Breaking down the play that kept Union in playoff hunt -- no, not the Kleberson goal

Breaking down the play that kept Union in playoff hunt -- no, not the Kleberson goal

Lost in the Kleberson-induced euphoria of last week's win over Toronto FC was a play less than 10 minutes earlier. A play that could be the defining moment of the Union's season, should they find a spot in the playoffs.

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With nine Union players pushed forward for a Sebastien Le Toux corner kick in the 87th minute of a 0-0 game, the ball was quickly cleared to midfield by Toronto. Union fullback Ray Gaddis tried to control the ball and head it to a teammate, but a tough first touch, and no Union players within 30 yards, left him all alone trying to defend a 3-man Toronto rush.

Gaddis' first touch is what ultimately caused the problem, but the second-year player -- who struggled with defensive positioning earlier this season -- immediately backed up and surveyed his options.

If you watch it again, Gaddis no sooner begins backpedaling when he perfectly reads the eyes of Alvaro Rey, realizing Rey is going to slide an early pass forward to Robert Earnshaw. If Gaddis stays with Rey for one more stride, there's no way he keeps up with Earnshaw seconds later.

Ray Gaddis reads the pass perfectly from Alvaro Rey.

Before Rey delivers the pass, Gaddis is already turned around and sprinting full speed to get alongside Earnshaw -- Toronto's leading scorer.

From there, Gaddis not only uses his blazing speed to stay with Earnshaw, he also perfectly positions himself on Earnshaw's inside shoulder. This forces Earnshaw just a little bit wider, but it also discourages him from trying to slide the ball back to Rey. As Earnshaw approaches the penalty area, Gaddis even slows down, begging Earnshaw to go wider and be selfish. When you're the only defender back, you have to pick your poison, and in this case, Gaddis (rightfully) decides he's better off turning it into a 1-on-1 than allowing Rey to rejoin the play.

Gaddis prevents a pass back and forces Earnshaw wide.

Once inside the area, Gaddis is careful not to dive in for the ball, and he also takes away half the goal for Earnshaw to shoot at. This allows goalie Zac MacMath to take a step toward Earnshaw, and forces the Toronto forward to hesitate for an instant. It is then that Gaddis picks his spot and pokes the ball away.

Gaddis finishes the play perfectly, poking the ball away.

To top it all off, Gaddis even keeps the ball in play and regains possession instead of kicking it out of play. Which leads almost immediately to a Union free kick at the other end.

Gaddis will have another big challenge Saturday night, despite D.C. United's horrendous record. The Union will be without starting right back Sheanon Williams (yellow card accumulation) and his most likely replacement, Fabinho (red card vs. Toronto). So don't be surprised to see seldom-used players like Chris Albright or Matt Kassel playing center back (with Amobi Okogu on the right), or even someone like Le Toux or Michael Lahoud starting at right back.

The Union absolutely, positively, no questions asked, need a win against lowly D.C. (7 p.m. - Comcast Network). If that happens, and the Union do make the playoffs, remember Ray Gaddis' heroics last Saturday night.

PREDICTION SURE TO BE WRONG

The Union have struggled to score in open play lately. And even usually stubborn manager John Hackworth (the longest-tenured coach in Philly sports) might have to put Kleberson in the starting lineup to avoid an absolutely all-out fan mutiny. Whether that leads to more attacking play, we shall see.

Ironically, I think Saturday's game will come down to something the Union haven't seen all season: a penalty kick. Games at RFK are often wild and out of control, and I have a feeling the Union will draw their FIRST PENALTY of the entire season, then tack on another one late to secure the win.

UNION 2, D.C. UNITED 0

Joel Embiid doubtful Tuesday vs. Clippers with left knee injury

Joel Embiid doubtful Tuesday vs. Clippers with left knee injury

Joel Embiid did not practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the Sixers' game Tuesday against the Clippers.

Embiid hyperextended his left knee in the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Blazers Friday. He said after the game that the knee was fine, but the Sixers are clearly exercising caution with their young star center. Embiid will also rest on Wednesday against the Bucks.

