Matchday 20: Bienvenue Montral

Matchday 20: Bienvenue Montral

The Union will be north of the border this evening as they face the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). The two teams met just three weeks ago at PPL Park. Union captain Carlos Valdes scored a stoppage time winner to propel the U to a 2-1 win.

The Impact are fresh off of a 3-1 home win over New York Red Bulls. The game marked a couple of firsts for the expansion Impact. Former AC Milan man and World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta made his MLS debut. Marco Di Vaio, the Impact's first designated player signing, opened his MLS account against NYRB. 
Di Vaio, who made several dangerous runs against the Union when the teams faced off at PPL Park in July, will not play. He had to return to Italy as part of the ongoing match-fixing scandal...

Nesta was one of three changes along Impact manager Jesse Marsch's back four against NYRB. Nelson Rivas and Jeb Brovsky joined Nesta along Montreal's shuffled back line. Rivas and Brovsky replaced former Union player Shavar Thomas and Lancaster native Zarek Valentin.

The Impact sit five points ahead of the eighth place Union in the MLS table. However, Montreal has played five more games than Philadelphia. In fact, the Union, along with Columbus, have played the fewest games of any Eastern Conference team (19). Amazingly, considering all of the drama surrounding the Union at the start of the season the playoffs remain a possibility.

One player who could bolster their playoff chances is Bakary Soumare, who may make his Union debut tonight. Soumare, who is listed as probable on the MLS injury report, is not a given to start ahead of Amobi Okugo along the backline. Okugo has been fantastic alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union defense. I don't know how interim manager John Hackworth can take Okugo off the field, but Soumare was not signed to sit on the bench.

Granted, Soumare is coming off of a knee injury and is not match fit, so Hackworth can slowly ease him into the lineup. He'll have an interesting decision to make once Soumare is fully fit. What would I do? I wouldn't mind seeing Okugo shift back to his more natural central midfield role. Between Brian Carroll, Carlos Gomez, Michael Lahoud and Okugo you've got options, but I don't know how you can sit Okugo.

One player who perhaps should return to the bench is Antoine Hoppenot. I don't say that as a knock against Hoppenot, who has been a revelation since Hackworth took over, I just think the Union tend to play too direct when he's in the lineup. At this point in his career I prefer him as a 60th minute substitution who can just run at people for 30 minutes.

Regardless of who starts the Union need to do a better job away from home. They are just 2-6-1 on the road this season with a -6 goal differential. If they hope to make a push for the playoffs they'll need to start earning results on the road.

I see them earning a point tonight with a 1-1 draw.

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Sir Charles and Shaq made things personal last night and it was fantastic

Shaq always has the trump card -- and by that we mean championship rings -- to throw in Charles Barkley's face. But with that said, Sir Charles is probably a much better trash talker and therefore has a superior mouth to defend himself with and throw barbs back in Shaq's direction.

The mouthy duo got into it a bit last night and it teetered between fun and lighthearted and a little personal.

Shaq attacks Chuck for only playing in one NBA Finals and therefore not really knowing what he was talking about. Charles claps back at Shaq for having ridden Kobe and Dwyane Wade's coattails. 

During an NBA playoffs that has been mostly boring, at least these two can still entertain us.

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox should be at Eagles OTAs, but absence likely meaningless

Fletcher Cox wasn’t at practice with the rest of his Eagles teammates on Tuesday -- well, 86 of them -- and that’s okay. It’s May, and participation in offseason training activities is strictly voluntary. Furthermore, if Cox wants to take a vacation, he is entitled to do so under the collective bargaining agreement.

Cox really should be at OTAs. The Eagles gave him a contract potentially worth over $100 million just last year, and with that comes an obligation. Cox arguably did not live up to that contract last season, too, so he could use the practice. And if he needed a vacation, why didn’t he take one during the three months he was off from work?

As far as I’m concerned, both takes are true. Cox is free to do as he wishes, and people with careers in sports should understand better than anybody the strain it places on families, so I can’t blame most of these guys for taking a little extra time. Then again, this drama with Cox seems like it was completely avoidable, and looks especially bad in light of his contract and disappointing season, so I can’t blame people for being angry, either.

Yet, Cox’s absence almost certainly will have no bearing on the outcome of any games this season. It’s not a sign of disrespect for Eagles coach Doug Pederson or that he’s losing the locker room. It’s not going to send a message to teammates that participation is not expected or important.

Cox missing OTAs on Tuesday was of no consequence to the Eagles at all. By training camp, it will be a forgotten footnote in the story of the 2017 season, only to be mentioned in future Mays whenever somebody else exercises the option to skip a voluntary practice.

Even then, there is clearly a double standard, because the reaction isn’t the same for everybody. When Brandon Graham missed last week while he was believed to be “holding out” for a new contract -- can’t hold out when it’s voluntary -- there were equal parts rage and support for the cause. Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are out this week, too, and while some displeasure has been voiced, those absences were largely met with apathy.

Marcus Smith was missing on Tuesday as well, and it’s not immediately clear why. Pederson made no mention of the former first-round draft pick, and practice was almost over before reporters bothered to notice. In theory, this is a huge mistake, because Smith is fighting for a roster spot. We also don’t know where he is -- perhaps there’s a reasonable explanation -- so it’s unreasonable to jump to conclusions or become outraged.

This is the part where once again we remind everybody that it’s May and these practices are non-contact. And while Cox going away for a week will still be indefensible to some, it never hurts to put yourself in another person’s shoes. Maybe, for whatever reason, he was literally unable to make the trip at a time that would not interfere with Eagles business. Maybe he was simply getting grief at home because he's away so much.

That undoubtedly will be impossible for some people to accept. And, hey, maybe Cox just doesn’t care. Regardless, the practices are voluntary, Cox is expected back next week, and absolutely nobody is going to be talking about this eight months from now, eight weeks from now, or even eight days from now.