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)

An Attack on Carson Wentz is an Attack on All of Us

An Attack on Carson Wentz is an Attack on All of Us

Carson Wentz. He’s a phenom. He’s a star. He’s the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for for all this time. Wentz has led the Eagles to a 3-0 start, showing poise well beyond his years, and establishing himself, without a doubt, as the best quarterback in Eagles history, or at least the best since Jeff Garcia. Who else would it be? McNabb? Please. How many times was he undefeated at the bye? 

Wentz, especially after crushing the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, is unquestionably the real deal -- and I have only two questions: Should I order my flight to Houston for the Super Bowl now, or wait until the rates come down? And should the parade go up Broad Street towards City Hall, or down, towards the Sports Complex? 

Carson Wentz has already been named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, which is clearly only a small steppingstone to Rookie of the Year, MVP, having his number retired, and ultimately the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I mean, did you see some of those throws last Sunday? 

But even with all the excitement, some are skeptical. After Week 1, we heard “it’s just one game, and besides -- it’s Cleveland!” After week 2? “the Browns and Bears suck -- wake me up when he beats a good team. After week 3? “He hasn’t even played a division game yet!” Worst of all was CBS’ Bart Scott, who called Wentz "fool’s gold." 

Please. What you have to understand is that people like Scott aren’t just mouthing off on a pregame show or sharing a meaningless NFL opinion. They are launching a vicious attack on Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles organization, every Philadelphia fan, and the city of Philadelphia itself. We should all be horribly insulted, and demanding action. 

It’s bad enough when the national guys bring up snowballs and Santa Claus. But let’s be real: Bad-mouthing Carson Wentz must not be tolerated, ever. I call for a boycott of all CBS-owned properties (other than WIP), until Bart Scott apologizes or is fired. 

Sure, I know a lot of people are more upset about the national anthem stuff. But make no mistake: Questioning Carson Wentz is way worse. 

Other Philly sports takes: 

- Of course, I’d be even happier with the Eagles’ start if the long snapper hadn’t unfairly lost a televised talent show to a little girl. 

- For those of you who asked: Now that Buddy has passed, I’ll be writing in Carson Wentz for president. 

- Assuming Jim Schwartz leaves the Eagles for a head coaching job, who should replace him as defensive coordinator? It’ll be a tough choice between Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan.  

- The only downside to the Eagles’ 3-0 start? Josh Innes isn’t around for it. Poor guy. 

Follow @FakeWIPCaller on Twitter. 

Minnesota vs. Penn State: Poor defenses could lead to shootout

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Minnesota vs. Penn State: Poor defenses could lead to shootout

Penn State (2-2, 0-1) vs. Minnesota (3-0, 0-0)
Beaver Stadium, State College
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network

Scouting Penn State
The Nittany Lions were flattened by Michigan last week, 49-10. PSU was outgained 515-191, and continues to struggle with the health of its defense, especially as it pertains to its linebacker corps. The expectation is that injured ‘backers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will again sit out this week, and that freshman Cam Brown will make his first collegiate start at an outside ‘backer spot, alongside former reserves Brandon Smith and Manny Bowen. Another freshman, Connor McGovern, is likely to make his first start at right guard, replacing Derek Dowrey along the struggling offensive front. Penn State is last in the Big Ten in rushing offense, total offense, rushing defense and scoring defense, and next-to-last in sacks allowed and turnover margin.

Scouting Minnesota
Rodney Smith rushed 17 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns as the Gophers beat Colorado State 31-24. Shannon Brooks, in his first game back from a foot injury, ran 13 times for 85 yards and a score, as Minnesota piled up 249 yards on the ground in all. Kobe McCrary had just four carries last week, but a week earlier he ran 17 times for 176 yards against Indiana State. The Gophers average 228.3 yards a game on the ground, fifth in the conference. They are also 14-for-14 in red-zone opportunities, with 13 touchdowns, and have converted 55.8 percent of their third-down opportunities, second-best in the Big Ten and fifth-best among FBS teams. The offensive triggerman is Mitch Leidner, who is fourth in the conference in passing yardage (237.3) and seventh in total offense (244.7).

History
Penn State owns an 8-5 lead, but the Gophers won the most recent meeting, 24-10, in 2013.

Storyline to watch
Besides the defensive issues, the Lions have had trouble unleashing running back Saquon Barkley, their most potent offensive weapon. Part of that is the offensive line’s continuing struggles, but Barkley also admitted that he has tried to make every run a big play, rather than putting his head down and taking what the defense gives him.

What’s at stake
While coach James Franklin would not admit it Tuesday, these next two weeks – home games against the Gophers and Maryland – would appear to be critical, should the Lions hope to become bowl-eligible.

Prediction
While the weather forecast is not the best, this has the look of a shootout, as neither defense appears to be dominant. The Lions are looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss, and are playing at home, so give them a 30-24 nod.