Union v. Dynamo, Leg Two: WWPD?

Union v. Dynamo, Leg Two: WWPD?

The Union head into tonight’s second leg of the MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals (8:30/ESPN2) against the Houston Dynamo down a goal. Outscore the Dyanmo by two goals in regulation and they’ll advance to the Conference Finals. Outscore the Dynamo by one goal in regulation and they’ll force a 30 minute overtime (there is no “golden goal”). If the two teams remain tied on aggregate after the 30 minute overtime then the winner will be determined by penalty kicks.

The real question heading into this match is what in the world is Peter Nowak going to do with his lineup? Honestly, it’s a total crapshoot. Part of me thinks that he pencils in the eight regulars (Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, Brian Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Sebastien Le Toux) and then in a fit of Jackson Pollack-esque inspiration he throws three random names on the team sheet.

If I were smarter and had more business savvy I’d market WWPD (“What Would Peter Do”) rubber bracelets and t-shirts. At this point, asking What Would Peter Do, as it relates to his choice of players and formation, is just as existential a question as the original WWJD.

The guy has had tremendous success wherever he’s been. He knows what he’s doing. But what does it say about him (or me for that matter) that I wouldn’t put it past him, despite entering the game down a goal, to trot out a 6-3-1 and give never-been-used Joe Tait a starting nod?

I am done trying to guess what he’s going to do. All I know is that his team needs to find a way to score at least one more goal than Houston tonight. How would I go about doing that? Glad you asked.

As I mentioned, there are arguably three open spots in the starting eleven. I can say with 100% certainty that I would not start Stefani Miglioranzi. Can I coach, or can I coach? Beyond that, you need to balance the need to score goals with the reality that you really can’t afford to concede any either.

As much as I’d love to let Freddy Adu and Roger Torres loose for 90 minutes, I think you’d be giving up too much defensively. If forced to start just one of those two, I’d opt for Torres. You won’t find a bigger Adu fan than me, but I prefer Torres’ ability to pull the strings from the center of the pitch.

Adu is an ideal weapon to bring off the bench in the 65th minute. You can plug him in along the flank and let him utilize his ability to break defenders down 1 v. 1 and provide dangerous service into the box.

So, with Torres in my starting lineup I have two spots left. As frustrating as he is, I’d give Justin Mapp another start. It’s a roll of the dice, but he could just as easily be invisible for 70+ minutes, or he could score two golazos and singlehandedly push the Union into the Conference Finals. He’s that hit-or-miss.

The third and final spot comes down to the ineffective Danny Mwanga, the returning from injury Veljko Paunovic, and the diminutive Jack McInerney. Much has been written about the height advantage the Dynamo have over the Union. This disparity was on display Sunday when the Union stubbornly insisted on trying to beat the Dynamo back line with balls in the air.

Yes, Jack McInerney flicked a header off of the crossbar on Sunday, but I’d rather take my chances against the Dynamo by keeping the ball on the ground. Assuming they make a concerted effort to keep the ball on the ground I’d start McInerney and bring Mwanga off of the bench. Although, Nowak loves Paunovic, so don’t be surprised to see him start.

Tactically, I’d deploy these eleven starters in a standard 4-4-2. I’d give Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams the green light to get forward with the understanding that marking Brad Davis and shutting down his service is of the utmost importance.

Finally, Robertson Stadium is an absolute nightmare. You’ll see all kinds of lines across the field (soccer lines, football lines, field hockey lines, rugby lines, badminton lines, clothing lines, etc.), which make for a total television eyesore.

Aesthetics aside, the field is incredibly narrow. As a Union fan you’ve got to hope that the narrow pitch means that Union will be less vulnerable to the sort of heels-on-the-touchline width provided by Davis.

If the Union have any chance of advancing they’ll need to keep the ball on the ground, win the aerial battles in their own box, limit Houston’s set pieces, and finish. Dynamo keeper Tally Hall was credited with ten saves on Sunday. The U need to find a way finish those chances.

Starting Lineup I’d Like to See – As detailed above: Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, G. Farfan, M. Farfan, Carroll, Torres, Mapp, Le Toux, McInerney.

Final Score Prediction: I cannot get a read on this game. The Union are 2-0 all-time in Houston. Sure, there’s pressure on them, but as a second-year franchise they are not expected to win this game. Maybe they come out loose and play some free-flowing soccer. I foresee a scenario where the Union play well, score an early goal, and then get caught going for it late. The game ends 1-1, and Houston advances 3-2 on aggregate.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red: N/A (retired for the playoffs) 

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

Best of NBA: Curry, Warriors demolish Cavaliers, 126-91, at home

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors certainly looked ready to trade some more blows with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers come June.

