Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

The appetizer to your Memorial Day Soccer Saturday kicks off at 12:30 on Comcast SportsNet. It was such an amazing sentence to read that I couldn't resist lifting it directly from the MLS.com game preview..."Toronto FC remain home to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field".

Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. It even feels strange to type that. Yes, they are tied with New York (who has a game in hand) for first place, and technically are listed second in the standings thanks to goal differential, but the fact remains that ten games into the season the second year Union sit atop the table. Fairly remarkable, no?

In the course of preparing to write this I took a quick look at the Union's road record this season. Thus far they are 1-3-0 on the road. I wanted to compare their road futility with the other teams in the league to see how they stacked up away from home. What I saw was stunning.

If you had to guess how many of the 18 MLS teams had a winning record on the road what would you say? The answer? Three teams, LA 3-2-3, Real Salt Lake 2-1-1,and Chivas USA 2-1-2, are (barely) over .500 on the road.

How is that possible? What explains that? Honestly, I have no idea aside from the conventional soccer wisdom that road teams play more conservatively on the road in the hope of escaping with a point. Is the travel that rigorous? Are the home crowds that important? I mentioned this is an earlier post, and I have zero documentation to back it up, but I'd venture to say that those road numbers are even worse for teams traveling cross-country. Yes, I am making wild claims based on zero empirical evidence. Go with it.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, perhaps we should temper our expectations when the Union are away from PPL Park. Now, Toronto is not an elite MLS team. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, tied with D.C. United, with 12 points from 12 games. They bring a -6 goal differential into the match.

They are coming off a game where their leading scorer, Maicon Santos (3 goals on the season), came off the bench in the 60th minute. Similarly, in their last game they started an entirely new midfield. This is a team trying to figure out who they are and who can play where.

Yes, BMO Field used to be a very difficult place to play, but if the Union are going to earn some much needed road points this may be the spot to do it. This is particularly true considering that TFC just played a rain shortened game against Vancouver on Tuesday night as part of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

The Union are riding high after their offensive explosion (sarcasm) last week. For the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game. Both goals came off of dead ball situations. Michael Farfan flawlessly executed a textbook training ground corner kick. Carlos Ruiz put the Union ahead in style with that ridiculous golazo. It's wonderful that they executed on set pieces, but now the challenge will be to actually, you know, score some goals from the run of play.

The defense, playing in front of Faryd Mondragon, continues to be this team's strength. Although I hate to make yet another baseball comparison in a Union pregame post the fact remains that defense, like good pitching, will keep you in games and give you a chance to win each time out.

I'd imagine the first five names on Peter Nowak's team sheet each week are Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Harvey. The sixth is obviously Sebastien Le Toux, who along with Mondragon and Valdes, has played every minute of every game thus far. Le Toux = fitness.

You'd have to guess that after last week Ruiz is also going to be penciled into the lineup. Which brings us to the midfield, where there has been the most flux this season. Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Stefani Miglioranzi, the Farfan brothers...take your pick. No one has really put a stranglehold on a position. Last week it was Michael Farfan, Carroll, Okugo, and Mapp. This week? I have no idea. Perhaps coming off of a win this group will start together again.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Torres, Okugo, Carroll, Farfan, Le Toux, Ruiz.

Final Score Prediction: Just like pimpin' winning on the road aint easy. I see this one ending 1-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Let's go with Ruiz. It would be so him to follow up on that ridiculous goal from last week with a red card this week.

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

Sixers-Celtics 5 things: Slowing down Isaiah Thomas

The Sixers (4-15) continue their homestand against the Boston Celtics (11-8) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night (7:30 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup.

1. A green giant-sized challenge
Just crumple it up and move on.

That's about the only thing the Sixers can do after getting ran out of the gym by the Orlando Magic on Friday. Instead of looking like a team that hadn't played since Monday, the Sixers appeared flat in a 105-88 loss.

Outside of Joel Embiid's first 20-point, 10-rebound game (he had 25 points and 10 boards) and a strong effort from Jahlil Okafor (16 points and 13 rebounds), not much else went right for the Sixers.

Now Embiid will sit the second game of a back-to-back set and Okafor will be thrust into the starting lineup, as the Sixers try to deal with Boston big man Al Horford. 

Horford, the Celtics' prized free-agent acquisition, is coming off his best game so far for his new team. He recorded 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in the Celtics' 97-92 win over the Kings on Friday.

2. Little big man
Even with Horford coming off a productive performance, the Sixers' game plan against the Celtics has to focus on slowing down Isaiah Thomas.

The 5-foot-9 guard continues to put up big numbers in the scoring department. Despite his shooting percentages taking a dip this season, Thomas still ranks ninth in the NBA with a career-high 25.7 points per game. 

And even though he is a willing passer (averaging a career-high-tying 6.3 assists), expect Thomas to try and score early and often against the Sixers. After all, the reserve-turned-All-Star has put up 21.5 points per game against the Sixers during his career, his highest mark against any opponent.

3. Dial up the long-distance defense
The Sixers need to be aware of Thomas and just about all of his teammates when they toe that three-point line.

The Celtics rank fifth in the league in three-pointers attempted (31.1), three-pointers made (11.3) and eighth in three-point percentage (36.3) per game.

The C's have four players shooting above 40 percent from beyond the arc, and perhaps a bit surprising, three of them are big men. Jonas Jerebko (46.4 percent), Horford (42.4 percent) and Amir Johnson (40.0 percent) have all been on target from long range.

4. Injuries
Robert Covington (knee) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are both questionable. Embiid (rest), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

The Celtics have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost five games in a row overall and eight straight to the Celtics.

• The Celtics rank 25th in rebounding with 42.2 a night.

• Dario Saric had two points Friday against the Magic and has failed to reach double digits in scoring five of his last six games.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.