Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Hey, it's been a while. I'm Steve, and I like soccer. Pleased to meet you.

Seriously though, apologies for the lack of posts the last few weeks. Real work got in the way (you thought blogging was a real job?), but hopefully things have settled down and we can get back in the groove.

I've had to miss the last two home games, but was able to watch them on television. While I'll gladly take my seat at PPL Park over one on the couch, you do get a different perspective, especially as the team adapts to life without Jack McInerney.

(Ironically, that's a problem that could come to an end today, as United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann is entitled to make roster changes before the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Jack McInerney has not seen the field in three group games, and we should find out today whether he'll return to the Union in time for Saturday's big game vs. Portland)

That different perspective has made me realize something you don't really need to be an astute soccer mind to figure out:

Conor Casey's still got it.

When Casey signed with the Union in the offseason, I was happy with the move and excited to see Casey play. But if I'm being honest, most of that excitement was because for the first time since the Freddy Adu signing, the team was bringing in a player I had heard of. A player with a name and a pedigree and an established MLS career.

I didn't really expect Casey to do much more than be a vocal leader, a bruiser up front, and a spark off the bench when the Union needed a late goal or to hold the ball up and keep a lead.

In reality, Conor Casey is the hands-down, without-question, don't-even-try-to-argue-with-me Most Valuable Player for the Union.

McInerney leads the team in goals and Sebastien Le Toux leads the entire league in assists. I know this. But Casey has been exactly what this team needs at exactly the right time.

In the season-opening loss to Kansas City, Casey came on in the 84th minute of a game the Union were going to lose anyway. He threw his body around, earned a few laughs from the River End, and I walked out expecting more of the same. A nice player who is not afraid to get involved and get under an opponents' skin. But I wasn't expecting much skill or finishing touch.

Boy, was I wrong.

Finally, for the first time since flashes from Le Toux in the team's inaugural season, the Union have forward(s?!?!) with a finishing touch. Casey technically only had one goal against Chivas last weekend, but only because his header glanced off Brian Carroll before finding the net and soccer is silly with how it awards goals.

Casey's "real" goal -- the team's third -- may seem like a simple finish. But with a completely saturated field and a bouncing ball, there was nothing simple about it.

Instead of blasting it into the Delaware (something Michael Farfan and others do regularly), Casey had the patience to see the goalkeeper leaning to his left, and calmly rolled it the other way to seal a win the Union desperately needed.

Casey will tun 32 years old next week (Matthew De George of The Daily Times in Delaware County had an great Casey story in Wednesday's edition). He's been around the block, and with one glance it's easy to see he doesn't have the typical soccer body type (although the fact that he played a full 90 in the heat in Houston 2 weeks ago was surprising).

But whether McInerney returns this weekend or is out the rest of the month, Union fans can rest comfortably knowing that should a Grade A chance fall at the feet of a Union forward, odds are good it'll actually be converted.

That's not something fans of this team are used to.

Since I've slacked off in recent weeks, a few posts coming this week. On Thursday we'll break down the strangest goal in Union history, followed Friday by a look ahead at the biggest home game of the year so far for the Union.

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

The Sixers (22-36) host the NBA-best Golden State Warriors (49-9) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Bummer at the buzzer
Apparently one good last-second shot deserves another.

The Sixers stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Saturday. Jahlil Okafor capped off his monster night with what appeared to be the game-winner at the time when he scored in the lane with nine seconds remaining.

That was until Carmelo Anthony drained a clutch jumper over Robert Covington with 0.3 ticks left on the clock to give the Knicks a 110-109 victory. Call it payback for T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beater against New York last month.

While the Sixers didn't get the win, they had to be pleased with some of the efforts they received on the second night of a back-to-back set. 

Okafor finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Dario Saric added 19 points and 15 boards.

2. So much splashing
The Sixers will need those type of performances and then some if they hope to keep up with this potent Warriors team.

In case you've been lost at sea since the summer, former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency to turn the "Splash Brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into an entire splash family.

Already dominant offensively, the Warriors have been even better this season with Durant. They rank No. 1 in a slew of offensive categories, including points per game (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0), assists per game (31.0), fastbreak points per game (23.5), offensive rating (114.1) and true shooting percentage (60.4).

If that weren't enough, Durant's length has also impacted the Warriors' defense too. They are first in the league in steals (9.6), blocks (6.7) and points off turnovers (19.2) per game.

Simply put, the Warriors are scary good. 

3. The wild card
Every family has that one person that you're just not sure about at times. They can make gatherings the best night ever or a downright miserable experience.

Enter Draymond Green. 

Green has been on the miserable side of the Warriors' gatherings lately. He shot 1 of 10 for five points and was benched for long stretches in Golden State's win over Brooklyn on Saturday. In the game prior to that against the L.A. Clippers, he picked up a technical foul, trash talked Paul Pierce and went to his preferred kick move on Blake Griffin.

Overall, Green has been his usual solid self on the court. He's averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists a night while providing lockdown defense.

The Sixers are fully aware of Green's versatility. The veteran forward averaged a triple-double against them in the two meetings last season with 11.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

It will be interesting to see Green lock horns all game with the surging Saric.

4. Injuries
Joel Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Warriors have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost six straight games to the Warriors.

• With their 112-95 win over the Nets on Saturday, the Warriors became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. It marked the earliest a team has clinched a postseason spot since the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

• Covington is averaging 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in February.

• Thompson averaged 36.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range against the Sixers last season.

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended two games for his illegal hit to Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel during Saturday's 4-2 loss in the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.
 
Manning's shoulder made contact with Guentzel's head.
 
Manning wasn't surprised and even admitted to reporters that he fully expected "one or two" games because he hit a player who didn't have control of the puck yet.
 
Strangely, there was no penalty on the play for interference, yet the NHL's explanation on Monday afternoon specifically cited "interference" as the reason for the suspension.
 
This is Manning's first NHL suspension.
 
The hearing was conducted on the phone Monday with Stephane Quintal, senior vice-president of NHL Player Safety. Manning will forfeit $10,833.34 in salary.
 
"It was late," Manning said of the hit. "He didn't touch the puck after it hit his skate. Which I thought he was going to do. They do their whole breakdown by time frame."
 
Manning said he caught Guentzel's shoulder first, then his head "on the follow through" because Guentzel is shorter than him.  The 6-foot-1 Manning has two inches on Guentzel.
 
Guentzel, who had two assists in the game, was not injured.
 
"Looking at it, [the hit] is a little late," Manning admitted. "I thought he was going to touch the puck. Usually, when a puck hits your skate, you pick it up, and he kinda left it ... The hard part is, there was no penalty called on it."
 
Manning said he had to make a hit or face an odd-man rush.
 
"There were two players there and if I don't play my guy there, it’s a 3-on-1 the other way," he said. "You're giving up scoring chances. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. He finished the game and that's always the good thing."
 
Mark Streit, sitting on the bench at the time, said he saw the hit and was shocked at the suspension.
 
"It was a great hit," Streit said. "You look at the replay and everything looks different. You can slow down every hit and talk about it. I guess it was a little late …"
 
Manning's suspension likely means Michael Del Zotto will play against Colorado on Tuesday.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Manning has been a "solid piece" for the club this season.
 
"He brings that physical edge, he's been reliable, and he's been a staple for our lineup," Hakstol said. "That's a hole we'll have to fill over next couple of games here."
 
Manning will also miss Thursday's game against Florida.