Great Expectations: UnionDynamo, Game One

Great Expectations: UnionDynamo, Game One

Expectations are a tricky thing. Set them too high and you
risk disappointment. Temper them and you risk missing out on the thrill of your
wildest ones coming true.

The most fun I’ve had following Philly sports is when a
local team is on the ascendency, when the weight of expectations has not yet
threatened to crush our heightened hopes. For me, the 1994-95 Flyers, 1998-99
Sixers, 2001 Eagles, and 2006 Phillies are all examples of teams who weren’t
yet burdened by expectations, but showed glimpses of the good times to come.

Which brings me to the Union, who are set to make their
playoff debut on Sunday at PPL Park (5PM/ESPN2). Clearly, this is a team on the
rise. As a second year franchise they don’t carry the scars of past playoff
losses. They aren’t expected to lift the MLS Cup at the conclusion of the
playoffs. To be fair, anything from this point forward is gravy. They’re
playing with house money, which is incredibly fun.

Now, this isn’t to say the Union can’t, or won’t, win this
two-game series with Houston. They’re 2-0-2 against them all-time. They match up
incredibly well with the Dynamo. What I am saying is that there’s something
special about watching a team taking those first steps, so enjoy it.

Speaking of those matchups, let’s take a closer look at some
of the key one’s heading into the first leg on Sunday.

Brad Davis v. Sheanon
Williams (and whichever midfielder Peter Nowak plugs in on the right side)

The left-footed Davis, who led MLS with 16 assists this
season, is a menace on the left flank. His ability to provide service to the
Dynamo forwards will go a long way towards determining which team wins this
series.

Williams and the TBD right-sided midfielder will be tasked
with closing Davis down and limiting his space and ability to whip balls into
the box. The Union defense need to walk a tightrope though, as the last thing
they want is to foul Davis and give Houston set-piece opportunities.

Houston’s Height v.
Union’s Back Four

Four Dynamo players (Geoff Cameron, Brian Ching, Will Bruin,
and Bobby Boswell) share the team goal-scoring lead (each has scored five
goals). What do they all have in common? They are all 6’1” or taller. Cameron
is 6’3”, Ching 6’1”, Bruin 6’2”, and Boswell is 6’2”. Oh, and the Dynamo player
who scares me most (based on his international performances for Honduras) is
Carlo Costly, who stands 6’2”.

Needless to say, the Dynamo pose a major threat on
set-pieces and on balls in the air. Union center backs Danny Califf and Carlos
Valdes are both listed at 6’. Fortunately, both Califf and Valdes are physical
players who are crafty enough to hold their ground and win aerial battles.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen Gabriel Farfan fall asleep before and allow opposing
players to run free in the box. Brian Carroll will have to provide additional
cover. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon’s ability to organize his back line, and his
decision-making as to when to come off his line and pick balls out of the air
will be huge.

Dynamo Midfield v.
Union Midfield

It’s an old soccer axiom that games are won, and lost, in
the midfield. Whichever team is able to control the middle third of the field
will likely advance to the Conference Finals.

Both teams feature ball winning defensive midfielders. Brian
Carroll has been a stalwart the entire season. He does all the little things
(reading and the breaking up plays, winning 50/50 balls, settling the tempo and
relieving pressure) you need from a holding midfielder.

The real question for Peter Nowak is who plays alongside
Carroll in the midfield? He’s shuffled his midfield all season. Michael Farfan
will likely start on one side, but who gets the starting nod for the other two
midfield spots? Considering Houston is prone to defensive breakdowns I’d insert
Freddy Adu on the right side. Centrally, I’d pair Amobi Okugo with Carroll. I
like having the flexibility of bringing a creative player like Roger Torres off
the bench, particularly if you are down a goal and need to get level.

What Brian Carroll is to the Union, Adam Moffat is to the
Dynamo. However, one key difference, as Zach
Woolsey pointed out in our Q&A with Dynamo Theory
, is that Moffat is a
threat to have a go from 35+ yards out.  In
addition to Moffat and Davis, the Dynamo midfield will likely be rounded out by
Danny Cruz and Luiz Camargo.

