Intergalactic Civil War: Union vs. Galaxy

Intergalactic Civil War: Union vs. Galaxy

Sure, I’ll be there, Enrico and Matt P. will be there, but neither David Beckham nor Peter Nowak will be there as the L.A. Galaxy visit PPL Park tonight to face the Union (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). Becks will be resting his golden balls back in Los Angeles as the Galaxy are in the midst of a stretch of three games in seven days. I am sure he’ll miss being harassed by the incredibly welcoming folks who sit in The River End. Nowak will miss the game because he’s participating in what is apparently a prestigious charity soccer game back in his native Poland.

Beckham’s absence, while disappointing for fans who were looking forward to seeing him drop sixty yard crosses on a dime, could be a massive blow to the Galaxy. As the MLS game notes point out, six of the Galaxy’s 12 goals this season have come from dead ball situations – three from corner kicks, two from free kicks and one penalty kick.

Beckham, still one of the premier dead ball specialists in the world, is the one typically providing that service (as he was on the game winner against the Union out in L.A. back in early April). If nothing else, the Galaxy should be much less dangerous on set pieces, which bodes well for the Union considering all three goals they’ve conceded have come from either free kicks or corners (two free kicks and a corner).

However, that’s not to say that they have no attacking options. Landon Donovan has scored the last four Galaxy goals. Juan Pablo Angel also provides L.A. with a class finisher up top. Not to be overlooked, Juninho is a threat to strike from distance. Yes, they’ll be without Beckham, but the Galaxy still present plenty of scoring options.

The Union should have a full complement of players for assistant coach John Hackworth to choose from. Jordan Harvey is back from his red card suspension. Danny Califf appears to have recovered from the illness which kept him out of the Portland match. Stefani Miglioranzi, Brian Carroll, and Justin Mapp, all midfielders who’ve been nursing injuries, are apparently fully fit.

The story, as it has been all season, is when will the Union offense finally arrive? They’ve yet to score more than a single goal in any game this season. They’ve scored just five goals in seven games. I am not sure what they can do to get the offense going.

I would argue that they’ve had terrible play along the flanks, with no midfielder providing any kind of service into the box. However, the Union don’t exactly have a stout forward capable of getting on the other end of those nonexistent crosses.

I discussed this a bit with Matt, but Carlos Ruiz is not your traditional striker capable of consistently winning aerial battles in the box. He’s a poacher. He’s a guy who will clean up on loose balls in the box. He occasionally can create an angle and some space for himself just on the edge of the box and get shot off. But, and this is a big but, he’s not a guy who is going to present too many problems in the air for center backs.

So, how do the Union go about scoring goals? In my mind their best bet is to let Roger Torres and Sebastien Le Toux combine in the channels between the touchline and the 18 yard box. They need to get to the endline and pull balls back, on the ground, across the area. They need to play the sort of dangerous short diagonal balls which unlock a back four. I’d say Danny Mwanga would thrive with well timed runs across the face of a defender, but he still seems unsure of himself when paired alongside Ruiz.

There are no easy answers as it relates to their offensive struggles, which makes the fact they’ve played shutdown defense all the more important. What else can be said about a group who, coming into this game, have conceded just three goals over seven games? It’s been a stunning turnaround from last season. You cannot underestimate the difference Faryd Mondragon and Carlos Valdes have made on this team.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Daniel, Okugo, Carroll, Le Toux, Mwanga, McInerney (who I think is better suited than Ruiz to dart into those spaces between the opposing backline).

Final Score Prediction: Hmmmm, perhaps a 1-0 game (like shooting fish in a barrel) is in the offing? I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but I just feel like it’s difficult for MLS teams to fly cross country and win games. Relying on that completely made up fact I’ll go with the Union on the good side of that 1-0 score-line.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Carlos Valdes. He plays on the edge quite a bit. Perhaps this is the game he finally goes over that edge?   

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

It won't be a surprise if the Eagles go after a big name wide receiver.

The team's receivers were a disaster last year. There's the fact that among the Eagles' receivers, Jordan Matthews' 11 yards per catch led the group (minimum 10 catches). Matthews' also led the receivers in touchdowns with four. The team dropped 24 Carson Wentz passes, the fourth-most for a quarterback last season.

So Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson would be a no-brainer, right? Maybe not.

At the moment, the Eagles' cap situation isn't ideal. Surely they'll take a few more steps to clear space, but signing a high-priced receiver isn't the right way to allocate that money.

Jeffery and Jackson have their pros and cons. Jeffery had two elite seasons in 2013 and 2014, but his last two seasons have been mired by injuries and a PED suspension. Despite being 30, Jackson still has the ability to stretch the field, but his red flags are well-documented. According to Sprotrac, Jeffery is scheduled to become the sixth-highest paid receiver, while Jackson will be the 19th-highest paid.

Sure, there are other options. Veteran Kenny Britt enjoyed a renaissance season under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh in L.A. and he's still only 28. He's also coming off a 1,000-yard season and could cash in on that. There's also Kenny Stills, who is only 24 and coming off a season where he averaged 17.3 yards a catch and caught nine touchdowns for Miami. Terrelle Pryor is still learning the position but finished with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns for the Browns.

Any of those guys makes the Eagles' offense better immediately. But in reality, just about any decent receiver would make this group better. Howie Roseman is better off buying low in free agency and building the receiver corps through the draft.

CSNPhilly.com Eagles Insider Reuben Frank recently highlighted the lack of success the Eagles' have had in signing free-agent receivers. The list is basically Irving Fryar and a bunch of guys. While the occasional trade (Terrell Owens) has worked out, the Eagles have been better off drafting receivers.

Looking ahead to the draft, this receiver class is extremely deep. There may not be the elite talent of the 2014 receiver class, but there are plenty of intriguing players to explore. In the first round, Clemson's Mike Williams or Western Michigan's Corey Davis could be available to the Eagles. Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook or Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp could be there in the second. Even in the middle rounds, guys like Louisiana Tech's Carlos Henderson, Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor and ECU's Zay Jones could be impactful.

As far as free agents go, the Eagles have other options beyond the big names. Kamar Aiken of the Baltimore Ravens is an intriguing name. The 27 year old had a breakout 2015 (75 catches, 944 yards, five touchdowns) followed by a disappointing 2016 (29 catches, 328 yards, one touchdown). He lost snaps to a healthy Steve Smith, free-agent signee Mike Wallace and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. The Eagles can buy low on Aiken and hope his production is similar to 2015.

Kendall Wright, also 27, had a breakout season in 2013 (94 catches, 1,079 yards) but has fought injuries and inconsistencies over the last few seasons in Tennessee. Then there's Brian Quick from the L.A. Rams, another 27 year old who hasn't quite put it together. He had a career year in 2016, hauling in 41 catches for 564 yards under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh.

The Eagles' best bet would be to take a flyer and buy low on one of these receivers and dig deep on this draft. Aiken or Wright and two rookies could help overhaul the position and create serious competition.

Can the Eagles count on Roseman to deliver the next Irving Fryar? The safer bet is him delivering the next DeSean Jackson... instead of the actual DeSean Jackson.