The two-time reigning MVP hit five 3-pointers and had 20 points while matching his season best with 11 assists in Golden State's 126-91 rout of the defending champs Monday.

Klay Thompson scored 26 points with five 3s, and Curry made four steals. Draymond Green produced his third triple-double of the season with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists while matching his career best with five blocks -- and had another dustup with King James in the process.

James had 20 points on 6-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds, and he and Green became the talk once more as their relationship turned even more testy.

Kevin Durant added 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three blocks for the Warriors in a much-hyped matchup merely weeks after Golden State lost 109-108 in Cleveland on Christmas (see full recap).

Thomas explodes for 17 in fourth quarter to lift Celtics over Hornets
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas scored 17 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter, and the surging Boston Celtics beat the Charlotte Hornets 108-98 on Monday night for their ninth victory in 11games.

It was Thomas' 25th straight game with 20 or more points. He's been putting up big final quarters of late -- scoring 20 or more three times this season. No other NBA player had done it more than once entering Monday.

Al Horford had 22 points, while Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 apiece for Boston, which has won all three meetings with Charlotte this season.

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Marvin Williams 21 for the Hornets, who lost their fifth straight -- all on the road.

Thomas scored 13 straight points, pushing Boston ahead 93-83 with his 3-pointer from the left wing with 7 minutes left.

Boston led 80-71 entering the final period (see full recap).

Wizards remain hot with win over Trail Blazers
WASHINGTON  -- Bradley Beal scored 25 points and John Wall had 24 as the Washington Wizards took a page from the Portland Trail Blazers' playbook by hitting 13 3-pointers in a comfortable 120-101 victory on Monday afternoon.

The Wizards, who rely less on the 3-pointer than almost any NBA team, were 13 of 23 from beyond the arc in their 12th consecutive home victory. The 3-pointer-heavy Trail Blazers shot 8 of 26 on 3-point attempts.

After Washington coach Scott Brooks called Portland guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum as good as any backcourt in the league, Beal and John Wall outplayed them. Lillard led the Blazers with 22 points and McCollum had 12, but they combined to shoot 11 of 29 from the floor.

The Wizards have won four of their last five games (see full recap).

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

Best of NHL: Penguins halt Capitals 9-game streak with wild 8-7 OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored 34 seconds into overtime and the Pittsburgh Penguins ended the Washington Capitals' nine-game winning streak with a wild 8-7 victory Monday night that included nine second-period goals.

Sheary had two goals and an assist for the Penguins, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Evgeni Malkin picked up his 11th career hat trick during a frenetic second period, and Sidney Crosby collected his NHL-leading 27th goal to go with two assists. Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored for Pittsburgh, and Matt Murray got the win despite allowing seven goals on 28 shots.

The Penguins trailed 3-0 before scoring six goals in less than 11 minutes in the second period, more goals than the Capitals had allowed in a game all season. Pittsburgh led 6-5 after 40 minutes.

Lars Eller scored twice for Washington, and T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky also found the net. Philipp Grubauer made eight saves after coming on in relief of Braden Holtby, who was pulled during Pittsburgh's second-period deluge (see full recap).

Eichel scores twice to give Sabres' 4-1 win over Stars
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals and the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday.

Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into the first period. Ennis returned after missing 30 games with a groin injury that required surgery.

Jake McCabe also had a goal and Robin Lehner made 31 saves after missing the past three games with an illness.

The Sabres snapped a two-game losing streak and beat the Stars for the first time in four matchups.

Radek Faksa scored for the Stars in the opener of a three-game road trip. Kari Lehtonen stopped 25 shots. Dallas has lost two in a row and six of eight (see full recap).

Bishop anchors Lightning to 2-1 win over Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brian Boyle scored the go-ahead goal late in the second period, and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened a six-game road trip with a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.

Ben Bishop made an early mistake that led to Kyle Clifford's goal for the Kings, but bounced back to make 31 saves in his second start back from a three-week absence with a lower-body injury.

Tyler Johnson scored in the first period for the Lightning, who won for just the second time in seven games.

Peter Budaj stopped 27 shots for the Kings.

Both teams played without stars due to illness. Kings captain Anze Kopitar missed his first game since Nov. 20, and All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman missed his first game of the season for Tampa Bay (see full recap).