4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

Clearly, I am a soccer fan.

I played the sport (I still pretend to, on occasion), coached and refereed for a few youth teams and watched enough games on TV to have odd cravings for Singha Lager and Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer – popular sideline advertisers in English stadiums.

I love soccer and I want other people to love it, too. But there is one thing I’ll never understand about many soccer fans who want to have their Singha and eat it too.

The same people who complain about a lack of mainstream soccer love – “it’s not on SportsCenter,” “the Inquirer had a 3-inch Union story,” “the game is on a channel I don’t get” – turn their noses up at “newbies” who ask questions about the game or say “field” instead of “pitch.”

You can’t have it both ways. You either want more people to appreciate the game, or you want it to be your cliquey little niche. I prefer the former, which is one of the reasons my three-plus years at PPL Park have been so enjoyable.

Sure, there are plenty of “soccer snobs”  hanging around on the banks of the Delaware. Folks who like to rattle off the current standings in the Dutch Eredivisie, brag about how they’ve “been here from the start” or tell you how you “don’t really understand the game” because you didn’t wake up at 4:45 a.m. to watch the Urawa Reds battle Yokohama in the J-League.

For those people – and soccer-heads who like to analyze formations and pick apart the SuperDraft (that includes me) – there are plenty of Union-specific blogs out there. Here at The Level, we’ll try to continue where @Rev215 left off before his Gareth Bale tattoo got infected (or he had a kid, not sure which). Plenty of smart, nuanced debate about the Union for the die-hards, as well as some light-hearted stuff for those of you who just like to tailgate outside PPL, have a beer (or two) and enjoy a sunny summer afternoon.

So with first kick just a few days away (forecast isn’t looking bad, by the way), here’s a few questions you might overhear on Saturday when the Union host Sporting Kansas City (4 p.m., 6 ABC) – whether it’s a seemingly uneducated ask from a “newbie” or a well-thought-out prediction from a scarf-carrying Son of Ben. We’ve even provided a few stock answers/statements you’re free to use, with or without attribution to The Level.


What happened to Freddy Adu?

John Hackworth happened, that’s what. Hack has made it clear he was not and is not on board with Adu’s game, and the former child prodigy will never suit up for the Union again. But he’s still collecting a BIG paycheck. The team claims to be searching for a way to dump Adu, but it’s much easier said than done.

So the Union are holding him hostage?

Actually, it’s more the other way around. Adu is guaranteed at least $400,000 this year, and, just as any of us would do, he’s not willing to simply ignore than fact and move on. Both sides have been relatively quiet, but Adu seems to be standing pat and waiting for the right opportunity. Given his inflated sense of his own abilities, he might be content to sit tight until Real Madrid comes calling.

Can we talk about something else?

Absolutely. That will be the last Adu reference here on The Level until he is dealt or steps on a field in another shirt. That’s a promise.

Will the 2013 Union be more like the 2012 side that struggled to score goals and win games, or the 2011 team that surprised us all with a playoff run?

If I had to guess, it will be somewhere in between. We’ll have a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects –  as well as a few predictions – later in the week, but it would be fair to expect much more from this team than we saw in 2012. Hackworth has had time to make the team his, and we’re well past “they’re still young” as an acceptable excuse. Anything short of a playoff berth would be a disappointment.

I want to buy that sweet new third jersey (which hasn’t been unveiled yet). Who will score the goals this year so I know what name and number to get?

Hackworth has indicated he will likely play three attacking players up front. At first glance, it seems you’d be safe going with the No. 11 of fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux, No. 6 of newcomer Conor Casey or No. 9 of last year’s goal-scoring leader Jack McInerney. As was proven during training camp in Florida – where the first team struggled to score – it might take time for those three players to jell. We’ll have more on predicted formations and stat leaders later in the week, but for now, you might want to go with a blank jersey. Just ask anyone wearing a Carlos Ruiz or Jordan Harvey shirt at PPL.


What about Zac MacMath?

It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. If you want to take the popular side of the argument at PPL, you can talk about how great the young goalkeeper is. If you’re feeling feisty, show a little more skepticism (like I often do on this subject). MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season. With the departure of team captain and center back Carlos Valdes, he might get that chance early in the season as the defense finds its chemistry.

Why can’t anyone hit a good corner kick on this team?

