USA-Mexico: Soccer fans will be watching, and so should you

USA-Mexico: Soccer fans will be watching, and so should you

Long ago, I stopped trying to be “that guy” who insists everyone should love soccer.

Sure, I welcome newbies to watch a game or come to
PPL Park, and I’ll happily preach the virtues of the sport I love.
But I don’t get angry at the soccer “haters” anymore. There
are plenty of us who love soccer, and there are many who don’t. To
each his or her own.

But, for the next few hundred words, I will beg you
to carve out time in front of the TV tonight (Flyers-Rangers will be
over in plenty of time).

Today is a day for anyone who enjoys sports for what
it is: drama in its most simple sense.

Just after 10 p.m., the United States travels to Mexico
City for a critical World Cup 2014 qualifier against its biggest rival.
If you’re looking for predicted starting lineups and detailed tactics,
there are countless sites out there for you (and me), like this one, this one
and this one.

For everyone else, ignore the soccer-head details
and just enjoy a quick primer on a game you should be watching.

The Long Road

World Cup qualifying is a grueling process, especially
in North and Central America, where it began not long after the 2010
World Cup was over. The current (and final) round of qualifying – 
called the Hexagonal – includes six teams who will spend this
year playing each other home and away for a total of 10 games. Teams
get three points for a win and one for a draw.


Tonight is the third game of the cycle, after the
Americans lost the opener in Honduras and got three big points in a
blizzard on Friday against Costa Rica. (The Costa
Ricans protested the result with FIFA
, arguing
the game should not have been played in the snow. How do you say “sour
grapes” in Spanish? It was just announced their protest was denied.)

Honduras leads the group with four points, including
a big draw against Mexico on Friday. The U.S. is second with three points,
while Jamaica, Mexico and Panama all have two points. Costa Rica has
one.

The top three teams at year’s end earn automatic
bids to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The fourth-place team will play
a home-and-home combined-goal series against New Zealand for a berth.

El Azteca

Mexico has arguably the greatest homefield advantage
in sports.


 “El Tri,” as they are known, play home
qualifiers in Estadio Azteca, their massive concrete home that
not only holds 100,000 screaming Mexican fans, but sits 7,200 feet above
sea level – nearly half a mile HIGHER than Mile High Stadium, where
NFL players constantly whine about not being able to breathe. That doesn’t
take into account the smothering pollution and smog that blankets Mexico
City at all times.

The United States posted its first-ever win at Azteca
in a friendly last year – but most soccer fans (including this one)
don’t take it too seriously. Friendlies never have complete rosters,
and you never know who is taking the game more seriously.

Mexico is has 32 wins and just 16 losses all time
against the U.S., and is 8-1-1 all-time against the Americans at Azteca
(the best soccer writer around – Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl
– argues today that the Azteca mystique may be dying
).

A loss tonight would not be the end of the world – 
no one expects points in Mexico City – but a win would serve
two purposes. It would not only all but lock up a World Cup berth (barring
an epic meltdown), it would send Mexico into full-scale panic mode.
It would likely cost Jose Manuel de La Torre his job.

Really.

Jurgen’s World


The Americans – and flashy head coach Jurgen
Klinsmann – are one week removed from a devastating
article by great soccer writer Brian Straus in the Sporting News
.
The article quoted unnamed players who seriously doubt Klinsmann’s
leadership and wonder if he’s the right man to help the team take
the next step.

Friday’s snowy spectacle against Costa Rica took
some of the shine off that story, but a lackluster effort tonight would
reignite the debate.

Klinsmann was hired to help U.S. Soccer take the next
step, and even flirting with non-qualification for the World Cup would
be devastating for the sport in this country. That is not hyperbole.

Just Watch

If you like sports, it’s a game not to miss. Plus,
you’ll get to hear the soothing
sounds of ESPN’s Ian Darke
, who will be joined by
former Philadelphia Union color analyst Taylor Twellman and current
Union analyst Alejandro Moreno on ESPN.

So after the Flyers lose to the Rangers (don’t kid
yourself, it’ll happen), crack open another beer, plan to miss that
Wednesday morning staff meeting and stay up late to root for the red,
white and blue.

A large group of hearty American fans, members of
the American Outlaws, will be in the upper reaches of the Azteca –
about 8,000 feet above sea level – surrounded by fans who enjoy throwing
bags and cups of their own urine (at least I assume it’s their own)
at American players and fans.

So the least you can do it stay up past your bedtime.

Follow Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.

NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

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NBA Playoffs: Stephen Curry, Warriors fight off elimination

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "We ain't going home! We're not going home!" Stephen Curry screamed at the top of his lungs.

No, his Golden State Warriors are going back to Oklahoma City, after keeping their title reign and the winningest season in NBA history alive for at least one more game.

Curry scored 31 points, raising his arms in the early moments to fire up Golden State's raucous crowd, and the defending champions staved off elimination with a 120-111 victory over the Thunder on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

"We just did what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to win at home," Curry said. "We know what we still have to do going forward. ... We knew if we didn't win we were going home. There's no other motivation you need."

For all the speculation about the current state of Curry's beat-up body -- that troublesome ankle, sore knee or tender elbow -- he did it all.

"I thought he looked like 91 percent," coach Steve Kerr cracked. "He came out and played a really good game. That's all I can tell you. He's going to compete every night. He had an excellent night and helped us get it done."

