4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

Clearly, I am a soccer fan.

I played the sport (I still pretend to, on occasion), coached and refereed for a few youth teams and watched enough games on TV to have odd cravings for Singha Lager and Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer – popular sideline advertisers in English stadiums.

I love soccer and I want other people to love it, too. But there is one thing I’ll never understand about many soccer fans who want to have their Singha and eat it too.

The same people who complain about a lack of mainstream soccer love – “it’s not on SportsCenter,” “the Inquirer had a 3-inch Union story,” “the game is on a channel I don’t get” – turn their noses up at “newbies” who ask questions about the game or say “field” instead of “pitch.”

You can’t have it both ways. You either want more people to appreciate the game, or you want it to be your cliquey little niche. I prefer the former, which is one of the reasons my three-plus years at PPL Park have been so enjoyable.

Sure, there are plenty of “soccer snobs”  hanging around on the banks of the Delaware. Folks who like to rattle off the current standings in the Dutch Eredivisie, brag about how they’ve “been here from the start” or tell you how you “don’t really understand the game” because you didn’t wake up at 4:45 a.m. to watch the Urawa Reds battle Yokohama in the J-League.

For those people – and soccer-heads who like to analyze formations and pick apart the SuperDraft (that includes me) – there are plenty of Union-specific blogs out there. Here at The Level, we’ll try to continue where @Rev215 left off before his Gareth Bale tattoo got infected (or he had a kid, not sure which). Plenty of smart, nuanced debate about the Union for the die-hards, as well as some light-hearted stuff for those of you who just like to tailgate outside PPL, have a beer (or two) and enjoy a sunny summer afternoon.

So with first kick just a few days away (forecast isn’t looking bad, by the way), here’s a few questions you might overhear on Saturday when the Union host Sporting Kansas City (4 p.m., 6 ABC) – whether it’s a seemingly uneducated ask from a “newbie” or a well-thought-out prediction from a scarf-carrying Son of Ben. We’ve even provided a few stock answers/statements you’re free to use, with or without attribution to The Level.

What happened to Freddy Adu?

John Hackworth happened, that’s what. Hack has made it clear he was not and is not on board with Adu’s game, and the former child prodigy will never suit up for the Union again. But he’s still collecting a BIG paycheck. The team claims to be searching for a way to dump Adu, but it’s much easier said than done.

So the Union are holding him hostage?

Actually, it’s more the other way around. Adu is guaranteed at least $400,000 this year, and, just as any of us would do, he’s not willing to simply ignore than fact and move on. Both sides have been relatively quiet, but Adu seems to be standing pat and waiting for the right opportunity. Given his inflated sense of his own abilities, he might be content to sit tight until Real Madrid comes calling.

Can we talk about something else?

Absolutely. That will be the last Adu reference here on The Level until he is dealt or steps on a field in another shirt. That’s a promise.

Will the 2013 Union be more like the 2012 side that struggled to score goals and win games, or the 2011 team that surprised us all with a playoff run?

If I had to guess, it will be somewhere in between. We’ll have a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects –  as well as a few predictions – later in the week, but it would be fair to expect much more from this team than we saw in 2012. Hackworth has had time to make the team his, and we’re well past “they’re still young” as an acceptable excuse. Anything short of a playoff berth would be a disappointment.

I want to buy that sweet new third jersey (which hasn’t been unveiled yet). Who will score the goals this year so I know what name and number to get?

Hackworth has indicated he will likely play three attacking players up front. At first glance, it seems you’d be safe going with the No. 11 of fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux, No. 6 of newcomer Conor Casey or No. 9 of last year’s goal-scoring leader Jack McInerney. As was proven during training camp in Florida – where the first team struggled to score – it might take time for those three players to jell. We’ll have more on predicted formations and stat leaders later in the week, but for now, you might want to go with a blank jersey. Just ask anyone wearing a Carlos Ruiz or Jordan Harvey shirt at PPL.

What about Zac MacMath?

It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. If you want to take the popular side of the argument at PPL, you can talk about how great the young goalkeeper is. If you’re feeling feisty, show a little more skepticism (like I often do on this subject). MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season. With the departure of team captain and center back Carlos Valdes, he might get that chance early in the season as the defense finds its chemistry.

Why can’t anyone hit a good corner kick on this team?

I don’t really have an answer for that one. Sorry.

How ’bout a beer?

Options abound, but I’ll politely suggest that you skip the lines at Chickies & Petes. Enter through the southeast Supporters Gate and get a double-sized beer at the Snake & Shield, or walk toward the team store and hit up the Boddingtons cart just across the concourse. If you’re looking to use up all your Weight Watchers points for the week, find one of the Philly Favorites stands for my favorite PPL item: Philly Fries. A large boat of French fries smothered in steak, cheese and onions. Much more bang for your buck than a bready cheesesteak.

So you’re an overweight soccer fan, then?

[Hangs head in shame … orders a salad.]

* * *

So if you’re one of the die-hards and find yourself with an extra ticket, invite that neighbor who mocked your Sons of Ben scarf last weekend. And if someone mispronounces Hoppenot, be a nice guy and help him out.

And if you’re a soccer hater (not including those who will comment on this post – you’re a lost cause), stop by PPL this season. Even if it turns out you hate it, there are far worse ways to spend a summer afternoon.

Plus they have Boddingtons on tap.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117. Stop by and say hi at the top of section 138.

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”