And So It Begins...Union Open Season In Houston

And So It Begins...Union Open Season In Houston

The Union open their 2011 season tonight in Houston against the Dynamo (8:30PM/6ABC). Although the road was unkind last season the Union did manage to pick up their first ever road win in Houston last May. Danny Mwanga was the hero that night, netting the game winner in stoppage time.

As detailed in our season preview post a number of new faces will make their Union regular season debut this evening. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, center back Carlos Valdes, midfielder Brian Carroll, and forward Carlos Ruiz will likely be in Peter Nowak's starting eleven.

Nowak will have a full complement of players to choose from as the Union are healthy to start the season. Sebastien Le Toux had an MRI on his ankle early in the week, but he should be fully fit tonight.

On the flipside, Houston will likely be without Brian Ching, who is battling a hamstring strain. It's disappointing that he likely will not play as I was looking forward to seeing how the Union handled a player who is as good in the air as Ching.

Without Ching the Dynamo will rely on Dominic Oduro, Jason Garey, and rookie Will Bruin, who was drafted eleventh overall in 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Brad Davis is the string puller for the Dynamo in the midfield. He racked up 12 assists last season, which led Houston.

Ruiz, Le Toux, Mwanga, and the rest of the Union will be facing Tally Hall, an inexperienced goalkeeper who will be making just his sixth career start. Hall takes over for longtime Dynamo keeper Pat Onstad, who retired to become the goalkeeping coach for D.C. United (only to unretire and assume a role as a player/coach for Ben Olsen down in D.C.). Union fans are well aware of how young goalies can struggle, so it will be paramount for the Union to test Hall often.

With all of the new additions Peter Nowak has much more flexibility in terms of shape/formation. His back four will likely consist of Jordan Harvey, Danny Califf, Valdes, and Sheanon Williams. Roger Torres, Justin Mapp, Carroll, and Le Toux are the most likely midfield candidates (perhaps deployed in a diamond formation with Le Toux up at the top). Ruiz and Mwanga should combine together up front.

Regardless of formation the Union should be a better and more organized side as compared with last year. Looking back, it's amazing that Toni Stahl and David Myrie started the opener in Seattle last season. Yes, that happened.

Danny Califf picking up a yellow card a minute into that Seattle game happened as well. Here's hoping they've figured things out and don't go down a man 41 minutes into the opener like they did last season (oh, Toni Stahl).

One final housekeeping note: With Vancouver and Portland entering the league Houston, at least for the time being, has moved to the Eastern Conference.

Final Score Prediction: I may be caught up in the excitement of opening night, but is it asking too much for the U to pick up a road win AND keep a clean sheet tonight? I think they come out and set the tone for the entire season tonight. Union Win 2-0.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red:  Purely out of habit I'll go with Califf.

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel posts thankful message to Philly fans

Nerlens Noel's tenure in Philadelphia wasn't characterized by a whole lot of winning, but he'll still likely be remembered fondly by Sixers fans as being one of the original members of the process.

It's always an emotional time when a fan favorite departs for another city and a new team instead of seeing the championship aspirations many had for them in Philly through to fruition.

Noel posted an emotional message to his Twitter account on Thursday evening thanking the city of Philadelphia and its fans for the support they showed him through the ups and downs. 

The tweet contained the hashtag #Philly with a couple of exclamation points with a screenshot of a note that read:

What an exciting journey it’s been… To have such an amazing city embrace a kid from Boston coming out of Kentucky the way y’all did, is something I’ll truly never forget. And even through the ups and downs I never doubted the love here and that won’t change. Thank you to everybody that’s believed in me and supported through #TheProcess.

Love! -NN4

He posted the same message on Instagram as well.

Noel was traded earlier in the day to the Dallas Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a conditional first round pick that will likely turn into two second round picks.

Bryan Colangelo will address the media on Friday morning to discuss his rationale behind moving Nerlens.

Related:

>>Every reason why the Nerlens Noel trade was unjustifiable 

>>Video: Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid say their goodbyes 

>>Joel Embiid reacts to Nerlens trade on Twitter: 'Trust it'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

Joel Embiid: With Mavs, Nerlens Noel 'to get the chance he wanted'

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel emerged from the trainer’s room in a red sweatshirt and made his rounds of handshakes and hugs. It would be his last time in the Sixers' training complex as a member of the team, marking the end of the longest-tenured player’s stay in Philadelphia.

The Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks on Thursday for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick, according to a source (see story). He went through a portion of practice and was removed from it because of the deal. 

Noel’s now former teammates had a strong reaction to his departure. 

“Nerlens, he’s my guy,” Joel Embiid said. “He’s been my best friend since I got to Philly and I’m happy for him. He wants to start. I think in Dallas he’s going to get the chance to start and they’re going to re-sign him and they’re going to pay him a lot of money. Here it was kind of hard for him to start unless they were starting us together. But I’m happy for him. He’s going to get the chance he wanted.”

Noel’s future with the Sixers had been in question for two years as he enters restricted free agency this summer. Last season, the team struggled to find a way for him and Jahlil Okafor, both true centers, to play together. This season, the logjam was magnified when Embiid made his debut and took over the starting role. 

Noel candidly spoke out about the overcrowding at the beginning of the season but that situation was sidetracked when he missed 23 games because of injury. Once he returned, he quickly was on the short end of minutes. 

“I need to be on the court playing basketball,” Noel said in mid-December. “I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s--- out.”

The Sixers did figure out his role, later making him the defensive leader of the second unit as Okafor became the odd man out. The Sixers also considered the possibility of pairing Noel and Embiid in the starting lineup, as they did with Embiid and Okafor, but that experiment played out only over a handful of minutes. 

“I’m a little bit disappointed,” Embiid said of not playing more alongside Noel. “I thought we should have tried that a little bit more. I think the few times we did, it actually looked pretty good offensively and defensively.”

Of the bigs, it seemed like Okafor would be the one moved at the deadline after being held out of two games because of trade talks. In the end, it was Noel as the one to go on Thursday. 

“He’s one of my favorite players here,” Dario Saric said. “He’s always ready for jokes, he’s always ready to enjoy every moment.” 

Noel was the only player remaining from Brown’s first season as head coach with the Sixers. Brown could not comment on the Noel trade because it was not official at the time he addressed the media. 

Ilyasova leadership missed
On Wednesday night the Sixers dealt Ersan Ilyasova to the Hawks for Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and 2017 second-round pick swap rights. Even though Ilyasova played only 53 games for the Sixers, the veteran leader left his mark.

“He was a consummate pro,” Brown said. “He helped teach our young guys about that professionalism and helped contribute to our culture. He was good. You add those things up and we’re going to miss him.” 

Ilyasova’s departure affects those who played with him and behind him. Embiid credited Ilyasova for stretching the floor when they were in the starting lineup together. 

Saric, though, is perhaps the most impacted by the trade. Saric moved to the second unit when Ilyasova took over the starting role. He learned from his fellow international power forward, who helped him adjust to the NBA on and off the court. Saric is likely to get the nod as a starter. 

“For me, it’s hard,” Saric said. “I lost in Ersan some kind of mentor.” 

Brown also plans to play Robert Covington and Richaun Holmes at power forward at times, as well. If Covington slides over from small forward, Brown eyes Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Gerald Henderson and Nik Stauskas as players who could fill in at the three spot. 

The Sixers will resume activity on Friday morning for shootaround ahead of their game against the Wizards. They will approach that contest without familiar faces on the court. 

“I lost two good friends,” Saric said. “But this is the NBA. This is part of the business, part of the job.”