Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Fighting Off Rock Bottom: Union Face Winless Toronto

Last weekend's MLS action offered little comfort for local fans who were either worried about the Union's ability to make positive headway or angry at the team's decision to trade Danny Califf. The U struggled through a first half they were lucky to have played against a mediocre Dallas side that was missing a handful of regulars, though the Union's somewhat more cohesive second half effort and salvage of a point was a hell of a lot better than an outright loss. 
Immediately after that game concluded, Califf's debut with Chivas USA began and was televised nationally. Califf, who'd previously been deemed too injured to play for the Union and even publicly debated the fact amidst tensions with Peter Nowak, was instrumental in Chivas' first win over the LA Galaxy since 2007. The former Union captain was named Man of the Match in the 1-0 victory. While I couldn't have been happier to see Califf succeed, the night begged to be labeled "bittersweet." 
It's in the past now, and the Union face Toronto FC (0-9-0) at 4:30 [TCN] on the banks of Lake Ontario. Will they take three points from possibly the worst team in North America, who also happen to be the Canadian champions? 
The Union could use a decisive victory, even against a team that so far can't beat anyone. But from the depths of Toronto, your eye doesn't have to travel too far up the table to find Philadelphia, who are in second place with only 8 points (2-6-2) of their own. So let's not chalk this up as anything just yet… Toronto fans are probably saying there's no better opportunity for their side to earn their first points of the season.  
Last Week RewinderMy worries heading into the Dallas match and the start of the post-Califf era were somewhat widespread, but for the purposes of the on-field product, I hoped they wouldn't miss his height on the backline. Before 8 minutes were off the clock, they were beaten on a corner, with 6'1 striker Blas Perez heading home a volley in the box. While Califf's presence didn't stop those same things from happening while he was with the Union, Keon Daniel was clearly overmatched and miscast in trying to slow Perez on a few set pieces in this one. 
The Union lacked any consistent or threatening form in the first half, which isn't a surprise given a few key absences. Chase Harrison filled in admirably for the concussed Zac MacMath, taking a sound physical beating but withstanding the barrage after Perez's early goal. Newcomer Michael Lahoud was mixed into the starting XI, as Peter Nowak likes to get the new blood flowing as soon as its the kit. Not sure I agree with the logic, particularly in a match that already had a few key players out for the Union. The second half featured more control by the Union though, who equalized and narrowly missed on some solid opportunities that would have put them ahead. 
The latter 45 minutes were an overall good sign heading tonight's Must Win Or It Will Be Completely Embarrassing tilt with Toronto. 
Kings of the North(?)TFC will also be looking to build on success from their last time out. Although they have lost all of their MLS matches this season, they did beat Vancouver, 1-0, on Wednesday in CONCACAF play to take the Canadian Championship. Again, they may not be the pushover you might expect from a team looking to avoid a tenth straight loss to start the season. 
Toronto's offense has scored only seven goals through nine matches, and the team has conceded 21. Their offense is underachieving so far, which is to say, they're not quite as bad as their results have been. Kevin Kinkead points out that designated player Danny Koevermans has missed time due to a groin injury, while fellow DP Ryan Johnson has missed all but one of his 28 shots. 
KK has more on Toronto's offensive and defensive sets here. 
The last time the Union were in Toronto, they put together their most explosive effort in the young franchise's history, winning 6-2. However, with all the turnover since that time, it's a stretch to apply anything from that match to this one. Remember these guys? That was a year and 2 days ago. The various factors affecting both sides in the current season to date the only things worth looking to for an idea of how this matchup will work out. 
Re-UnionPeter Nowak hopes to have MacMath back in goal today afters sitting out last match with concussion symptoms. Harrison is not available, which is no surprise given how often the physical match against Dallas involved decleating contact with the Union backup. [UPDATE: @thegoalkeeper says MacMath is out again, so Chris Konopka is the man for the Union...]
Gabriel Gomez scored the Union's lone goal last weekend, but a late, hard, arial leg-whipping from Dallas keeper Kevin Hartman on the play cost Gomez the rest of the match with a quad injury:
No word as of this posting as to whether Gomez will play tonight, but after the game, he will leave the Union, answering a call-up from his Panama national team for World Cup qualifying. [UPDATE: He's out.]
Getting Freddy Adu back should significantly help the Union's chances of getting a result. He was playing his best match with the Union against NY Red Bulls two weekends ago when he was issued his second yellow card, a BS diving call that also forced his absence in Dallas. With Adu back, Nowak will likely look to attack with two strikers (presumably Danny Mwanga and Lio Pajoy), with Adu pulling the strings against a shoddy defense that should find itself overmatched by a Union attack that has shown signs of life in this formation. He also resumes the majority of the free kicks and corners, another area Keon struggled to fill in last week. Nothing against Keon, one of our favorite players here at the Level, but hopefully the returning players allow his game to focus on its strengths. 
Carlos Valdes was bloodied in Dallas, but Nowak has said he's fine to play today. With his former centerback partner gone, Valdes gets the captain's armband and control of the backline. They're in good hands with #5. Sheanon Williams will presumably lineup inside with him again, a miscasting of his size and speed, but the team is limited in its CB options. The expensively disappointing Porfirio Lopez could see his season salvaged as an interior defender, but for now, he's still a reserve. 
In this particular matchup, the team's desire to play its defenders high should provide the desired benefit of sustained attacks against a weak defensive opponent, without quite as much potential for counterattack as most other MLS sides. We hope, anyway. 
The Union could really use a full-game effort, rather than the good-half/bad-half efforts we've seen recently. We'll try to update with Nowak's chosen lineup if we're still in front of computers when i
t's released. Planning on watching this one through the smoke of a barbecue... 
(Photos by John E. Sokolowski and Jerome Miron, US Presswire)

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

After three straight years in or near the cellar of the NBA standings, the Sixers may be gearing to start moving up.