I don’t really have an answer for that one. Sorry.

How ’bout a beer?

Options abound, but I’ll politely suggest that you skip the lines at Chickies & Petes. Enter through the southeast Supporters Gate and get a double-sized beer at the Snake & Shield, or walk toward the team store and hit up the Boddingtons cart just across the concourse. If you’re looking to use up all your Weight Watchers points for the week, find one of the Philly Favorites stands for my favorite PPL item: Philly Fries. A large boat of French fries smothered in steak, cheese and onions. Much more bang for your buck than a bready cheesesteak.

So you’re an overweight soccer fan, then?

[Hangs head in shame … orders a salad.]

* * *

So if you’re one of the die-hards and find yourself with an extra ticket, invite that neighbor who mocked your Sons of Ben scarf last weekend. And if someone mispronounces Hoppenot, be a nice guy and help him out.

And if you’re a soccer hater (not including those who will comment on this post – you’re a lost cause), stop by PPL this season. Even if it turns out you hate it, there are far worse ways to spend a summer afternoon.

Plus they have Boddingtons on tap.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117. Stop by and say hi at the top of section 138.

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, LB: Mychal Kendricks on the trade block?

2017 Eagles Cost Analysis, LB: Mychal Kendricks on the trade block?

In 2015, trade rumors were swirling around Mychal Kendricks. He was entering the final year of his rookie contract, and the Eagles had just made sizeable investments in a bunch other linebackers. Then, out of nowhere, Kendricks signed a four-year extension during training camp worth $29 million, with $16 million guaranteed plus incentives.

Fast forward to 2017, and you should expect those rumors to return, only for vastly different reasons.

At the time of the extension, Kenricks was one of the Eagles' top playmakers, not to mention one of only three linebackers in the NFL to rack up at least 8.0 sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles and a two-year span. Since then, big plays have been few and far between, performance has been inconsistent altogether and now he's barely even on the field. According to Football Outsiders, Kendricks lined up for only 26.8 percent of the defensive snaps in '17.

The combination of his up-and-down performance and reduced playing time no longer justify Kendricks' rising salary. Also, surprise, the five-year veteran isn't very thrilled about being the third and least utilized of the linebackers in the base defense, nor should he. For the sake of comparison, both Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks were on the field at least 95 percent of the time.

Moving on from Kendricks isn't entirely financially motivated, either. Because the Eagles still owe $4.8 in prorated signing bonus over the next three years, the club can only save $1.8 million of his hit against the salary cap for '17. Until they pay a veteran replacement, much of that money — if not all, and then some — is being put right back into the position.

Still, there is likely a team out there that's willing to take a chance on Kendrcks in exchange for a mid-to-late-round draft pick. His $4.85 million base salary this season is very reasonable if he can return to his 2013-14 level of production, which in the right scheme, if he's allowed to blitz and freelance more, could potentially happen.

As long as he's with the Eagles, he's not going to get off the bench unless Bradham or Hicks get hurt. Even then, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn't like to blitz, perhaps Kendricks' greatest strength. This simply may not be the right fit regardless, which isn't really anybody's fault. That tends to happen when regimes change.

The best case scenario for both sides at this point would be the Eagles take what they can get for Kendricks and give him a chance to play. In fact, it might be an upset if something doesn't go down this offseason.

LINEBACKERS UNDER CONTRACT

Mychal Kendricks
Age: 27*
Cap Number: $6,600,000

Even in 2015, widely considered a down year for Kendricks, he managed 3.0 sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in 13 games. Last season, he finished with zero sacks, zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles. The only time Kendricks got his hands on a football was a lone pass breakup. Part of the issue seems to be player regression, which is going to drive his trade value down. Regardless, there's really no reason for the Eagles to keep him around at that price. It's awfully expensive for depth, especially considering he hasn't looked very good. Some new scenery might be what the doctor ordered for Kendricks at this point, because it hasn't been working out in Philadelphia for awhile.

Nigel Bradham
Age: 28*
Cap Number: $4,750,000

Bradham turned out to be an absolute steal for the Eagles in free agency, although that wasn't much of a surprise. His best season had been under Schwartz with the Bills in 2014, so there was a feeling he might find similar success back in the same scheme. Sure enough, Bradham led the Eagles with 102 tackles while recording 2.0 sacks, five pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles. There's still some lingering legal troubles out there, which might be the only reason he wouldn't get his two-year deal extended this offseason. If the Eagles feel comfortable that those charges will go away or with minimal repercussions, nor will this be a recurring theme for Bradham, it might be wise to work out something long-term now, before he hits the market again. They might even be able to lower his number for '17.

