Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

Captain Califf returns to PPL as Union host lowly Toronto F.C.

In this town, we have had plenty of
anticipated returns, when our one-time heroes come back to our fair
city in another team’s jersey.

The days leading up to these reunions are built up
with questions from fans, local media members and national media-types
(all of whom are predicting boos and batteries).

Will they cheer? Will they boo? Usually, one or two
writers will climb onto their nearest high horse to tell you what you
should do when he comes out of the tunnel.

I don’t like to tell people what to think or how
to act, and every fan has a different relationship with every player.
For example, I will always, forever and through all layers of irrationality,
defend Allen Iverson to the death. My arguments will not be logical,
they will not always be based in truth and they might end with, “well,
you smell bad!”

Now as just a fourth-year team, Saturday’s return
of former captain Danny Califf doesn’t approach the level of Brian
Dawkins’ coming back to the Linc, Scott Rolen’s return to the Vet
or Iverson wearing a Nuggets jersey.

But unlike those guys and those teams, many Union
fans have a more personal relationship with the players. Califf has
shared a beer with many fans, signed countless shirts and even visited
the Sons of Ben Tailgate on gameday. So when he walks back into PPL
Park on Saturday (4 p.m., ABC) as a member of Toronto F.C., there will
be a strong reaction from the crowd.

And from the vibe I’m getting on Twitter and the
web this week, don’t be surprised if Califf is heckled mercilessly
by many Sons of Ben. If the national media cared about MLS, they’d
rip Philly fans for not being grateful. But if you know the sense of
humor possessed by Califf (and most Sons of Ben), you’d realize there’s
no greater compliment than vulgar songs and banners in The River End.

"I’m really excited," Califf
told Matthew de George of the Delaware County Daily Times. “I know
that the Sons of Ben will give me a hard time. I would feel a little
weird if they didn’t because it would mean they didn’t like me when
I was here. I’m excited to see the stuff they have in store, whether
it’s banner or chants or whatever.”

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (2-2-1, 7 point) vs. Toronto F.C.
(1-2-2, 5 points)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: ABC

 

Today’s Opponent, in Haiku Form:

The team from up north,

Often bad, better of late,

U should still win, eh?

 

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

Toronto F.C. came into Major League Soccer in 2007
as the “next big thing” in the league. In six seasons, the
“Reds” have never made the playoffs and never finished higher
than 11th overall. Their passionate fans have gone through
all stages of grief, including denial, revolt, and indifference.

Finally, however, it seems like Toronto has some light
at the end of its tunnel, even if that just means a draw here and there.
Their coaching situation was one of the offseason’s most interesting
stories, as Toronto – which is now on its EIGHTH MANAGER in less than
seven years – hired New Zealand legend and former MLS star Ryan Nelsen
as its new coach.

The only problem was that as of a few months ago,
Nelsen was a regular starter for Queens Park Rangers of the English
Premier League. Originally, it seemed Toronto was going to allow Nelsen
to finish the year before retiring as a player and taking over in Toronto.
But after much head-scratching, Nelsen decided to leave London for Toronto
in time for the season opener.

Outside of Califf, even the most ardent MLS diehard
will need a program to identify Toronto’s starting 11.

Sidenote: Expect some entertainment and creative chants
if The River End sees Joe Bendik start in goal for Toronto. Especially
from a crowd that should be amped up by the first tolerable matchday
weather of the season.

 

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City:

Half of Toronto’s population – which totals
roughly 2.5 million – was actually born outside of Canada. It
is the fifth largest city in North America (Mexico City, New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago). (thanks, visit-toronto.ca)

 

The Player Most Likely to Doop:

In my last matchday preview – before a much-needed
fifth anniversary vacation with my better half, and a weeklong illness
that came home with us – I actually got this right when I said Conor
Casey.

So, what the hell.

Conor Casey.

 

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I didn’t see last week’s draw in Columbus – 
and forgot to set the DVR – but by all accounts, the team played
well enough to win and showed more promise than in the loss to New York.

These are the games where the Union MUST get three
points if they hope to make a playoff push. Home game. Bad team. No
weather excuses.

I’m predicting a very rare Union cakewalk on Saturday.
Call it a hunch, call it crazy, call it wrong when it turns out to be.

Union 3, Toronto 0.

Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

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Ben Simmons working out with LeBron James

Ben Simmons' fellow NBA rookies may not think too highly of him, but when the best basketball player on the planet is giving him pointers, he must be doing something right.

On Tuesday, a photo of Simmons and LeBron James dribbling side by side started making the rounds on Instagram. That's right. The Sixers' number-one overall draft pick and franchise savior is apparently training with the four-time league MVP and reigning world champion.

#Klutch @klutchsports

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Those workouts continued on Wednesday, when 12-time All-Star Dwayne Wade posted a photo of himself, Simmons and James, as well as Richard Jefferson and Jordan McRae. That's some good company for a first-year player to keep.

Good day of work!

A photo posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

What does all of this mean for Simmons and the Sixers? Hard to say, but it can't be a bad thing that the rookie point-forward is spending time with a pair of future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Surely he must be learning something.