Led by Curry, the Warriors looked like their old winning selves again.

The MVP made a snazzy layup late and dished out six assists, while Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit.

"None of us want to go home," Thompson said. "We're having too much fun out there."

Kevin Durant scored 40 points and Russell Westbrook added 31 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and five steals for the Thunder, trying for the fifth NBA Finals appearance in franchise history and first championship since moving from Seattle.

The record-setting, 73-win Warriors, coming off their first back-to-back defeats all season, had been blown out in two losses at Oklahoma City by a combined 52 points.

"We have to take that game and travel," Curry said of keeping momentum.

Durant's 3-pointer with 4:34 left got the Thunder within 103-98, then Curry answered with a three-point play.

Curry scored seven points in a 58-second stretch of the second quarter and hit more big shots late, but the Thunder didn't go away easily.

"I liked our will, I liked our fight," Kerr said. "We were embarrassed in OKC the last couple games."

Trailing 58-50 at halftime, Oklahoma City came out of the break with a 9-2 run. Westbrook's 3-pointer with 6:06 left in the third put Oklahoma City ahead 68-67 for its first lead of the night. But Golden State led 81-77 going into the fourth and began the final period with an 8-0 burst.

"We didn't shoot a particularly good percentage when we got into the lane and got into the deep paint," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "We had our opportunities."

Curry shot 9 for 20 and also had five steals, while Thompson had his 11th 20-point game for the second straight postseason despite shooting 2 for 9 from 3-point range. After struggling the past two games, Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds a day after receiving some encouraging words from Kobe Bryant on the phone.

"We really relied on the entire team tonight, which is when we're at our best," Curry said.

Kerr figured his Warriors might have an edge against the percentages of teams having trailed 3-1 because they're the defending champs and were playing at home, where they have been nearly unbeatable.

He wasn't surprised to see this team respond so well.

"We played with great desperation," Kerr said. "I knew how we would play. This is a championship team."

Kerr called for center Andrew Bogut to do more and the 7-footer delivered with a playoff career-high 15 points and 14 rebounds for his second double-double this postseason and seventh of his career.

Marreese Speights had a pair of three-point plays on follow shots and a 3 in the second quarter to give Golden State a nice lift off the bench. He had nine points in four minutes during that stretch and 14 points overall for his fifth double-digit scoring game this postseason.

"Their bench came in and made shots, made plays for them," Durant said. "We know we're going home. We can't relax."

Golden State made 31 of 34 free throws.

With his 1,248th career postseason point in the third, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain (1,246) for second place on the franchise's playoff scoring list.

"That's who he is, that's what he's done, and that's what's made him a very good player," Donovan said.

Tip-ins
Thunder: The franchise lost in the finals in 1977-78, 1995-96 to Kerr and the Chicago Bulls and in `12. ... Steven Adams sat down with his second foul at the 9:34 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder had seven fouls to Golden State's one after the first. ... Oklahoma City took Game 1 at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost only three times all season. ... The Thunder started the game 3 for 14.

Warriors: Green picked up his fifth technical of the postseason. He also has at least one steal in 16 straight playoff games. ... Golden State missed six of its first seven 3s. ... The Warriors supported Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager with "Sager Strong" T-shirts for sale to support awareness and research for leukemia and lymphoma, both blood cancers.

Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

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Best of MLB: Jose Fernandez strikes out 12 in Marlins' win over Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings Thursday and won his sixth straight start for the Miami Marlins, a 9-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Fernandez (7-2) struck out eight of the last 10 batters he faced and struck out every hitter in the Rays lineup at least once. The 23-year-old right-hander from Tampa gave up six hits in beating his hometown Rays for the first time in three tries. He finished the game with 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings, highest among major league starters.

Adeiny Hechavarria and Chris Johnson homered for the Marlins, who won three of four in their annual series against the Rays.

Hechavarria's third home run drove in the final two runs of a three-run second inning off Rays starter Drew Smyly. Johnson made it 5-0 with his second homer an inning later, Johnson's first hit in 22 interleague at bats (see full recap).

Rockies silence Red Sox, Bradley's hit streak
BOSTON -- Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau hit two-run homers and the Colorado Rockies stopped Jackie Bradley Jr.'s 29-game hitting streak with a 8-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.

The win ended a three-game losing streak by Colorado and it ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Sox. Bradley's major league-best streak was halted when he went 0 for 4 after moving up to the leadoff spot for the first time this season.

Jon Gray (2-2) gave up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first, but pitched six scoreless innings before leaving in the eighth.

Clay Buchholz (2-5) took the loss. He pitched three perfect innings before things came apart in the fourth, when he gave up Gonzalez's homer with the other two coming the following inning (see full recap).

Happ leads Blue Jays past Yankees
NEW YORK -- J.A. Happ pitched seven strong innings, Edwin Encarnacion and Devon Travis had two-out RBIs, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-1 on Thursday to win the three-game series.

CC Sabathia was the tough-luck loser for New York, allowing just two unearned runs. Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in his first game since going on the disabled list May 4 with a strained right hamstring.

Happ (6-2) allowed one run on three hits in seven innings with five strikeouts and three walks. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 19 of his last 20 starts.

Sabathia (3-3) retired the first seven batters before an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius on Travis' grounder with one out in the third (see full recap).