Road Form v. Away
Form

Both teams were incredibly good at home. Houston posted a
10-3-4 record at Robertson Stadium. The Union went 7-1-9 at PPL Park. Neither
team was particularly impressive away from home. Houston was just 2-6-9 on the
road. The Union were slightly better, picking up three more road points, going
4-7-6 away from PPL.

However, with the aggregate goal format it’s (naturally) all
about goals scored. The away goals rule is not used in the MLS playoff.
However, considering the goal scoring success these two teams have had at home
(Kerith
Gabriel points
out that Houston has scored 32 of its 45 goals at home,
while the Union has scored 24 of its 44 goals at home) a road goal could be the
difference in the aggregate score line.

Game One Outlook

The first leg of this tie (soccer term for two-game series)
is massive for the Union. They’ll make things much easier on themselves if they
head to Houston up a goal. In an aggregate goal format like this the Union
cannot afford to let chances go begging. Simply put, they need to finish.

You know what you are going to get out of Sebastien Le Toux.
He’s going to run all day. He’s going to put himself in position to score.
Houston is going to focus the bulk of its defensive efforts on shutting down Le
Toux, who either scored or assisted on 20 of the Union’s 44 goals. Will the
Union be able to generate offense through outlets other than Le Toux?

Veljko Paunovic is
dealing with a hamstring injury and may not play. Can Danny Mwanga, who by
numerous accounts may finally be completely healthy, step in and provide that
secondary scoring threat?

Could Freddy Adu be that guy? During the Gold Cup he showed
a knack for playing well in the biggest moments.

How about Michael Farfan? Although it was only a friendly,
he showed incredible poise and class when he chipped the keeper for a gorgeous
goal against Real Madrid. He appears impervious to pressure.

This is a giant step forward in Union franchise history.
Qualifying for the playoffs in year two is an accomplishment in and of itself. Why
not take that house money and let it ride?

Lineup I'd Like to See for Game One: Mondragon, G.
Farfan, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Carroll, Okugo, Adu, M. Farfan , Le Toux,
Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: 
Union win it 2-1. I don’t
know why, but I have this gut feeling that Michael Farfan will be involved in
both Union goals. He just strikes me as the type of player who is completely
unfazed by the magnitude of the game. He has a certain unique calmness about
him when he’s on the ball. He’s wise beyond his years in terms of his soccer
sense and maturity. I look for him to have a major impact on this one.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red:
I was hesitant to include this pregame staple for a playoff match, but in
watching the wildcard games I’ve seen players commitment to challenges they
normally would not during the regular season. So much is on the line. There’s
desperation to win every single ball. I honestly don’t think any Union player
will be sent off, but if I have to pick one I’ll take Valdes.

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

ap-mattrhule-temple-sideline.jpg
Associated Press

Temple football announces future series with Boston College and Duke

Temple football starts its training camp next week, but the Owls have made another splash in the future scheduling department. This time, the opponents come from the ACC.

The program announced Friday it has agreed to future series with Boston College (2018 at BC and 2021 in Philadelphia) and Duke (2022 in Cameron, North Carolina and 2023 in Philadelphia). Temple also announced a game with Bucknell in Philadelphia in 2019 announced dates for previously confirmed future matchups with Maryland and Rutgers and 2017's season opener at Notre Dame.

The Boston College series is intriguing because it will be the renewal of an annual series from when the programs used to meet every year in Big East conference play. The Eagles hold a 28-7-2 all-time advantage over the Owls. Temple's last win against Boston College came in 1999 when the Owls earned a 24-14 victory. Of course, the matchup will be even juicier if former Temple head coach Steve Addazio is still leading Boston College in two years. But with the way the program floundered to a 3-9 record, earned just one win against an FCS program and went winless in ACC play last season and doesn't have a bright outlook this season, don't hold your breath that Addazio will be there.

The Owls have never met the Dukies on the gridiron.

Friday's Temple announcements come on the heels of an announcement earlier this month that confirmed a three-game set with national powerhouse Oklahoma that is set start in 2024.

