Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Last weekend's MLS action offered little comfort for local fans who were either worried about the Union's ability to make positive headway or angry at the team's decision to trade Danny Califf. The U struggled through a first half they were lucky to have played against a mediocre Dallas side that was missing a handful of regulars, though the Union's somewhat more cohesive second half effort and salvage of a point was a hell of a lot better than an outright loss. 
Immediately after that game concluded, Califf's debut with Chivas USA began and was televised nationally. Califf, who'd previously been deemed too injured to play for the Union and even publicly debated the fact amidst tensions with Peter Nowak, was instrumental in Chivas' first win over the LA Galaxy since 2007. The former Union captain was named Man of the Match in the 1-0 victory. While I couldn't have been happier to see Califf succeed, the night begged to be labeled "bittersweet." 
It's in the past now, and the Union face Toronto FC (0-9-0) at 4:30 [TCN] on the banks of Lake Ontario. Will they take three points from possibly the worst team in North America, who also happen to be the Canadian champions? 
The Union could use a decisive victory, even against a team that so far can't beat anyone. But from the depths of Toronto, your eye doesn't have to travel too far up the table to find Philadelphia, who are in second place with only 8 points (2-6-2) of their own. So let's not chalk this up as anything just yet… Toronto fans are probably saying there's no better opportunity for their side to earn their first points of the season.  
Last Week RewinderMy worries heading into the Dallas match and the start of the post-Califf era were somewhat widespread, but for the purposes of the on-field product, I hoped they wouldn't miss his height on the backline. Before 8 minutes were off the clock, they were beaten on a corner, with 6'1 striker Blas Perez heading home a volley in the box. While Califf's presence didn't stop those same things from happening while he was with the Union, Keon Daniel was clearly overmatched and miscast in trying to slow Perez on a few set pieces in this one. 
The Union lacked any consistent or threatening form in the first half, which isn't a surprise given a few key absences. Chase Harrison filled in admirably for the concussed Zac MacMath, taking a sound physical beating but withstanding the barrage after Perez's early goal. Newcomer Michael Lahoud was mixed into the starting XI, as Peter Nowak likes to get the new blood flowing as soon as its the kit. Not sure I agree with the logic, particularly in a match that already had a few key players out for the Union. The second half featured more control by the Union though, who equalized and narrowly missed on some solid opportunities that would have put them ahead. 
The latter 45 minutes were an overall good sign heading tonight's Must Win Or It Will Be Completely Embarrassing tilt with Toronto. 
Kings of the North(?)TFC will also be looking to build on success from their last time out. Although they have lost all of their MLS matches this season, they did beat Vancouver, 1-0, on Wednesday in CONCACAF play to take the Canadian Championship. Again, they may not be the pushover you might expect from a team looking to avoid a tenth straight loss to start the season. 
Toronto's offense has scored only seven goals through nine matches, and the team has conceded 21. Their offense is underachieving so far, which is to say, they're not quite as bad as their results have been. Kevin Kinkead points out that designated player Danny Koevermans has missed time due to a groin injury, while fellow DP Ryan Johnson has missed all but one of his 28 shots. 
KK has more on Toronto's offensive and defensive sets here. 
The last time the Union were in Toronto, they put together their most explosive effort in the young franchise's history, winning 6-2. However, with all the turnover since that time, it's a stretch to apply anything from that match to this one. Remember these guys? That was a year and 2 days ago. The various factors affecting both sides in the current season to date the only things worth looking to for an idea of how this matchup will work out. 
Re-UnionPeter Nowak hopes to have MacMath back in goal today afters sitting out last match with concussion symptoms. Harrison is not available, which is no surprise given how often the physical match against Dallas involved decleating contact with the Union backup. [UPDATE: @thegoalkeeper says MacMath is out again, so Chris Konopka is the man for the Union...]
Gabriel Gomez scored the Union's lone goal last weekend, but a late, hard, arial leg-whipping from Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman on the play cost Gomez the rest of the match with a quad injury:
No word as of this posting as to whether Gomez will play tonight, but after the game, he will leave the Union, answering a call-up from his Panama national team for World Cup qualifying. [UPDATE: He's out.]
Getting Freddy Adu back should significantly help the Union's chances of getting a result. He was playing his best match with the Union against NY Red Bulls two weekends ago when he was issued his second yellow card, a BS diving call that also forced his absence in Dallas. With Adu back, Nowak will likely look to attack with two strikers (presumably Danny Mwanga and Lio Pajoy), with Adu pulling the strings against a shoddy defense that should find itself overmatched by a Union attack that has shown signs of life in this formation. He also resumes the majority of the free kicks and corners, another area Keon struggled to fill in last week. Nothing against Keon, one of our favorite players here at the Level, but hopefully the returning players allow his game to focus on its strengths. 
Carlos Valdes was bloodied in Dallas, but Nowak has said he's fine to play today. With his former centerback partner gone, Valdes gets the captain's armband and control of the backline. They're in good hands with #5. Sheanon Williams will presumably lineup inside with him again, a miscasting of his size and speed, but the team is limited in its CB options. The expensively disappointing Porfirio Lopez could see his season salvaged as an interior defender, but for now, he's still a reserve. 
In this particular matchup, the team's desire to play its defenders high should provide the desired benefit of sustained attacks against a weak defensive opponent, without quite as much potential for counterattack as most other MLS sides. We hope, anyway. 
The Union could really use a full-game effort, rather than the good-half/bad-half efforts we've seen recently. We'll try to update with Nowak's chosen lineup if we're still in front of computers when i
t's released. Planning on watching this one through the smoke of a barbecue... 
(Photos by John E. Sokolowski and Jerome Miron, US Presswire)

