Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

In this town, we have had plenty of
anticipated returns, when our one-time heroes come back to our fair
city in another team’s jersey.

The days leading up to these reunions are built up
with questions from fans, local media members and national media-types
(all of whom are predicting boos and batteries).

Will they cheer? Will they boo? Usually, one or two
writers will climb onto their nearest high horse to tell you what you
should do when he comes out of the tunnel.

I don’t like to tell people what to think or how
to act, and every fan has a different relationship with every player.
For example, I will always, forever and through all layers of irrationality,
defend Allen Iverson to the death. My arguments will not be logical,
they will not always be based in truth and they might end with, “well,
you smell bad!”

Now as just a fourth-year team, Saturday’s return
of former captain Danny Califf doesn’t approach the level of Brian
Dawkins’ coming back to the Linc, Scott Rolen’s return to the Vet
or Iverson wearing a Nuggets jersey.

But unlike those guys and those teams, many Union
fans have a more personal relationship with the players. Califf has
shared a beer with many fans, signed countless shirts and even visited
the Sons of Ben Tailgate on gameday. So when he walks back into PPL
Park on Saturday (4 p.m., ABC) as a member of Toronto F.C., there will
be a strong reaction from the crowd.

And from the vibe I’m getting on Twitter and the
web this week, don’t be surprised if Califf is heckled mercilessly
by many Sons of Ben. If the national media cared about MLS, they’d
rip Philly fans for not being grateful. But if you know the sense of
humor possessed by Califf (and most Sons of Ben), you’d realize there’s
no greater compliment than vulgar songs and banners in The River End.

"I’m really excited," Califf
told Matthew de George of the Delaware County Daily Times. “I know
that the Sons of Ben will give me a hard time. I would feel a little
weird if they didn’t because it would mean they didn’t like me when
I was here. I’m excited to see the stuff they have in store, whether
it’s banner or chants or whatever.”

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (2-2-1, 7 point) vs. Toronto F.C.
(1-2-2, 5 points)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: ABC

 

Today’s Opponent, in Haiku Form:

The team from up north,

Often bad, better of late,

U should still win, eh?

 

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

Toronto F.C. came into Major League Soccer in 2007
as the “next big thing” in the league. In six seasons, the
“Reds” have never made the playoffs and never finished higher
than 11th overall. Their passionate fans have gone through
all stages of grief, including denial, revolt, and indifference.

Finally, however, it seems like Toronto has some light
at the end of its tunnel, even if that just means a draw here and there.
Their coaching situation was one of the offseason’s most interesting
stories, as Toronto – which is now on its EIGHTH MANAGER in less than
seven years – hired New Zealand legend and former MLS star Ryan Nelsen
as its new coach.

The only problem was that as of a few months ago,
Nelsen was a regular starter for Queens Park Rangers of the English
Premier League. Originally, it seemed Toronto was going to allow Nelsen
to finish the year before retiring as a player and taking over in Toronto.
But after much head-scratching, Nelsen decided to leave London for Toronto
in time for the season opener.

Outside of Califf, even the most ardent MLS diehard
will need a program to identify Toronto’s starting 11.

Sidenote: Expect some entertainment and creative chants
if The River End sees Joe Bendik start in goal for Toronto. Especially
from a crowd that should be amped up by the first tolerable matchday
weather of the season.

 

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City:

Half of Toronto’s population – which totals
roughly 2.5 million – was actually born outside of Canada. It
is the fifth largest city in North America (Mexico City, New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago). (thanks, visit-toronto.ca)

 

The Player Most Likely to Doop:

In my last matchday preview – before a much-needed
fifth anniversary vacation with my better half, and a weeklong illness
that came home with us – I actually got this right when I said Conor
Casey.

So, what the hell.

Conor Casey.

 

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I didn’t see last week’s draw in Columbus – 
and forgot to set the DVR – but by all accounts, the team played
well enough to win and showed more promise than in the loss to New York.

These are the games where the Union MUST get three
points if they hope to make a playoff push. Home game. Bad team. No
weather excuses.

I’m predicting a very rare Union cakewalk on Saturday.
Call it a hunch, call it crazy, call it wrong when it turns out to be.

Union 3, Toronto 0.

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

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USA Today Images

Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

BOX SCORE

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Darnell Foreman scored 15 points with four assists, Matt Howard added 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Penn used a big second-half run to beat Yale 71-55 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

AJ Brodeur had 12 points with nine rebounds, Ryan Betley also scored 12, and Devon Goodman had 11 for the Quakers (11-12, 4-6 Ivy League), who won their fourth straight game and moved into a fourth-place tie with Columbia in the conference standings. The top four teams will play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, March 11-12, at The Palestra.

Goodman's layup off a steal capped a 17-3 run as Penn extended a 31-30 halftime lead to 48-33 at 14:39 in the second half. Howard hit two 3s in the run and Foreman added a third. Goodman hit a 3, Foreman followed with a layup and the Quakers led by 20, 62-42, with 6:17 left and held on.

Penn shot 50.9 percent from the field to Yale's 32.8 percent and made 9 of 23 from behind the arc to the Bulldogs' 6 of 28.

Miye Oni scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Yale (14-9, 6-4), which entered the game in third place behind Harvard and Princeton.