Down the Stretch They Come: What the Union Need to Do to Make Waves in MLS

Down the Stretch They Come: What the Union Need to Do to Make Waves in MLS

With just one game a week (usually) and 34 games to play, it seems like the Major League Soccer season goes on forever. But, if you can believe it, the Union have just nine games left before playoff positioning is decided.

And the Union are right in the thick of that chase, and are even in the discussion for the Supporters Shield, an absolutely massive trophy given to the team with the most regular season points. In case you were curious how much one bounce or one mistake can make a difference in a long season, I present this tweet that caught my attention from last week from Union writer Kevin Kinkead:

That free kick came back on July 3 while you were out watching fireworks, when the Union watched a  sure three points slip away in Salt Lake City.

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Since that tweet from Kinkead, Real Salt Lake picked up another point with a draw against Portland, but the discussion remains the same. Your Philadelphia Union, with all their flaws, hiccups and bumps in the road, are -- at least right now -- part of MLS's elite tier.

The Union begin the final stretch on the road Sunday night in New England before returning home next Saturday for a critical home game against Montreal.

The way I see it, there are three realistic scenarios for the Union: Get hot and stay in the hunt for the Supporters Shield, play solidly and secure a playoff berth, or fall apart and watch the postseason from home.

Here's what the Union will need for each scenario:

To Win the Supporters Shield (or at least be there at the end):

As optimistic as I'd like to be, this seems somewhat unlikely. But it's not impossible.

In the last three years, the Supporters Shield winner had 66 (San Jose), 67 (LA Galaxy) and 59 points (LA Galaxy). The total this year is more likely to be in the 50s than the 60s, considering the parity in the league right now -- Real Salt Lake has 42 points while four teams have 39 (Sporting KC, New York, Colorado and Portland). The Union and Montreal are on 38 points, while EIGHT other teams have over 30.

With nine games left, that means there are 27 points on the table. To stay in the race or win the Shield, the Union likely need at least 20 of those (likely more). Here's how to get there:

  • WIN ALL 4 HOME GAMES (12 points): This is much easier said than done, with Montreal coming next week and Sporting Kansas City to end the year (Houston and Toronto are the other two). But top teams win their home games. End of story.
  • 2 WINS, 2 DRAWS AND 1 LOSS AWAY (8 points): This could actually prove easier than Step 1. Road games at New England and DC United are must-wins, while the game against a disappointing San Jose team needs to be at least a draw. A win at Sporting KC might be too much to ask for, but draws in Montreal and San Jose could be enough.

To Finish Top 3 in the East (and earn a first-round bye):

This is more realistic -- and more important -- than winning the Shield. To get there, the Union likely need 16-18 points.

  • WIN 3 HOME GAMES AND LOSE 1 (9 points): Ideally, the fourth one would be a draw, but let's say the Union lay an egg against KC or Montreal. If they can get wins over Houston, Toronto and KC or Montreal, that would still be a strong finish.
  • 2 WINS, 1 DRAW AND 2 LOSSES AWAY (7 points): Beating DC United is a must, plus a win over either San Jose or New England. Draw the other one and lose to Montreal and KC, and the Union would still have 54 points. That should be enough for a top-three finish.

To Miss the Playoffs or Be on the Bubble come late-October:

With the way this team has played -- especially on the road -- I don't see this happening. We've officially reached the point of the season where this would be a MASSIVE disappointment (10 points or fewer).

  • WIN JUST TWICE AT HOME (6 points): With Montreal and KC coming in, this is still possible. But it would make things quite difficult for the Union.
  • WIN 1, DRAW 1, LOSE 3 AWAY (4 points): OK, the Union beat DC United. But they only draw on Sunday in New England and then lose to Montreal, San Jose and KC. On their own, those are all very possible. But as a whole, this would be a huge collapse.

As it stands now, the second scenario is the most realistic and would be a great result. A Supporters Shield would be an enormous shock, but so would missing out on a top-three finish.

We'll have a much clearer picture in nine days time, after Sunday's trip to Foxboro and next week's home date with Montreal. As for Sunday...

PREDICTION SURE TO GO WRONG:

UNION 2, REVOLUTION 0

The Revs are much better than they have been in recent years, with Juan Agudelo (please watch the video below for the goal of the year) and the world's second-most-famous Boston College product (Doug Flutie, of course) -- Charlie Davies -- on the roster.

