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,


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

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.

Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies


Penn at Yale: Quakers try to keep rolling, stay atop Ivies

Penn (3-2, 2-0) at Yale (1-4, 1-1)
Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.
Friday, 7 p.m., NBCSN

It’s once again time for Friday night lights for Penn, which plays its second of three nationally televised Friday matchups tonight. Here’s a look at what’s on tap:

Scouting Penn
The Quakers won their third straight game and stayed perfect in the Ivy League with an easy 35-10 victory over old friend Al Bagnoli and Columbia last week. Junior running back Tre Solomon, the Ivy League’s leading rusher, was the star of the game, rushing for a career-high 127 yards on nine carries, catching five passes for 30 yards and even throwing a 23-yard TD pass on a late trick play. 

Quarterback Alek Torgersen threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns, one going to star junior Justin Watson and two more going to sophomore Christian Pearson, who’s emerging as another dynamic explosive receiving weapon. Linebacker Colton Moskal led the best defensive effort of the season with eight tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Moskal, a Syracuse transfer, currently ranks fourth in the Ivies in tackles with nine per game.

Scouting Yale
The Bulldogs lost their first three games (including a surprising one to Cornell in their Ivy opener), snapped their slide vs. Dartmouth, and then fell back to its losing ways last week at Fordham. Yale’s defense has particularly struggled, allowing 44 points to Fordham after previously surrendering 55 points in a loss to Colgate and 63 in a loss to Lehigh. 

The Bulldogs’ scoring defense currently ranks 118 out of 122 teams in the FCS (40.4 points per game) and 117th in total defense (487.8 yards per game). But their defense does have two of the top tacklers in the Ivies in Hayden Carlson and Foyesade Oluokun. And led by the tandem of Dale Harris and Alan Lamar, Yale leads the Ivies in rushing offense, averaging 184.8 yards per game — two-tenths of a yard more than Penn.

Series history
Yale leads the overall series 47-35-1, but Penn is 18-6 in the programs’ last 24 meetings dating back to 1992. The Quakers prevailed in last year’s matchup but hasn’t won at the Yale Bowl since 2010.

Storyline to watch
The historic Yale Bowl was erected more than 100 years ago but this will be the first true night game in the history of the stadium. That will only add to the mystique for the Penn players, who beat Yale in a night game at Franklin Field last season and love Friday night games because it reminds them of their high school days. But Yale players certainly figure to be up for the unique matchup, too. 

What’s at stake?
A win would keep Penn atop the Ivies with either Princeton or Harvard, the two other unbeaten frontrunners who face off the following day. 

Alek Torgersen, Justin Watson and Tre Solomon should have a field day against Yale’s leaky defense. Penn 42, Yale 27.

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Gunn's bullet points: Logan's injury, battle in the trenches and more

Derrick Gunn give his take on a few keys to the Eagles-Vikings game on Sunday.

• Losing Bennie Logan (groin injury) for this game is huge. He doesn't get a lot of notoriety for the dirty work he does in the trenches, but he helps Fletcher Cox get that push up the middle.

• Keep a close eye on the matchup between Jason Kelce and Vikings DT Linval Joseph. Kelce has been overmatched by bigger, athletic guys and Joseph at 6-4, 330 pounds is one of the best in the business.

• In his first three years as an Eagle, Connor Barwin had 26½ sacks as an outside linebacker, including a career-best 14½ in 2014. Through five games this season, Barwin, now a defensive end, has just one. Fatigue might be a factor. He has played more snaps than any other Eagles defensive lineman (79 percent). Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says reducing Barwin's playing time might keep him fresher and stronger in fourth quarters.

• WR Dorial Green-Beckham was on the field for 81 percent of the Eagles' plays vs. Washington last week. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich feels DGB is ready for an expanded role.

• Darren Sproles usually wins matchups against LBs, but that might not be the case against the Vikings. Mychal Kendricks' younger brother, Eric, has been a solid, playmaking LB for Minnesota and he has the speed to keep up with Sproles.

• I've said it once and I'll say it again: Get Kenjon Barner more touches in the run game. Barner has the fewest carries among the Eagles' four running backs but the best yards-per-carry average at 5.8.