Below is a list of dates for Temple's future games against non-conference opponents:
2017 – at Notre Dame - Sept. 2, vs. Villanova - Sept. 9, vs. UMass  - Sept. 16, at Army - Oct. 21
2018 – vs. Villanova -  Sept. 1, vs. Buffalo - Sept. 8, at Maryland - Sept. 15, at Boston College - Sept. 29
2019 – vs. Bucknell - Aug. 31, vs. Maryland - Sept. 14, at Buffalo - Sept. 21), vs. Army - Oct. 26
2020 – vs. Idaho - Sept. 12, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 19
2021 – at Rutgers - Sept. 4, vs. Boston College - Sept. 18
2022 – at Duke - Sept. 3, vs. Rutgers - Sept. 17
2023 – at Rutgers - Sept. 9, vs. Duke - Sept. 16
2024 - at Oklahoma - Aug. 31
2025 - vs. Oklahoma - Sept. 13
2028 - at Oklahoma - Sept. 2

Flyers' Legion of Doom line to reunite on ice at Hall of Fame Legends Classic

Flyers' Legion of Doom line to reunite on ice at Hall of Fame Legends Classic

One of the most beloved lines in Philadelphia Flyers history will skate again.

Eric Lindros confirmed on Friday afternoon that he will reunite with former teammates John LeClair and Mikael Renberg to bring back the Legion of Doom and will play in the Legends Classic at the Hockey Hall of Fame in November in Toronto.

The news comes courtesy of the Big E on Twitter.

Team Lindros, which will be made up of NHL greats, will take on Team Salming, which will be made up of Toronto Maple Leafs greats and led by Borje Salming.

The Legion of Doom was hoping to see a reunion back when the Winter Classic alumni game was held in Philadelphia at Citizens Bank Park on Dec. 31, 2011, but Renberg was unable to attend.

The Legends Classic will take place on the same weekend Lindros will be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon, and Pat Quinn.

NFL Notes: Dolphins' Dion Jordan reinstated by NFL after sitting out 2015

NFL Notes: Dolphins' Dion Jordan reinstated by NFL after sitting out 2015

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan has been reinstated by the NFL after sitting out last season for his latest violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

Jordan applied to the league in May for reinstatement, and he was cleared to return Friday as the Dolphins held their first training camp practice.

The overall No. 3 selection in the 2013 draft out of Oregon, Jordan has contributed little so far in his career. He's coming back from his second suspension under the NFL substance abuse policy.

Jordan has played in only 26 games with one start, totaling 46 tackles and three sacks. The Miami group that drafted Jordan is gone, and he returns to a new coaching staff led by head coach Adam Gase.

JAGUARS: Lee sidelined with hamstring injury
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Oft-injured receiver Marqise Lee stayed healthy for one day in training camp.

The Jacksonville Jaguars held Lee out of practice Friday with a left hamstring injury, the latest setback for a third-year pro who can't seem to stay on the field.

Lee has missed significant time with ankle, hamstring and knee injuries. He practiced so little last summer that offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Lee was "like the albino tiger at the zoo. If you get there and you're lucky enough to get him to come out of the cave and see him, it's a good day."

Lee embraced the nickname, but had hoped to make it part of his past and not a pattern. Now, he's back on the sideline.

Running back T.J. Yeldon (right ankle) also was held out.

SAINTS: Nicks joins camp roster
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has joined the New Orleans Saints at training camp.

Nicks, who practiced with New Orleans for the first time on Friday, is taking a spot on the 90-man preseason roster that opened up when the Saints placed Vincent Brown on injured reserve.

The 28-year-old Nicks, who posted 1,000-yard seasons in 2010 and 2011, has been far less productive since and likely will need to demonstrate the promise of a significant resurgence to make the regular season roster.

Last season, he played in only six games with the Giants, catching seven passes for 54 yards and no touchdowns.

Now he'll try to carve out a role on a New Orleans receiver corps led by Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman and rookie Michael Thomas.

DOLPHINS: Team confident stadium renovations will be completed on time
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins say their $500 million stadium renovation will be completed as scheduled and in time for the team's final exhibition game Sept. 1.

Work continues 24 hours a day on upgrades that include a canopy. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said Friday the stadium will be ready for the preseason finale against the Tennessee Titans.

The Dolphins say the Miami Hurricanes will open their season at the stadium as scheduled Sept. 3 against Florida A&M.

Ross says the Dolphins' 2015 and 2016 seasons left an eight-month window for the renovation, which normally would have taken about 12 months.

He says there's no backup plan for a Dolphins game site if the stadium isn't ready on time.