But, I'm loving Fabinho at left back and Zac MacMath is playing like a man possessed of late. Jack McInerney breaks out of his slump and Conor Casey ices the game with a second-half goal.

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Eagles respond to Josh Norman comments: Sam Bradford is probably ticked off

Eagles respond to Josh Norman comments: Sam Bradford is probably ticked off

New Redskins CB Josh Norman ripped a ton of players from a number of teams in a wild interview earlier in the week. For whatever reason, Eagles QB Sam Bradford took a bunch of that criticism.

"Have you ever once been one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the league? Not that I remember -- and you want more money? I can't wait to play him twice a year,” Norman told ESPN The Magazine.

Sam’s teammates had a chance to come to his defense on Wednesday.

“Everyone knows Sam’s our leader,” Zach Ertz said. “I’m not going to pull a [Terrell Owens] right now and get all upset. At the same time, Sam’s my guy. Everybody loves him. Everybody knows he’s our quarterback right now and I think he’s going to be very successful this season.”

Not everyone on the Eagles had something to say about it.

“I’m not going to get into that. I’m not going to comment on it,” Head Coach Doug Pederson said.

Offensive lineman Lane Johnson points out the obvious, that Norman and the Redskins are going to have to put some action behind their words.

“That’s just what rival teams do. They like to talk their trash. They’re going to have to go out on the field and back it up. There’s going to be a time and place to show what you’re talking about.”

“It’s probably gonna piss [Bradford] off. He takes stuff to heart and he wants to prove everybody wrong,” Johnson said.

And then there was Jason Kelce with perhaps our favorite perspective. 

Temple's defense counting on several to replace production of NFL draft picks

Temple's defense counting on several to replace production of NFL draft picks

With just over a week to go before the season opener vs. Army at Lincoln Financial Field, it’s tough to pin down a way or even a few words to describe the 2016 incarnation of the Temple Owls.

There’s still veteran leadership on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Phillip Walker and running back Jahad Thomas back for their senior seasons.

But the program has now reached the point where head coach Matt Rhule, entering his fourth year at the helm, and his staff can really start molding the Owls into their vision. Members of highly-rated, athletic recruiting classes of recent years continue to filter their respective ways into important roles.

At this time last year before the season opener against Penn State, the pulse of Temple’s team was clear — experienced, ferocious defense.

But even with star linebacker Tyler Matakevich (Pittsburgh Steelers), defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis (Washington Redskins) and cornerback Tavon Young (Baltimore Ravens) graduating and moving on to the NFL, there’s some very talented and experienced players to fill their roles as the Owls continue to evolve.

So that invites this question: Who’s being counted on to produce and fill the shoes of those who’ve moved on?

Let’s start with the obvious hole in production at linebacker without Matakevich, who finished his Temple career with 493 tackles and punctuated that stellar career with last year’s Bronco Nagurski Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player.

Redshirt senior Stephaun Marshall will slide over to SAM linebacker and take Matakevich’s old WILL linebacker spot. While Matakevich was a generational talent, Rhule is confident Marshall will be able to contribute to the Owls’ defense.

“He’s moved to be a productive guy,” Rhule said Tuesday during Temple’s media day. “I think he’ll play really well.”

Being a productive player is something Marshall, a Montclair, New Jersey native, is used to. In 38 games with the Owls over the past three seasons, Marshall has recorded 113 total tackles, 11 pass deflections, 2½ sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception. He’s also used to moving positions — he started his collegiate career as a safety before moving to the SAM spot in 2014.

And Marshall will be set up nicely to increase his production in 2016. In defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s aggressive scheme, the WILL spot is known to be the most productive on the field. Previous guys at that spot under Snow include former NFL players Pat Tillman (241 tackles) and Adam Archuleta (203 tackles) at Arizona State, and, of course, Matakevich at Temple.

Another player to keep an eye on at the WILL linebacker spot is redshirt freshman Chapelle Russell, who’s currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Marshall. Still, Russell could see some time as Rhule and his staff have gushed about his potential for a long time now. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Russell is an athletic specimen.

