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) 

Eagles-Redskins: 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Redskins: 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles are coming off their third straight loss and have dropped five of their last six. 

The Redskins have dropped two straight, but are still very much in the playoff hunt at 6-5-1.

The Birds are looking for their first win against the NFC East this season. Here are five matchups to watch.

Eagles defensive line vs. Redskins offensive line
In the matchup in Washington, the Redskins' O-line owned the Eagles' D-line to the tune of 230 rushing yards and nearly 500 yards total. The Eagles also failed to record a sack. And that was at a time when their line was playing fairly well.

The Eagles' line has come under serious fire and for good reason. They've grossly underperformed for a unit that's supposed to be the team's strength. As for the Redskins, their line has been very good all season and they'll get All Pro Trent Williams back after the massive tackle served a four-game suspension.

DeSean Jackson vs. Eagles' corners
DeSean has been on a roll. The Eagles' corners have not. In his last three games, Jackson has nine catches for 228 yards (good for 25.3 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. 

Last week in Cincinnati, the Eagles were burned by the formidable trio of Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core for 11 catches for 219 yards. Each receiver had at least one reception of 29 yards plus. It could be a long day for Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills.

Carson Wentz vs. Joe Barry
It's no secret that Wentz has been struggling. In his last three, Wentz  has three touchdowns to six interceptions and has completed less than 60 percent of his passes. Equally as alarming is that Wentz is 83 of 141 over that span. That's a ridiculous 47 attempts per game. Yes, the Eagles have been behind in those games, but Doug Pederson still needs to find a way to give this offense balance.

Barry's unit hasn't exactly set the world on fire, ranking 23rd in yards per game and 20th in points allowed. They've let up 31 points in each of their last two games, but it is important to note that they've played the Cowboys and the Cardinals. The Eagles don't have playmakers like Ezekiel Elliot and Dez Bryant or David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.

Ryan Kerrigan vs. Allen Barbre
Kerrigan looked unstoppable in the NFL debut of Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Kerrigan racked up 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hurries in the Redskins' win. Kerrigan has already reached double-digit sacks for the second time in his career and has notched a sack in each of his last three.

Barbre has performed admirably in the absence of both the suspended Lane Johnson and the injured Vaitai. It's also pretty clear that Barbre's best position is guard. It's going to be a stiff test for Barbre to contain Kerrigan. 

Jordan Matthews (maybe) vs. Josh Norman 
With Paul Turner performing well in the slot, it'll be interesting to see if Pederson decides to use Matthews on the outside more. Matthews is coming off an ankle injury that kept him out of the Eagles' loss to the Bengals and is listed as questionable on Sunday. Even if Matthews is 100 percent, it's not an ideal matchup for the Eagles.

Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

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Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK -- Lamar Jackson leapt over a loaded field of Heisman Trophy contenders early in the season and by the time he slowed down nobody could catch him.

The sensational sophomore quarterback became the first Louisville player to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, beating out preseason favorite Deshaun Watson of Clemson despite some late-season struggles.

Baker Mayfield finished third and Oklahoma teammate and fellow finalist Dede Westbrook was fourth. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers was fifth.

Watson, who finished third in Heisman voting last year, led a stacked group of contenders entering this season that included five of the top seven vote-getters in 2015.

Jackson outdid them all in his first season as Louisville's full-time starter, accounting for 51 touchdowns and averaging 410 yards per game in total offense. He ultimately won going away, with 2,144 points to Watson's 1,524. By percentage of possible points received, Jackson's victory was the sixth largest in Heisman history, and he became the youngest winner at 19 years, 352 days.

Jackson is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play on a team that lost its last two games of the regular season since Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987. He's the first to enter the postseason without a chance to win the national title since Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012.

No matter. Jackson did so much before November it was difficult to deny him the award because of a couple of missteps at the end.

He provided a signature moment against Syracuse, hurdling a defender on his way into the end zone, and then played his best against Louisville's toughest competition.

In a romp over Florida State and a close loss at Clemson, Jackson threw for 511 yards, ran for 308 and accounted for eight touchdowns. After ripping apart Florida State in September, he earned the stamp of approval from his idol, former Virginia Tech and NFL star Mike Vick.

Jackson left that Oct. 1 game in Death Valley as a threat to run away with the Heisman, but losses to Houston and Kentucky, when he committed four turnovers, in late November provided an opportunity for others to sway voters.

Watson made the biggest surge, but ultimately fell short.

Jackson continues a recent trend of breakout stars winning the Heisman. He is the sixth player to win the award as either a redshirt freshman or sophomore, all since 2007, joining Manziel (redshirt freshman), Jameis Winston (redshirt freshman), Mark Ingram (sophomore), Sam Bradford (sophomore) and Tim Tebow (sophomore).

Jackson came to Louisville as a three-star recruit from Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Some colleges were not sold on him as a quarterback, but Jackson was such a dynamic talented Louisville coach Bobby Petrino altered his offense to accommodate Jackson's speed and elusiveness.

Jackson flashed brilliance as a freshman and showed what was to come in the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M. He had 453 total yards and led Louisville to a victory.

Still, with so many well-established stars from Watson and Mayfield to running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Leonard Fournette of LSU, Jackson entered the season without much fanfare.

Just the way he likes it.

Jackson spent this season adjusting to newfound fame, growing into the role of face of the team and trying to stay out of the spotlight. He said he cut down on trips to the mall to avoid the inevitable crowds he drew.

He is about to become even more popular. Especially back in Louisville, where he has another year before he can even consider his next big jump -- to the NFL.