Jordan Hicks
Age: 25*
Cap Number: $796,183

Hicks answered any doubts about whether he could play in Schwartz's scheme, or hold up to the rigors of being a middle linebacker in the NFL in general. Many felt the second-year player was snubbed by Pro Bowl voters, as he finished with 85 tackles, 11 pass breakups and five interceptions — granted, two of those picks were in Week 17. Regardless of individual accolades, the Eagles have a linebacker in Hicks who can literally play in any scheme. Perhaps best of all, he's no eligible for a contract extension until 2018, so he's cost-controlled for another year. Then again, if Hicks keeps this up, he could be looking at something in the neighborhood of $10 million annually. Of course, that would be a small price to pay for his leadership, versatility and playmaking ability.

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Age: 23*
Cap Number: $540,000

A sixth-round draft pick by the Patriots, Grugier-Hill didn't make the 53-man roster our of training camp, and the Eagles pounced. He wound up playing exclusively on special teams, but proved to be a worthwhile investment there, making eight tackles in 12 games. Now Grugier-Hill will have a full season to pick up Schwartz's system and could compete for more work as a reserve, or even for a spot in the rotation.

Joe Walker
Age: 25*
Cap Number: $480,034

Walker was slated to be Hicks' backup at middle linebacker until suffering a torn ACL in training camp. Fortunately, the starter played all 16 games, anyway, but it's a lost year for a seventh-round rookie who would've been battling just to make the roster many other places. Seeing as the Eagles are likely to upgrade the position this offseason, he may find himself in that situation this camp around.

Don Cherry
Age: 23*

A late addition to the roster during camp last summer, the Villanova product eventually wound up landing on the practice squad, too, signing a futures contract at season end. Cherry initially caught on with the Bears as an undrafted rookie before landing on his feet with the Eagles, but the fact that he didn't make it to cut-down day with his first employer suggests his prospects aren't very good.

EXPIRING CONTRACTS

Stephen Tulloch
Age: 32*
2016 Cap Number: $2,500,000

The injury to Walked necessitated the Eagles go out and find a backup for Hicks, who has a long and distinguished injury history. On the bright side, Tulloch wasn't required to play too much. He has plenty of experience in wide-nine defenses and with Schwartz specifically, but all that experience also means he's at the tale-end of his career. That much seemed clear when he played extensively against the Lions in Week 5. Simply put, the Eagles need to find some young reserves to groom behind Hicks and Bradham, not go dumpster diving for the Tullochs of the world. It was a fine career, but there's a reason he was still available in August. Retirement seems like the next step here.

Najee Goode
Age: 28*
2016 Cap Number: $675,000

Goode signed a one-year deal with the Eagles, and while he wasn't needed to fill in much on defense, which he's done a fine job of in the past, he too was excellent on special teams. The five-year veteran had 10 tackles in 16 games while playing pretty much exclusively in the third phase. It will be interesting to see whether Goode draws more interest in free agency in '17. Goode can clearly help on special teams, and when he is pressed into the game on defense, he can definitely hold his own. It certainly wouldn't be a bad thing if the Eagles could bring him back given their depth issues at linebacker, especially if Kendricks is dealt. A one- or two-year deal right around $1 million annually seems fair and isn't going to break the bank.

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons healing on schedule; Joel Embiid out tonight; Jahlil Okafor downgraded

Ben Simmons had a planned foot scan Monday in New York and is progressing as expected.

Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot nearly four months ago, Sept. 30, and there is still no timetable for his NBA debut.

Okafor downgraded
Jahlil Okafor was limited at shootaround Tuesday and has been downgraded to questionable for tonight's game against the Clippers. He had been listed as probable on Monday.

Okafor is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up.

"It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going, it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period, it got kind of sore on me again," Okafor said Monday.

Embiid out
Joel Embiid, dealing with a left knee contusion suffered in last Friday's win over Portland, is officially out tonight. He is also expected to miss Wednesday's game at Milwaukee before returning Friday vs. the Rockets.