Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Hey, it's been a while. I'm Steve, and I like soccer. Pleased to meet you.

Seriously though, apologies for the lack of posts the last few weeks. Real work got in the way (you thought blogging was a real job?), but hopefully things have settled down and we can get back in the groove.

I've had to miss the last two home games, but was able to watch them on television. While I'll gladly take my seat at PPL Park over one on the couch, you do get a different perspective, especially as the team adapts to life without Jack McInerney.

(Ironically, that's a problem that could come to an end today, as United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann is entitled to make roster changes before the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Jack McInerney has not seen the field in three group games, and we should find out today whether he'll return to the Union in time for Saturday's big game vs. Portland)

That different perspective has made me realize something you don't really need to be an astute soccer mind to figure out:

Conor Casey's still got it.

When Casey signed with the Union in the offseason, I was happy with the move and excited to see Casey play. But if I'm being honest, most of that excitement was because for the first time since the Freddy Adu signing, the team was bringing in a player I had heard of. A player with a name and a pedigree and an established MLS career.

I didn't really expect Casey to do much more than be a vocal leader, a bruiser up front, and a spark off the bench when the Union needed a late goal or to hold the ball up and keep a lead.

In reality, Conor Casey is the hands-down, without-question, don't-even-try-to-argue-with-me Most Valuable Player for the Union.

McInerney leads the team in goals and Sebastien Le Toux leads the entire league in assists. I know this. But Casey has been exactly what this team needs at exactly the right time.

In the season-opening loss to Kansas City, Casey came on in the 84th minute of a game the Union were going to lose anyway. He threw his body around, earned a few laughs from the River End, and I walked out expecting more of the same. A nice player who is not afraid to get involved and get under an opponents' skin. But I wasn't expecting much skill or finishing touch.

Boy, was I wrong.

Finally, for the first time since flashes from Le Toux in the team's inaugural season, the Union have forward(s?!?!) with a finishing touch. Casey technically only had one goal against Chivas last weekend, but only because his header glanced off Brian Carroll before finding the net and soccer is silly with how it awards goals.

Casey's "real" goal -- the team's third -- may seem like a simple finish. But with a completely saturated field and a bouncing ball, there was nothing simple about it.

Instead of blasting it into the Delaware (something Michael Farfan and others do regularly), Casey had the patience to see the goalkeeper leaning to his left, and calmly rolled it the other way to seal a win the Union desperately needed.

Casey will tun 32 years old next week (Matthew De George of The Daily Times in Delaware County had an great Casey story in Wednesday's edition). He's been around the block, and with one glance it's easy to see he doesn't have the typical soccer body type (although the fact that he played a full 90 in the heat in Houston 2 weeks ago was surprising).

But whether McInerney returns this weekend or is out the rest of the month, Union fans can rest comfortably knowing that should a Grade A chance fall at the feet of a Union forward, odds are good it'll actually be converted.

That's not something fans of this team are used to.

Since I've slacked off in recent weeks, a few posts coming this week. On Thursday we'll break down the strangest goal in Union history, followed Friday by a look ahead at the biggest home game of the year so far for the Union.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."