“Chapelle Russell has infinite talent,” Rhule said Tuesday. “He’s got tremendous upside. It’s just gonna be whether he does it. He’s a redshirt freshman. Some days he’s out there and makes every tackle. Some days his shoulder bothers him a bit or something like that or it’s Coach Rhule told him he couldn’t wear this pair of socks and he’s not quite at the same level. We’re just trying to get him to be the same guy every day.”

As far as the defensive line is concerned, there’s no true answer yet on the inside to replace Ioannidis. Senior Averee Robinson, redshirt junior and North Carolina transfer Greg Webb, redshirt sophomore Freddie Booth-Lloyd and true freshman Karamo Dioubate are all in the mix to play key roles at defensive tackle.

The Owls are set up nicely at defensive end, though, with Praise Martin-Oguike and Haason Reddick back for their senior seasons.

Martin-Oguike had 30 tackles, four sacks and an interception last season. Reddick, a former walk-on from Camden and Haddon Heights High School in South Jersey, made noise last season with 45 tackles and five sacks, all while paying his own way to school without a scholarship.

“I got here and he wasn’t even on the team,” Rhule said of Reddick on Tuesday. “All he’s done is battle for his spot. He played last year at an all-conference level while not being on scholarship.”

Reddick was put on scholarship after last season. During this preseason camp, he was awarded jersey No. 7, an achievement as the Owls annually award single-digit jersey numbers to those voted toughest by teammates.

Sharif Finch, who had an interception against Penn State last year, is also in the mix on the defensive line.

The cornerback situation is a bit more unsettled at this point.

After last season, the Owls seemed set there with star Sean Chandler, who had four picks in 2015 and returned two of them for touchdowns. But the staff decided to move Chandler, a junior, to safety during the offseason to better utilize his athleticism and because it felt it would be the better position for his pro prospects going forward.

What’s left at corner after Chandler’s move is a mish-mash of depth. There’s no shortage of players who have the potential to make an impact, according to Rhule.

Redshirt senior Nate Hairston and redshirt junior Artrel Foster both saw time there last season and played well. Redshirt sophomore Derrick Thomas and redshirt freshman Kareem Ali are also in the mix.

But it sure sounded Tuesday like Rhule is waiting for one or two of them to stand out during the early part of the season.

“Thomas is playing at a high level. Foster was playing at a really high level but he just has some nicks right now, so he’s fighting to get back. Hairston is coming on and Ali is coming on, too,” Rhule said. “I think our corners, we feel like we have a lot of depth.

“The thing about playing corner is you have to get beat. You have to go into a game and really get beat and then respond to it. We have a lot of guys who have the talent to do it, they just haven’t gone into a game and got run by yet. How they respond is a true marker of how they are as a corner.”

The cornerback question may not get an answer for a couple of weeks, at least. Army runs the triple-option offense and rarely throws. On the schedule after Army is Stony Brook, an FCS squad.

That leaves the Sept. 17 game vs. Penn State at Beaver Stadium as the first true test for Temple’s corners. And for the defense as a whole.

Temple basketball names Chris Clark assistant coach

ap-chris-clark.jpg
AP

Temple basketball names Chris Clark assistant coach

Chris Clark is back with the Owls.

The former Temple guard and team video coordinator was named an assistant coach to Fran Dunphy’s staff on Wednesday night.

“We are happy to have Chris Clark rejoin our staff,” Dunphy said in a release by the school. “He knows our system as a player and as a staff member last year. He also has extensive coaching experience, serving as an assistant at three different D-I programs. Chris has been successful at every stop in his career, and we look forward to having him back in the fold.”

Clark, a Philadelphia native, played for the Owls from 2004-08 and was a standout sixth man his senior season, helping lead Temple to a 21-13 record and Atlantic 10 conference championship. During the 2015-16 season, he served the Owls as their video coordinator. He left the program in April to join Drexel’s staff as an assistant.

“I am truly excited to be able to return to Temple as an assistant coach on Fran Dunphy’s staff,” Clark said. “Last season was special working at my alma mater as the video coordinator, but to now serve as an assistant is truly an honor. With that said, I want to thank Drexel head coach Zach Spiker for the opportunity to work on his staff, and his understanding through this process. I enjoyed my short time there and wish the program continued success.”