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.


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.


Report: Sixers have shown interest in Timberwolves PG Tyus Jones

Report: Sixers have shown interest in Timberwolves PG Tyus Jones

With Ben Simmons and Jerryd Bayless hurt, the Sixers are still lacking a distributor, and so it makes sense that they've been in contact with the point guard-rich Timberwolves.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, the Sixers and New Orleans Pelicans have shown interest in T'wolves backup point guard Tyus Jones. 

With fifth overall pick Kris Dunn and Ricky Rubio, Minnesota is set at PG. Jones, 20, is third on the totem pole a year after being drafted 24th overall. 

According to Wojnarowski, the Timberwolves are more inclined to trade Jones than Rubio. 

Jones has a connection to the Sixers in Jahlil Okafor, a former teammate at Duke. Both were one-and-dones for the 2014-15 National Championship team. Jones averaged 11.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists for the Blue Devils. 

He played sparingly as a rookie last season with Minnesota (37 games), averaging 4.2 points and 2.9 assists in 15.5 minutes, but stood out this summer, winning Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

T.J. McConnell has started the majority of the preseason at point guard for the Sixers. Sergio Rodriguez got the nod in the last game against the Pistons. Brett Brown is also looking at Nik Stauskas to fill the spot in a non-traditional role.

Elton Brand announces retirement after 17 NBA seasons

Elton Brand announces retirement after 17 NBA seasons

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Elton Brand walked out to the practice court clad in a gray suit and tie. As he approached the media with his family, the Sixers' players and staff gathered to watch and, more importantly, pay their respect to the news he was about to deliver. 

“After 17 years of playing the game that I love, and it’s been great to me, I’m officially retiring,” Brand said standing next to his wife Shahara. “It’s for real this time. It was a wonderful journey.”

Brand, 37, played 17 seasons in the NBA with a career average of 15.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists. A two-time All-Star, he recorded four 20-and-10 seasons. 

This summer he signed his final contract, a one-year deal with the Sixers worth $980,431. Brand announced his intention to retire on Thursday and the roster move will be officially completed at the conclusion of training camp. Brand’s retirement clears up a roster space for the Sixers. 

“Me personally, playing, being out there, the mentoring role, it was great. I enjoyed it,” Brand said. “But I really couldn’t be out there giving my all after 17 years, helping the team, being in the right place on defense, and giving the coaching staff the energy they deserve from their players. I thought it was time.”

The Bulls selected Brand with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft out of Duke, a moment he considers a highlight of his career. He played his first two seasons in Chicago, followed by seven with the Clippers. The Sixers signed Brand in July of 2008. He was a member of the team for the next four years, including two playoff runs. Brand played one more season with the Bulls, followed by two with the Hawks. 

His already-lengthy NBA career appeared to be over at the end of the 2014-15 season, but he made a surprise decision to return to the league in January of 2016 with the Sixers. He appeared in 17 games last season, averaging 4.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 13.2 minutes. 

While Brand was needed to log time because of injuries, including 20-plus on back-to-back nights, his biggest contribution came away from the game. The young team signed Brand to serve as a mentor to players such as fellow Blue Devil Jahlil Okafor, who struggled with off-the-court issues as a rookie. Okafor developed a big-brother relationship with Brand, talking often — and rarely about basketball itself. 

Brand shared his messages of discipline and work ethic across the locker room. He stayed late after practices to work on fundamental drills with then-rookie Richaun Holmes. On game days he often could be seen dressed in a suit, a visualization of professionalism for his teammates. At the end of the season, Brand paid for the team to take a trip to Miami. 

“We felt his presence,” Okafor said. “Having another vet in there, knowing who he is, his accolades, it was a respect factor to him. Whatever he said goes. I remember hearing his voice at halftime if we were playing poor, he would let us know about it. It was good to have somebody on your team tell you you’re playing bad rather than hearing your coach’s mouth all the time.”

Brett Brown described his emotions as "sad" when Brand informed him of his decision. In less than a year of working together, Brown has learned from Brand's NBA experiences. 

"He's as elite in class as anybody I have ever coached," Brown said, adding, "He's got the ingredients that make him, I feel, highly attractable down the road. Surely he's got stuff to offer after this is all done. Compassionate, hard-working, educated, real, tough. He was a great example for our locker room."

Brand plans to spend time away from the game and has not made any decisions on his next career move. He will be accessible to the Sixers and plans to spend time around the team but not in an official role. He has had conversations with the team about possible opportunities in the future, just not right now. 

The Sixers broke out in applause at the conclusion of Brand's announcement. He didn't know they were going to be present and joked that as the "OG" of the team, he doesn't like surprises. Brand wanted a simple no-frills gathering of media, a low-key departure from the game. It was fitting for a career based on quietly putting in hard work. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said. “But it’s definitely time now.”