Top Five Reasons to Tune In for U.S.M.N.T. vs. Honduras Tonight

Top Five Reasons to Tune In for U.S.M.N.T. vs. Honduras Tonight

It’s been kind of a slow month for the Philadelphia Union, who are in the middle of an 18-day stretch without a league game.

But there’s still been a lot of soccer to watch with the US national team gearing up to play their third World Cup qualifier in the past 12 days tonight with a key tilt against Honduras tonight (ESPN, 9 p.m.).

Why should you bother watching the Americans play a year before the World Cup begins? There are a lot of reasons but here are five big ones:

1. National pride: The World Cup is incredible but there still can be plenty of fanfare for CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. For proof, all you needed to do was watch last Tuesday’s game in soccer-crazed Seattle when more than 40,000 fans packed into CenturyLink Field and created some incredible tifo. Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that the US played probably their best game under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, beating Panama 2-0 and rising to the top of the Hexagonal group. Here are the juicy highlights:

2. Michael Bradley, the maestro: You could argue that Clint Dempsey is the best player on the national team or that Tim Howard is the most valuable. But nobody is playing at a higher level right now than Michael Bradley. Against Panama, the 25-year-old central midfielder controlled the game perfectly, completing 78 of the 87 passes he attempted and seemingly always making the right one. As Bradley goes, so go the Americans. And it’s fun to watch.

3. Altidore and the offense: Over the past few years, there have been questions as to when supremely talented striker Jozy Altidore would figure it all out. The answer could be right now. The 23-year-old had scored in three straight games, sparking an offensive surge for the Americans, who have netted 10 goals in the past four games as a team. Considering Altidore hadn’t scored in a US uniform for two years before that, his recent outburst has been one of the most promising things to come out of these recent qualifiers. Can he keep it going tonight?

4. Revenge: It can be a clichéd and overused term in sports but it’s still a tried-and-true American value. In February, the US opened Hexagonal play with an ugly 2-1 loss at Honduras, with many people questioning Klinsmann's tactics at the time. Since then, however, the Americans have gone 3-0-1 in World Cup qualifiers, allowing just one goal in that span. A win tonight would not only bring them closer to qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil but also prove they’re a lot better than they were when they last played Honduras. Oh, and they’d get some revenge too.

5. No more big games until September: Tonight’s contest marks the Americans’ last World Cup qualifier until Sept. 6 when they travel to Costa Rica to begin a final stretch of games. The best way to deal with that kind of layoff: securing a perfect nine points during June qualifying and inching even closer to the spectacle that will be Brazil 2014.

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State's Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he's not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

Kerr said: "As of right now I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air." He said that by Game 1, he might make a decision on his status.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year, still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak, addressed the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

He joked: "I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies."

Brown has been coaching the team since Game 3 of the first round at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games.

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.