a 16-0 run in the first and shot just 6 for 26 (23.1 percent) in the quarter. The Magic, who had lost a one-point game to the Grizzlies in Memphis the night before, rallied together to seize this opportunity.

“They just made a lot of shots that we didn’t,” Embiid said. “That’s the game, but we didn’t play hard all 48 minutes and we need to do a better job next time.”

The Sixers didn’t break 30 points until 4:33 to go in the second and attempted just two free throws in the first half. By the end of the third, the Magic had a 21-point lead which they held on to with in ease in the fourth. 

The Magic outshot the Sixers on all areas of the floor: 47.4 percent to 37.9 from the field and 50.0 to 28.1 from three. While the teams had nearly equal percentages from the line, the Magic shot 18 for 26 compared to only 7 for 10 from the Sixers. 

“They missed a lot of shots,” Magic forward Jeff Green said. “We got stops, were aggressive, guys just played hard and created for one another and played as a team.”

Covington injured
The Sixers are waiting to learn more news on the extent of Robert Covington’s injury. In the fourth quarter, Covington exited and did not return after suffering a left knee sprain when he collided with T.J. McConnell chasing a loose ball in front of the Sixers’ bench. If the starting small forward has to miss time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown is thinking ahead to possible lineup changes. 

“We'll try to figure out what his next week represents,” Brown said. “If we aren't with him, maybe there's a chance we can look at Dario [Saric] a little bit at the three.”

Covington is averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 27.5 minutes per game. Saric has been coming off the bench at power forward behind Ersan Ilyasova. He started 10 games earlier this season at the four spot. 

Embiid honored
The Sixers honored Embiid during a timeout for being named NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month (October and November). Embiid was appreciative of the award and has his sights set on the bigger picture this season.

“All the hard work I’ve put in, it feels great,” Embiid said earlier in the day at shootaround. “Obviously, maybe the bigger picture is Rookie of the Year, that’s what matters. … I don’t have my mind set on that. But if I can get it, that would be nice.”

Brown sees this recent showing as just a glimpse into what Embiid will be able to do over his career. Embiid leads the Sixers with 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. 

“This in infant stages, early days for him,” Brown said. “His body of work, given his lack of playing basketball, really is jaw-dropping for what I think he can be. To jump in and get rookie of the month I think is a real, sort of, quick snapshot view of him now. I think what he’s going to be is going to be extremely special.”

Embiid also is shooting 51.4 percent from three, including 3 for 5 against the Magic. When asked if he would like to participate in the three-point contest All-Star weekend, he said "it would be nice" and noted he would have to work on the speed of his release.