Watch: Things Get Ugly in Union-United Draw

Watch: Things Get Ugly in Union-United Draw

Just
a few days after the Union and DC United exchanged a pair of players in
the trade of Lionard Pajoy for Danny Cruz, there was little in the way
of pleasantry exchange when the teams met in a Eastern Conference match
with playoff implications. The three points on the line were critical to
the Union's chances at a playoff run, but at the very least, they
wanted to leave DC with a draw. In large part due to a very visible
second half by referee Mark Geiger, the match was marked by
score-altering calls, bookings, and activity at the penalty stripe. Some
were justified and tough calls to make, but Geiger, who was a ref at
the Summer Games in London, sent off three players and disallowed a pair
of United goals in a calamitous second half. 

The Union would escape with a point in the 1-1 draw,
but no individual on the field featured more prominently than the man
wearing bright yellow. 

Getting started, each
team deployed its new attacker, with Pajoy up top alongside Dwayne De
Rosario for United and Danny Cruz handling the right side of a forward
trio including regulars Freddy Adu and Jack McInerney in the Union's
4-3-3. 

The Union struck early, converting on an Adu
freekick that pinballed across the line of United keeper Bill Hamid. The
long service by Adu was perfect, dropping into the box right in front
of the net, where Amobi Okugo was far forward and put a head on it.
Fellow centerback Carlos Valdes got a piece of the ball too, but his
attempt was blocked by a United defender. It took a fortunate carom, and
Brian Carroll got just enough to guide it into the net. 

Exactly how they drew it up… 
That lead
would hold until the 72nd minute, when Okugo was again on the receiving
end of a freekick in the box. Unfortunately, Okugo was "credited" with a
score on the play, charged with an own goal on a miscommunication
between the CB and his goalkeeper. Branko Boskovic had come on as a
second half DC sub for Pajoy, and he laced a strong service into the box
that the Union once again could not handle. One of these days… 

While the ball found the net behind Zac MacMath
twice more in the half, neither would count. Before the goal on the
freekick, DC had a goal disallowed due to a foul called on Hamdi Salihi.
United played skillfully in getting the ball into the Union third, with
nice leading passes and a dummy ball execution. Boskovich and De Ro
sliced through the Union defense with quick one-touches, and De Ro put a
sharp shot on MacMath. The Union keeper stopped it, but he couldn't get
it under wraps. Salihi more or less fell over the curled up MacMath,
not really making any attempt to brace himself away while going limply
to the ground, but not exactly slamming into him either. Gabe Farfan
tried to clear the ball, swiping it out of the reach of MacMath, but it
wound up on the foot of DC's Nick DeLeon, who put it on the open target.
The goal was disallowed due to referee Geiger's belief that Salihi
interfered with MacMath, and the Union dodged a major bullet. It
wouldn't be the last. 

More often than not, a well-dressed Roger Torres can
be found in the Stadium Club at PPL Park during home games. He has
rarely seen the field since returning from injury, but he dressed Sunday
and was brought on as a sub for Jack Mac in the 80th minute. The
skillful playmaker gets his name in the game coverage for an unfortunate
reason though, as a clear foul on Chris Pontius in the box during the
85th minute led to penalty kick that could have meant a loss for the
Union. Instead, it sparked an odd series of events that would see a goal
disallowed and a United player sent off. 

The dangerous Dwayne De Rosario lined up for the
kick, and buried it. However, Geiger whistled United for encroachment
and ordered the kick retaken.

 In the confusion immediately following the first
PK, there were some physical exchanges as the heat escalated. Players
from both sides pled their cases to the crew in yellow, and Geiger went
to his pocket. DC's Boskovich, who tussled with Torres, drew a red card
from Geiger while Garfan and Torres each got a yellow. 

When De Ro lined up to take the second attempt, he skied it. 
Though the crisis was over, the chaos wasn't yet through. 
In
extra time, two more bookings would come. You know how when you're
playing FIFA and you feel like you're getting robbed by the computer
side or your buddy is just taking it to you and it's late in the game?
Mmmmaybe you just start hitting that foul button despite the obviousness
of your tactic? That's what it looked like when DC's Emiliano Dudar
tackled Antoine Hoppenot in the 91st minute. Again, Geiger went to the
card, dismissing Dudar from the match. 

The Union will be without a player in their next
match as well though. Sheanon Williams had drawn a yellow for delaying
on a throw in during the first half, and he got another in the 95th
minute when he was booked for what was actually a brilliant ball-first
tackle. Geiger was fooled by the angle, which saw Williams make the play
from behind on a sprinting player. It looked cleanly done, but perhaps
at spot that was tough for a running ref in real time to accurately
call. 

More pushing and shoving ensued, and Bill Hamid was the next to draw yellow. 
After
the match, a clearly and understandably frustrated United side started
pushing each other. A surreal night in DC ended with a fortunate point
for Philadelphia. 

Notes:Ray Gaddis will likely start in place of Sheanon on Friday night, when the Union host Real Salt Lake. 
Hoppenot
is a force. Rev pointed out to me that the supersub has now drawn as
many red cards (2) as he has scored goals in his rookie season. 

Both sides had some thrilling chances in a
well-contested first half. The second half devolved quickly, first for
the Union, who saw the lesser end of play, but then United for all the
reasons detailed above. The Union were lucky to escape with the draw. 

I only plucked a video or two from the many that
exist over at MLSsoccer.com. Every play described above and more are
available there, and here's the full video recap. Pretty entertaining in
short form. 

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel is standing his ground.

After saying that the Sixers' entering the season with three starting-caliber centers (himself, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid) "doesn't make sense," Noel didn't back down from his stance during the team's annual media day.  

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night." 

The Sixers attempted to play with two bigs in Noel and Okafor last season but had little success. Now that Embiid is finally healthy, the fit to the puzzle doesn't figure to get any better.

Reports swirled during the offseason that the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor to add backcourt help to the woeful franchise, but nothing came to fruition.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner.

"I've gone through a whole lot. Probably the most, arguably, that any player has gone through in the NBA in losing. It's a tough situation to still be in. Year by year, to see things get more difficult to show your value. Year by year, it's always been something. It's really at a point where it's just a lot."

Bryan Colangelo said he understands Noel's viewpoint. However, the Sixers' president said he is in no rush to trade any of the centers and will wait the situation out.

"It’s not disappointing. It’s understandable," Colangelo said. "I think Nerlens actually did a pretty good job sizing up what we have, which is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position."

Despite each of the three centers being early in their career, Noel, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't want to hold off to see if the trio can actually mesh on the floor.

"I can't say I do really understand that (wait-and-see approach)," Noel said. "If you have a group of players, I just don't think it makes too much sense to just still come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position. I don't know what there is to wait and see."

Noel made sure to express that he has no issues with Okafor and Embiid and said they are some of his closest friends on the team. But when asked whether he was happy to be a Sixer, Noel deflected.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm all right, I'm in a good place right now."

Sure sounds like it.