That's good news for the Sixers, who hope that Simmons can even come close to living up to the lofty comparisons some have drawn to James already.

Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

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Tonight's Lineup: Tommy Joseph starts for 1st time against Gio Gonzalez

Tommy Joseph is back in the starting lineup … as he's expected to be for most of the final month of the season. Joseph bats fourth behind third baseman Maikel Franco.

Joseph did not start Tuesday night in the Phillies' 3-2 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old is hitting .251 with 17 home runs and 34 RBIs.

The slugger has a significantly higher average against left-handed pitching than righties, despite clubbing 12 of his 17 homers against right-handed pitchers.

Joseph has yet to faced Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez.

In other lineup notes, Tyler Goeddel gets the start in left field and will hit eighth, while A.J. Ellis gets his second start as a Phillie. He'll catch Adam Morgan.

Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. A.J. Ellis, C
8. Tyler Goeddel, LF
9. Adam Morgan, P

For more on tonight's game, read Steven Tydings' game notes.

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

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Villanova Athletic Media Relations

Villanova season preview: It's Zach Bednarczyk team now

VILLANOVA, Pa. — When star quarterback John Robertson suffered a season-ending injury early in Villanova’s 2015 campaign, Zach Bednarczyk was thrown into a difficult spot.

How could an inexperienced redshirt freshman be expected to replace the reigning Walter Payton Award winner? Could the Wildcats still accomplish all of their lofty preseason goals?

In the end, Bednarczyk probably handled it as well as could be expected, performing admirably in some spots (like when he spearheaded a late comeback against rival Delaware just after Robertson got hurt) and poorly in others (like when Penn upset Villanova for the first time in a century the very next week).

But now, after getting almost a full year of experience under his belt, Villanova head coach Andy Talley is expecting Bednarczyk to become a better, smarter player — and, most of all, someone who can lead the Wildcats into the FCS playoffs in Talley’s final season.

“I think the thing that he did last year was that he was a little bit of a gun-slinger,” Talley said. “He threw the ball around a little bit. Now he’s more judicious with where he throws the football, his outlet receivers. He’s not trying to gun the ball in all of the time and make a play.”

While Talley would certainly like his QB to cut down on some mistakes — he threw seven interceptions last season — he does appreciate that Bednarczyk possesses some of the same playmaking skills that made Robertson such a star at ’Nova, including the ability to gain yards on the ground.

In his first season last year, Bednarczyk led the Wildcats in rushing with 515 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 1,396 yards and 10 touchdowns en route to nabbing CAA co-Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

This season, which begins for Villanova Saturday at Pittsburgh, Talley hopes he can match those running totals while becoming a 2,000-yard passer with fewer interceptions.

“Last year he was rookie of the year in the CAA but he really could have been an all-league player if he didn’t throw the ball in some bad spots,” Talley said. “I think he learned the hard way by having the ball go against him. In the last game of the year, we had a chance to tie for the championship and go to the playoffs if we had beaten JMU. And he threw two picks that went back for touchdowns. So he’s sort of learned his craft the hard way.”

That season-ending loss to James Madison still stings for the Wildcats, who finished with a 6-5 overall record and missed out on qualifying for the FCS playoffs for just the third time in eight years.

That’s something they hope to reverse in 2016 under the growing leadership of Bednarczyk, who agrees with his coach that he needs to become a smarter player.

“Last year I definitely took too many risks,” the sophomore QB said. “This year, although I still want to throw the ball around because that’s my strong suit, I definitely don’t want to force anything. I’ll try to cut back on my turnovers. If it looks like it’s too tight of a window to squeeze it this year, I’ll just tuck it and run.”

Bednarczyk will certainly need to be poised in the pocket with Talley admitting that the Wildcats aren’t as deep at receiver as they’ve been in years past. 

At the same time, he may not have to put too many points on the board, considering how good Villanova’s defense can be. Although the unit graduated star linebacker Don Cherry, who’s been in preseason camp with the Eagles, they still boast a veteran unit that includes linebacker Austin Calitro and defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon.

Kpassagnon, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound NFL prospect, is an especially intriguing player for the Wildcats.

“I think all the pro teams have been through to see him,” Talley said. “He can run. He’s tough. He diagnoses well. He’s in our business school, so he’s smart as can be. And he carries that over to the field.”

Kpassagnon, who was named to the CAA preseason all-conference team, is excited for his senior season but admitted that helping the Wildcats rise to the top of a loaded league won’t be easy. Villanova, which opens league play Sept. 17 vs. Towson, was picked fourth behind Richmond, William & Mary and James Madison.

“There’s no dropoff in competition throughout the CAA,” Kpassagnon said. “In some other leagues, there are a couple of teams that you know will obviously win the conference. But with ours, you never know.”

Of course, Villanova has aspirations beyond just winning the league. As always, the Wildcats — who check in at No. 23 in the STATS preseason Top 25 — will look to make a deep run in the FCS playoffs and, perhaps, try to send Talley out with his second national title.

“The goal is definitely a national championship,” Kpassagnon said. “We all believe we can do it. It’s something we have in the back of our heads.”