UnionRed Bull Derby at PPL

UnionRed Bull Derby at PPL

Last week the Union hit the road and played
the MLS west coast glamour franchise (LA Galaxy). This week it's the
east coast MLS glamour franchise, the New York Red Bulls, at home at PPL
Park (7PM/ESPN2).

In last week's game preview
I mentioned that the Union likely would not face a more talented
offensive trio than the Donovan, Beckham, Angel triumverate put together
by Bruce Arena and the Galaxy. This week I feel confident in saying
that the U will not face a more star-studded group than the one Red
Bulls coach Hans Backe puts out there this evening.

From back to front the New York lineup is littered with talent. The Red
Bull back four is anchored by former Barcelona man Rafa Marquez and
budding U.S. centerback Tim Ream. Look, as a USMNT fan I cannot stand
Marquez, and wish nothing but the worst for him, but even I have to
begrudgingly admit that he's had quite a career.

Dwayne De Rosario, who was just acquired from Toronto, is a five time
MLS Best XI selection, who has won four MLS Cups and is a threat to
strike from just about anywhere. Up front the Red Bulls feature Thierry
Henry (who has won every single major team trophy a player could ever
dream of - Premiere League, La Liga, Champions League, World Cup) and
sudden USMNT teenage scoring sensation Juan Agudelo.

They may be trophy-less, but on paper their lineup is incredibly impressive.

The Union, who have had trouble scoring goals thus far (just two in
three games), need to get things sorted out offensively. They've
developed this terrible habit of completely bypassing the midfield as
they transition from defense to offense. There has been no link
whatsoever between the back four and the midfield. Too often the backs
are simply pounding speculative long passes into space and hoping Carlos
Ruiz can catch up to it.

The lone playmaking midfielder who has had any impact this season is
Roger Tores. He's come off the subs bench the last two weeks and
injected some much needed life and creativity into the Union attack.
Stefani Miglioranzi and Brian Carroll have combined to clamp things down
defensively in the center of the field, but perhaps Peter Nowak should
consider introducing a more offensive minded player into his lineup?

Justin Mapp, who has missed the last two games due to injury, is not
listed on the injury report. If fit he'd provide some sorely needed wide
play. Perhaps Nowak will ease him back into the mix by utilizing him
off the bench. Lord knows they need his speed and service from the
flanks.

Defensively the Union don't need to change much. Perhaps better
marking on set pieces, as last week the Galaxy scored the decisive goal
off of a Beckham free kick. Aside from that Faryd Mondragon, Sheannon
Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, and Jordan Harvey have been
stellar.

I mentioned the marquee names the Red Bulls boast, but for some
reason the player that worries me most is Dane Richards. His speed may
present a serious problem for the Union. We saw how much they struggled
to contain Brad Davis against Houston. Richards, although not as class a
player as Davis, could cause the Union some problems.

One final note...the Union are coming off a 120-minute mid-week US
Open Cup loss to DC United. Nowak played the bulk of his starters
Wednesday night. We'll have to see how much, if at all, the energy they
expended against United hampers them tonight.

Final Score Prediction: The combination of the mid-week loss and the NYRB having superior talent dooms the Union tonight. Red Bulls win it 2-0.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Danny Califf, who is playing with a bum knee, may struggle all night to keep up with the pace and creativity of Agudelo.

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

NFL Playoffs: Matt Ryan, Falcons dismantle Packers to reach Super Bowl LI

The Atlanta Falcons are headed to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history after routing the Green Bay Packers 44-21 in the NFC championship game.

Matt Ryan threw for four touchdowns, including a 73-yard catch-and-run for a highlight-reel score by star receiver Julio Jones. The defense played just as crucial a role in containing quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense.

Rodgers had 287 yards with three touchdown passes and an interception. But the Falcons got to Rodgers with pressure and forced two Green Bay turnovers. Rodgers was outplayed by Ryan, who even ran for a 14-yard touchdown.

Atlanta will play either New England or Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Houston.

The only other time that Atlanta made the Super Bowl was in the 1998 season. The Falcons lost 34-19 to the Denver Broncos.

The Packers fell in the NFC title game for the second time in three seasons.

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jonathan Isaac has a banner week

Two of the country's top prospects faced off in the Pac 12 this week while a top 10 forward saw his season come to a premature close. However, we begin this week with the breakout performance by Jonathan Isaac.

