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 NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

Best of NFL: Redskins notch 1st win vs. Giants; Cowboys rout Bears

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  -- Dustin Hopkins kicked a 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter for his fifth of the game and the Washington Redskins avoid a near-disastrous 0-3 start with a 29-27 win over the penalty- and error-prone New York Giants on Sunday.

Kirk Cousins threw touchdown passes of 44 yards to DeSean Jackson and 55 to Jamison Crowder as the banged-up Redskins (1-2) handed new coach Ben McAdoo his first loss with the Giants (2-1).

Su'a Cravens ended the Giants' final drive with an interception in New York territory. It was Eli Manning's second pick of the quarter, with the other coming in the end zone by Quinton Dunbar after New York got to the Redskins 15 on a big play by Odell Beckham Jr.

This was a wild NFC East matchup that see-sawed the entire second half after Washington rallied from a 21-9 deficit (see full recap).

Prescott, Cowboys rout Bears on SNF
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Dak Prescott led scoring drives on all four Dallas possessions in the first half before throwing his first career touchdown pass, and the Cowboys beat the Chicago Bears 31-17 on Sunday night to snap an eight-game home losing streak.

With his second straight win, Prescott doubled the number of victories the Cowboys (2-1) had in 14 games without injured quarterback Tony Romo over three seasons before the rookie fourth-round pick showed up.

Prescott's first TD pass was a 17-yarder to Dez Bryant for a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and he's up to 99 throws without an interception to start his career. Philadelphia rookie Carson Wentz has 102, and those are the two highest career-opening totals in NFL history.

Brian Hoyer had trouble moving the Chicago offense early with Jay Cutler sidelined by a sprained right thumb as the Bears fell behind 24-3 at halftime and dropped to 0-3 for the second time in two seasons under coach John Fox (see full recap).

Vikings stop Newton, snap Panthers' home win streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C.  -- The Minnesota Vikings keep finding ways to overcome injuries --and keep finding ways to win football games.

Sam Bradford threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, Marcus Sherels returned a punt for a score and the Vikings snapped the Carolina Panthers' 14-game home winning streak 22-10 on Sunday.

The Vikings put the clamps on Cam Newton, intercepting the league's reigning MVP three times and getting eight sacks, one of those resulting in a safety by Danielle Hunter. The eight sacks were the second-most ever against Newton.

"We have a great team -- the best team I have been a part of," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who had three sacks. "We come from every area on the field and we get sacks."

Said Newton: "They were dictating to us after they got the momentum."

The Vikings improved 3-0 despite losing running back Adrian Peterson and offensive tackle Matt Kalil to injuries last week. They lost starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the preseason (see full recap).

Bills bounce back with win over Cardinals
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.  -- LeSean McCoy scored twice and safety Aaron Williams returned a botched field-goal snap 53 yards for a touchdown in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 33-18 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 20-yard run at a time the Rex Ryan-coached Bills spent the past week taking the brunt of criticism after opening the season 0-2.

The win also came on the heels of Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

McCoy scored on 24- and 5-yard runs, and finished with 110 yards rushing after combining for just 117 in his first two games. Taylor had 76 yards rushing, including a 49-yarder, the longest by a quarterback in team history (see full recap).

Visit TicketIQ to discover the lowest prices on Eagles tickets anywhere, zone-level ticket data and seat views from fans just like you!”

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

Doug Pederson: For the Eagles, 'this was a good benchmark'

On his way to the locker room following his team's stunning 34-3 victory over the Steelers, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson reacted, well, like you probably did.

Pederson had to be surprised by what had just transpired. After all, this wasn't the Browns or the Bears. This was the Steelers, who entered the game with the second-best odds behind New England, per Bovada, of winning the Super Bowl (the Patriots were first). 

And the Eagles didn't just beat them. They clobbered them.

But minutes later, when Pederson met the media for his postgame press conference, he tried his best to act like it was no big thing.

“I told the team way back in OTAs that it just takes a little bit of belief," Pederson said. "Belief in themselves. Trust the process. Believe in the coaches and the coaches believe in one another. That’s what they did tonight. 

"Am I surprised? A little. But at the same time, I know that locker room, I know those guys and I know what they are building. By no means have we accomplished anything yet. The season is still extremely young. But what they did tonight just proves that they are coming together as a football team.”

Yeah, yeah. Sorry, Doug. It's OK to be surprised. Scratch that. Make that stunned. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year. But now? Forget that. 

At least for the next two weeks. The Eagles are on their bye week and don't play again until Oct. 9 at Detroit. 

“It is still a young season, only three games. This was a good benchmark," Pederson said. "That’s a good football team, the Steelers are a great football team. They are going to be there at the end, they always are. Coach (Mike) Tomlin always has those guys ready to play. 

"But for our guys, it is just a little glimpse of that belief that I have been saying since the spring and summer. If they just do their jobs, I just feel that good things can happen. We just protect each other in that dressing room in there and keep coming to work everyday.”

Pederson is the only head coach in team history to win each of his first three games. It's only the ninth time the Eagles have started 3-0.

And of course, a big reason they've done so is their prodigy quarterback Carson Wentz, who became only the second rookie in team history to record a 300-yard passing game (Nick Foles is the other).

More impressively, Wentz now has attempted 102 straight passes without an interception, the longest streak ever begin an NFL career (per ESPN). Dallas'  Dak Prescott is at 99 after the Cowboys beat up the Bears.

But don't ask Pederson to admit he's amazed by Wentz or the fact he had the presence of mind to make plays like the riveting 73-yard TD pass to Darren Sproles (much more on that here).

“You know, you just put on his college film. Just watch him," Pederson said. "We exhausted his college tape and those were the plays that he made at North Dakota State. That play tonight was just a tremendous play by both he and Darren Sproles. Those are the types of things that we know he can do. He just keeps gaining confidence every single week.”

As does the defense, which kept one of the league's most potent offenses out of the end zone

"They just weren’t going to be denied," Pederson said. "They just weren’t going to bow their necks. They weren’t going to let them in the endzone. It just came down to our will versus theirs and I was just so happy with the way the guys played. Just a great team effort.”