And people are taking notice.

The Sports Illustrated staff graded each NBA team's offseason moves and gave the Sixers a grade of A for their moves. And it was well-deserved.

Sixers fans haven't had much to celebrate in the past few years, but seeing the team draft Ben Simmons and watch his stunning passing ability in summer league was enough to get many fans excited about the upcoming season. The article noted the Simmons pick as the Sixers' best move, saying taking him over Brandon Ingram, who went No. 2 overall to the Lakers, showed they're ready to take the next step.

Jeremy Woo, one of the contributors to the article, went on to describe their other important moves this offseason:

With Joel Embiid presumably ready to return, Dario Saric coming over from Turkey and Simmons here to anchor the franchise, the future in Philadelphia is bright for the first time in years. Brett Brown can mix and match and the front office can decide which prospects to build around. Some of these guys are inevitably going to get traded, and some of them likely won’t pan out. But at least Philly is moving forward, finally.

Yes, finally.

The Sixers should have three first-round level talents making their NBA debuts this season with Simmons, Saric and Embiid, all of whom represent a separate and long wait. With Simmons, it took three years for the Sixers to finally get the first pick in the draft. With Embiid, it was waiting two full seasons for him to return from a foot injury. And with Saric, it was the agonizing wait for him to come over from Turkey after the back-and-forth reports over what he was ultimately going to decide.

The article makes note of the change in power from Sam Hinkie to the Colangelos, one that could've runied "The Process," but instead helped it continue to flourish. It also said the Sixers' worst move was that they didn't make any big gambles in free agency, whether by choice or because of lack of interest from the actual players. But this criticism is much nicer than what some of the other teams in their division received.

The Knicks received a D grade after signing injury-prone Joakim Noah and trading for Derrick Rose, both of whom have large salary cap hits for their recent production. The Nets received a C- for trying to go after too many restricted free agents and ending up with Jeremy Lin as their top acquisition, who is a good player, but isn't going to turn this subpar team around. And the Raptors got a C for essentially doing nothing other than re-signing DeMar Derozan and letting Bismack Biyombo walk in free agency.

But while the Sixers may have had a better offseason than any team in the division, this by no means suggests they'll move up in the standings too much in the immediate future. They still have to see how the new young talent meshes together and develops. But continued development has a chance to show why this offseason was such a success.

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, White Sox 3

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO — The Phillies got a nice start from Jerad Eickhoff, mostly good bullpen work and plenty of timely hitting in posting a 5-3 win over the Chicago White Sox in interleague play Wednesday night.
 
The Phils had been outscored 18-1 in losing their previous two games to the White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.
 
The Phillies are 59-68. They are four wins shy of last year’s majors-low total of 63.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff (9-12) pitched six innings of two-run ball and left with a 4-2 lead after throwing just 71 pitches. Eickhoff scattered four hits, walked nine and struck out two. The sixth inning has been a problem for him this season. He has allowed 26 earned runs over 19 innings for a 12.32 ERA in the frame. Eickhoff did hold it together and limited the damage to two runs in the sixth before handing off to the bullpen.
 
Eickhoff’s ERA in the first five innings of a game this season is 2.64.
 
White Sox right-hander James Shields gave up four runs over six innings. He is 5-16 with a 5.98 ERA.
 
Bullpen report
The trio of Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez closed it out for the Phillies.
 
Gomez survived a run in the ninth for his 34th save.
 
Ramos and Neris both pitched a scoreless inning.

Since the All-Star break, Neris has pitched 18 1/3 innings and allowed one run and two walks while striking out 26.
 
At the plate
Tommy Joseph had a nice game with a double, his 17th homer and two runs scored. Aaron Altherr had a pair of RBI singles and scored a run. Freddy Galvis doubled home a run and Cesar Hernandez homered.
 
Dioner Navarro smacked a two-run homer off Eickhoff in the sixth.
 
Trade talk
There’s interest in Carlos Ruiz (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Mets in New York on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — LHP Adam Morgan (1-7, 6.21) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (11-7, 3.36)
 
Saturday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-7, 3.60) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (11-7, 2.61)
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.31) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (1-0, 0.00).

Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

uspresswire-union-keegan-rosenberry.jpg
USA Today Images

Rookies Keegan Rosenberry, Fabian Herbers help Union top Crew

BOX SCORE

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Rookies Keegan Rosenberry and Fabian Herbers scored to help the Union beat the Columbus Crew 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Rosenberry gave the Union (10-9-7) a 2-1 lead in the 74th minute. Tranquillo Barnetta one-timed a feed to Rosenberry who trapped it with his right foot and blasted a left-footer through a pair of defenders and past goalkeeper Steve Clark.

Herbers, making his fifth start of the season, opened the scoring in the 60th. Chris Pontius tapped it to Herbers who, from the top of the box, had a shot blocked by Hector Jimenez before side-netting the rebound. Both of his two career goals have come against Columbus (4-9-11).

Adam Jahn tied it in the 73rd minute. Tony Tchani's header, off the corner by Federico Higuain, was deflected off the crossbar by goalkeeper Andre Blake and -- after a failed clearance by the Union -- Jahn tapped it in from close range.

It was the Union's third consecutive home win.

Columbus has one win in its last 11 matches.