Union v. United - Who U Got?

Union v. United - Who U Got?

To say that things are tight in the MLS Eastern Conference would be an understatement. Only six points separate first place Kansas City and sixth place D.C. United. The Union, who sit in fourth place in the conference, four points off the top of the table, host D.C. United tonight at PPL Park (8PM/ESPN2) in a game with major playoff implications.

Both teams are coming off of impressive results. The Union picked up a crucial road point in Kansas City on Friday. D.C. smoked Real Salt Lake 4-1 at home. United is 2-2-1 over its last five, while the Union are 1-1-3 over that same stretch. The Union only have four games left after tonight. They need to start picking up three points at a time if they hope to make the playoffs.

Freddy Adu, who missed the Kansas City game due to an ankle injury, should hopefully be fit enough to face his former team for the first time. Adu joined D.C. as a 14 year old, the first overall pick in the 2004 MLS Super Draft.

United is now coached by Adu's former teammate, local boy Ben Olsen, who played his club ball for local powerhouse FC Delco.

The game will feature two of the hottest players in MLS. Sebastien Le Toux has scored seven goals in his last seven games. United's Dwayne De Rosario, who came to D.C. in a trade from New York, is coming off of a hat trick against Real Salt Lake. He's played so well that he's garnering MLS MVP consideration despite not joining United until mid-season.

In addition to Le Toux and De Rosario the game will showcase two of the league's best young playmaking midfielders. Both Roger Torres and Andy Najar possess the unique ability to pick out and complete passes in tight spaces and tough angles. They bring a ton of creativity to the game.

The Union will again be without Faryd Mondragon, who continues to recover from a broken finger. Sheannon Williams will also likely be out again (UPDATE: Williams is starting). Michael Farfan filled in for Williams in Kansas City and was responsible for setting up Le Toux's tying goal.

Lineup I'd Like to See Tonight: Zac MacMath, Michael Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Gabe Farfan, Brian Carroll, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres, Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: The Union have finally gotten back to what made them successful in the early going - defense. They need to keep things locked down in the back in support of the young MacMath. The home crowd pushes the Union to a 2-1 win.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red: Assuming he gets the starting nod, I'll go with Okugo. He'll be matched up with D-Ro, which could be a nightmare.

Photo from @UWISHUNU

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Some notes and keys ahead of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game:

• Since throwing for 301 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Carson Wentz's aerial numbers have declined — 238 yards in Detroit, 179 in Washington and 138 vs. Minnesota.

• Even though he missed two games with an injury, I still can't understand how Zach Ertz has been targeted only 16 times in four games this season.

• Dallas WR Cole Beasley is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now. Last November against the Eagles, he had nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With the Eagles' best slot cornerback, Ron Brooks, out for the year with a ruptured quad tendon, Malcolm Jenkins will have his hands full trying to keep up with Beasley in the slot.

• Eagles and Cowboys defensive backs beware: Jerome Boger's crew is officiating this game. This season, Boger's crew has called 36 penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

• The Eagles' 20 sacks ties them for third-most in the league. Dallas has allowed just nine, second-fewest in the NFL.

• Does Doug Pederson still have faith in RB Ryan Mathews late in games? Mathews has fumbled with less than five minutes left in two of the last three games. The head coach says he has not lost faith in Mathews, and Mathews says he'll stop fighting for more yards late in games. Time will tell.

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

After 2 fumbles, Mathews says he must fight urge to fight for more yards

Doug Pederson said this week he’s so concerned about Ryan Mathews’ late-game fumbling problem that he’ll consider using a different running back in crucial late-game situations (see story).

If Mathews is concerned about it, he’s not letting on.

“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” he said at his locker on Thursday. “Worrying about stuff like that just causes more stress.

“I can’t control any of that. The only thing I can control is trying to give him 100 percent every time I touch the ball and trying to get better.”

Mathews likely cost the Eagles a win over the Lions with his late fumble in Detroit three weeks ago. Last week, he lost another fumble in the final minutes of the Eagles’ win over the Vikings.

He’s the first back with two fumbles in the final five minutes of two games in the same season since Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants in 2010.

He has single-handedly accounted for two of the three fumbles by NFL running backs in the last five minutes of games this year.

Pederson on Wednesday said, “By no means am I down on Ryan,” but also said he would consider using Wendell Smallwood or Darren Sproles in late-game situations moving forward.

Mathews is averaging 3.9 yards per carry on a team-high 11 carries per game.

He said Thursday he has to learn not to fight for extra yards when the situation calls mainly for ball protection.

“You can’t fight for more yards, you’ve just got to go down,” he said. “Don’t put the ball on the ground.

“There’s no secret cure or anything like that. You’ve just got to get what you can get and get down. You can’t really fight for more yards like that.”

Mathews said it’s difficult for him to ramp down his natural aggressiveness in situations that call for him to be more conservative and protect the ball instead of trying to fight for extra yards.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I’m not the one to really shy away from not going down on first contact. But situations like that, you’ve just got to be more aware.”

Sproles (4.6 average on 31 carries), Smallwood (4.1 average on 28 carries) and Kenjon Barner (5.8 average on 16 carries) all have higher rushing averages than Mathews.

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he’s not concerned about Mathews and said his confidence in the 29-year-old former Pro Bowler hasn’t waned.

“I love our guys,” Reich said. “I wouldn't trade our guys for anybody. We use a word around here a lot, and I know sometimes it gets thrown around, but it's family.

“You know, not every family's perfect, and we all make mistakes, but when we put guys out on the field (we’re confident in them). I can't play like that. I can't coach like that. You've got to have confidence.

“Now with coaches, it’s a business and coaches make decisions based on things. And when those decisions get made, they get made. But when a guy is in the game, we have to play with confidence and we have to coach with confidence and I don't see any other way to do it.”