Jonathan Isaac, forward, Florida St. (6-11/205)
Isaac's potential had everyone in the basketball world's curiosity. Now his play on the court has their attention. The Seminoles hosted No. 15 Notre Dame, which had yet to lose in ACC play before the Wednesday game. 

The freshman forward dominated in the 83-80 win. He had 23 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field. He made both his threes, all seven of his free throws and also had one assist. His other stats were also otherworldly. He picked up 10 rebounds and had seven(!) blocks, including one on a late Notre Dame shot to get back into the game after he'd put the Seminoles ahead with a three. All this was in just 25 minutes

He followed it up with a similar game against Louisville. In 28 minutes, he had 16 points on 4 for 7 shooting, making one three and, again, all seven free throws. Add in two assists and two blocks to aid in the 73-68 win. Isaac has shown himself to be an athletic freak, a potential stretch-four at the next level and one with tremendous defensive potential, displayed with his nine blocks this week.

OG Anunoby, forward, Indiana (6-8/235)
Anunoby has had an uneven season, but he, at the very least, showed flashes of the ability that make him a top player for this year's draft class. However, a knee injury suffered on Wednesday finished off Anunoby's season, forcing him to undergo surgery that will keep him off the court for the rest of Indiana's schedule.

This may knock him out of the 2017 draft entirely. As a freshman last year, his NCAA Tournament performance was enough to make him a lottery pick in an even weaker draft field than the upcoming one. He chose to remain in school and it isn't farfetched to believe he will return to Indiana for his junior year to get more seasoning, a better draft field and another year of education.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
There are going to be quite a few marquee matchups in the Pac 12. One of the first this year came in the form of UCLA-Arizona in Los Angeles on Saturday. The No. 3 Bruins lost, 96-85, but that had nothing to do with Ball's standout performance (more on the Wildcats below). He pushed the ball in transition, drove to the hole with ease and made 4 of 8 threes with his quirky shot. 

He had 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting and had eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and a block. When you watch Ball score so naturally, it's easy to forget his potential as a point guard, but then he whips up beautiful assists as he did many times on Saturday. The freshman has everything you want in a point guard.

Lauri Markkanen, forward, Arizona (7-0/225)
The No. 14 Wildcats picked up their biggest win of the year, moving to 7-0 in conference play. As you can expect, Markkanen had a big game to push Arizona past UCLA. He had 18 points on 6 for 10 shooting, was 3 for 3 from three and made three free throws, all which grabbing seven boards. Like Isaac, he is a tantalizing talent as a stretch-four, hanging out around the perimeter and spotting up for threes well.

He now has 16 made threes in his last four games and has averaged over seven boards in that stretch. He's not unbelievably thin like many fours his age. The freshman really can battle down low and get his shot, and he justifies his prospect status on a game-by-game basis with his ability.

Markelle Fultz, guard, Washington (6-4/195)
Washington lost on Saturday, moving to 9-10 and 2-5 in conference. But it's worth talking about Fultz's standout Wednesday night. The freshman willed his team back from 17-points down with a 37-point performance en route to an 85-83 OT win over Colorado. In 43 minutes, he was 13 for 24 from the field and 11 for 15 from the free throw line.

Don't think he's just a scorer, though. He had eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks, doing it all for the Huskies as he usually does. The freshman sensation was 0 for 2 from three, but he is normally efficient from beyond the arc. He alone is the reason to watch the under .500 Huskies.

While the 9-10 Huskies are unlikely to make a late run towards March Madness, the strong Pac 12 should provide many marquee matchups for Fultz. He faces off vs. a stout Arizona team next Sunday afternoon. Six days later, the long awaited matchup between Fultz and Ball up in Seattle goes down with presumably many scouts in attendance.

Quick Hits

Malik Monk, guard, Kentucky (6-4/185)
Twenty-seven points on 9 for 14 shooting, 4 for 7 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, two steals and four turnovers in an 85-69 win over No. 24 South Carolina.

Josh Jackson, guard/forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Fifteen points on 6 for 14 shooting, 2 for 5 from three, 1 for 3 on free throws, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and six turnovers in a 79-67 win over Texas.

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
Fourteen points on 4 for 9 shooting, 1 for 4 from three, 5 for 6 on free throws, three rebounds, one assist, three turnovers and five fouls in a 70-58 win over Miami.