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce ignoring trade rumors as he tries to work on himself

Jason Kelce is aware of the rumors and reports that have surrounded his name this offseason. 

As much as he might try to avoid them, the Eagles' veteran center does not, presumably, live under a rock. So he's heard for months about the possibility of his long run with the Eagles coming to a close. 

After all, the Eagles have stockpiled an abundance of interior offensive linemen who can play center, and trading Kelce would save the team $3.8 million in cap space. 

So it all makes sense, but Kelce is trying to keep it out of his mind. 

"I think you'll drive yourself crazy if you're reading too much into what's going on," he said on Tuesday as the Eagles kicked off their voluntary OTAs. "My whole offseason has just kind of been really the only thing I can control is my game and the way I play and what I've been doing. So I've just really tried to hit the weight room, work on technique, work on things to try to get my game back to where it used to be."

How is he able to put it out of his mind? 

"Because worrying about it doesn't do any good," he answered.

While the Eagles have Isaac Seumalo and Stefen Wisniewski ready to play center if necessary, head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday that Kelce is still "the guy." 

Kelce, 29, was named to his second career Pro Bowl team last season, which might be a surprise to those who watched the Eagles throughout the year. Kelce wasn't as bad as some people think, but he also probably wasn't a Pro Bowl-caliber player. 

He got off to a very slow start in 2016 but did seem to get better as the season went on.  

"I feel at times last year, there were times I was dominant and games where I didn't really do a great job," he said. "You go back and watch film and try to make the corrections, try to make sure that moving forward I'm the same player I was in the past."

Kelce attributed many of his problems early last season to lousy technique. He's been trying extra hard to work on that part of his game as well as in the weight room. 

Often characterized as undersized, he said weighed 295 pounds on Tuesday morning. That's also his listed weight on the Eagles' website. 

All last season, Kelce said he played in the 290s, which was heavier than he had been in a long time. His goal this offseason is to make it up to 300 pounds by training camp, and then he hopes to keep the weight on. 

"I would certainly think so," he said. "As you get older, it gets a little bit easier to put on the weight and hold it on. I think everybody kind of finds that out."

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Eagles to keep Kelce around this season is the development of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second year. Kelce, as his center, might be integral to Wentz's growth. Although Kelce said he doesn't think of it like that when asked if that relationship gives him an advantage over others.  

Kelce has been with the Eagles since 2011 when he was a sixth-round pick out of Cincinnati. He's played and started 78 games in six seasons. 

He admitted last season he needed to play better or he knew he would become expendable (see story). So the rumors and reports this season likely aren't a shock to him. 

He's still not going to pay attention to them. 

"The reality is, we always have guys coming in, coming out," he said. "Now we happen to have a lot of really good depth at interior line. But like I said, it doesn't do me any good worrying about the what-ifs. All I can control is what I can control and that's how I go out and play, how I go out and prepare and how I try to get back to the player I've been in the past."