"I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way," Embiid said Friday. "I'm great. The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good."

The Sixers are calling it a left knee contusion. They're 13-17 when Embiid plays and 2-10 without him.

Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) was limited at Monday's practice but is probable to play the Clippers.

Okafor had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes in Saturday's 110-93 loss at Atlanta.

CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.

Eagles’ Taylor Hart excited about switch from defensive to offensive tackle

Eagles’ Taylor Hart excited about switch from defensive to offensive tackle

As the Eagles’ 2016 season was nearing its end, the offensive line was limping toward the finish line. 

Thanks to Lane Johnson’s suspension and several injuries across the line, the Eagles needed someone to take scout team reps at offensive tackle. So they asked reserve defensive tackle Taylor Hart. 

“They needed a little bit of help,” Hart told CSNPhilly.com on Monday. “That’s where the whole idea grew from.” 

The idea Hart talked about is a pretty big move in his career. When the spring rolls around, Hart will no longer be a defensive lineman. Instead, he’ll try to prolong his career by switching to offensive tackle. 

At first, the idea wasn’t to make Hart switch positions permanently, but the 25-year-old was impressive during practice. And still, it wasn’t until after the season that the decision to permanently switch positions was made. Hart said he talked it over with the team, his family and agent and came to the conclusion it was a good idea. 

“We all decided that this was a great route to prolong my career with the Eagles,” Hart said. “I’m really excited about it.” 

Hart came to the Eagles as a fifth-round pick in 2014 but has played minimally during the first three years of his NFL career. He's played in 15 games with one start. Fourteen of those games came in 2015 in a 3-4 defense under then-defensive coordinator Billy Davis. 

Before the 2016 season, Hart made the Eagles' original 53-man roster but was then cut as the team claimed three players. From there, he went to join his old coach Chip Kelly in San Francisco. The 49ers waived him on Oct. 22 and the Eagles claimed him but kept him inactive the rest of the way. 

The writing was on the wall: Without this decision, it’s very possible Hart’s days with the Eagles were numbered. They might still be. But at least he’s giving it a shot. 

At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds and with pretty good athleticism, it seems like Hart has the right makeup to be an offensive tackle. 

It took some prodding, but eventually, Hart admitted he was “pretty good” as an offensive lineman in high school; according to the Eagles, he was an all-state tackle. When he went to Oregon, he was given the choice to play offense or defense. He chose defense. 

Recently, Hart has been thinking a lot about why he landed on defense back then. He liked the aggressive, attacking nature of being a defensive player, but says he really enjoyed both. 

“Maybe looking back at it,” he said, “maybe I should have chosen offensive line.” 

This time last year, Hart was worried about a different switch, from Davis’ two-gapping 3-4 defense to Jim Schwartz’s attacking 4-3. At the time, Hart said he thought it was a good thing to get out of his comfort zone. Now, he really is. 

The biggest challenges he’ll face relearning to play offensive tackle, according to Hart, will be moving backwards and staying flat-footed. But Hart thinks his knowledge of playing defensive line will help him as he now tries to stop other defensive linemen. 

While Hart used to wear No. 97 with the Eagles, when he returned from San Francisco, rookie Destiny Vaeao had already snatched it, so Hart was given 77. That will work — 77 is an offensive lineman-eligible number. 

While it’s not common for a defensive lineman to switch to the other side of the ball, it’s not unprecedented either. In fact, Alejandro Villanueva was once with the Eagles in the summer of 2014 (Hart’s rookie year) as a defensive lineman. The former Army captain was cut by the Eagles but latched on with the Steelers and has become Pittsburgh’s starting left tackle. 

Hart said that he and Villanueva have remained in contact and have talked about the switch. Seeing Villanueva’s success has made Hart more confident that he can do it too. 

“In the NFL, you want to make yourself as valuable as possible,” Hart said. “It really kind of clicked for me. This is a shot for me to really be productive.”