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.

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

Phillies likely to carry rookie backup catcher in 2017

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The likelihood of the Phillies going with a rookie backup catcher in 2017 increased dramatically when the Miami Marlins signed free agent A.J. Ellis on Wednesday.

Ellis spent the final month of the 2016 season with the Phillies after coming over from the Dodgers in the Carlos Ruiz trade. Ellis, 35, got high marks for his work with the Phillies’ young pitching staff and the Phils had some interest in bringing him back. The interest, however, was complicated by a tight 40-man roster, which already includes three catchers — starter Cameron Rupp and minor-league prospects Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

With Ellis out of the picture, the Phillies will likely use either Alfaro or Knapp as the backup catcher in 2017. Knapp spent a full year at Triple A in 2016 and could end up being the guy as Alfaro moves to Triple A for another year of seasoning.

General manager Matt Klentak spoke earlier this week of the possibility of going with a rookie at backup catcher.

“Andrew Knapp just finished his age 25 season in Triple A,” Klentak said. “He has a full year of at-bats in Triple A. At some point for both he and Alfaro, we’re going to have to find out what those guys can do at the big-league level. During the 2017 season, we’ll have to find out — not just about those two guys — but others.”

It’s not all that surprising that Ellis ended up with the Marlins on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He played for Marlins manager Don Mattingly during the latter’s time as manager of the Dodgers.

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”