Le Toux Needs to Step Up as Union Host Chivas USA

Le Toux Needs to Step Up as Union Host Chivas USA

Perspective is an interesting thing. If you look at things from a glass half full perspective then you're probably pleased that the Union have lost just one of their last five matches. If you're a glass half empty kind of person then you are probably a bit concerned that the Union have only won one of their last five matches.

It's difficult to really get a handle on the Union's 1-1-3 record over the last five games. They play well, create chances, and don't score. They also don't play well, don't create chances, and don't score. Tonight they look to play well, create chances, score, and pick up a much needed three points as they host Chivas USA (8PM/ABC) at PPL Park

Ever since their stunning six goal outburst against Toronto on May 28th they've gone on to score 1, 1, 0, and 0 goals over their last four games. Their inability to find consistent scoring is nothing new.

Peter Nowak took extreme measures in his attempt to jump-start the offense last week when he started Sebastien Le Toux, Justin Mapp, Veljko Paunovic, Jack McInerney, and Carlos Ruiz. Who knows, had Danny Mwanga been healthy he may have found himself out there as well. His roll of the dice resulted in exactly zero goals.

The most troubling part of the offensive ineptitude is not their lack of chances, but their inability to finish. Le Toux has consistently been the biggest culprit. Considering his work rate it's tough to criticize the guy, but the reality is he needs to start converting his chances.

To be fair it was probably unrealistic to think he'd duplicate his breakout 14 goal, 11 assist performance from last season. However, the fact that he's scored as many goals as Danny Califf this season is a major problem. I mean, at least Califf's goal was from the run of play. Le Toux's lone goal was from the penalty spot back on April 30th against San Jose.

It's at the point now where there's not a whole lot Nowak can do lineup-wise. The only suggestion I'd have is (and this is assuming he's fully fit) to let Mwanga start and play the full 90 minutes.

He's the lone option they have up top who if need be can win a foot race, shoulder his man off the ball, hold up play, or beat his man 1 v. 1. In other words he's their most complete goal scoring threat. He's listed as "probable" for tonight. Here's hoping he gets the starting nod.

Chivas USA comes to town as the eighth place team in the Western Conference with 17 points from 15 games. They'll be without a familiar face, former Union player Alejandro Moreno, who is on international duty with Venezuela at the Copa America. Based on his performance for the Union last season you wouldn't think Moreno's absence would be a big deal. You'd be wrong. Moreno is tied with three other players for the team lead in goals with three.

In Moreno's absence the goal scoring load will fall to Justin Braun, Marcos Mondaini, and Nick LaBrocca. The matchup between the 6'3" Braun and the middle of the Union back four will be a must watch.

Defensively they'll be without longtime US international Jimmy Conrad, who is out with a concussion. Another former US international, Heath Pearce (and his much beloved mustache), will be responsible for organizing and leading the Goats back line.

The Union currently sit in first place - tied with the New York Red Bulls. They'll need to pick up points, particularly at home, before New York welcomes back Tim Ream, Rafa Marquez, and Juan Agudelo from the Gold Cup.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Mapp, Okugo, Carroll, Le Toux, McInerney, Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: This will be their third game in a week, so it may be tough to muster up the necessary energy, but they need to play desperate here. I'll say the Union win it 1-0.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Califf, who is going to be climbing up Braun's back all night.

Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin, US Presswire

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Roman Lyubimov getting comfortable, impressing with hard, heavy style

Ron Hextall said when Flyers training camp began there were spots to be won and spots to be taken from others.

Even though it’s still early in camp, it seems fairly clear Russian forward Roman Lyubimov is going to steal someone’s job among the bottom-six forwards.

He’s been the right wing on Boyd Gordon’s line in camp with Chris VandeVelde on the left side. 

That fourth line worked again Tuesday night as the Flyers opened their home preseason schedule with a 4-0 win over the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.

The 6-2, 207-pound Lyubimov plays a heavy game. He is tenacious in one-on-one battles and, perhaps more importantly, jumps on loose pucks after faceoffs as demonstrated during the 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Monday.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol took notice.

“It’s a nice trait for a player to have automatically and it’s an important trait,” Hakstol said.

“His competitiveness and his battle level on 50-50 pucks, things like that, hasn’t changed from Day 1.”

After spending six years in the KHL, it appears Lyubimov has found a home here. He’s already making a nice adjustment to the smaller rink, too.

“Last couple of years, playing for the Red Army team, there were some pretty physical games,” he said, via translator Slava Kouznetsov. “I think it was pretty close to NHL games. I just have to adapt to the smaller ice.”

He logged 3:55 ice time on the penalty kill against the Devils — second only to rookie defensive prospect Ivan Provorov — and Hakstol has his sights set on using him in that capacity if he makes the final cut.

While playing for the Russian Army, Lyubimov was used in a shutdown role and on the PK with little power-play time.

“I was more defense-oriented,” he said. “If you don’t let the [opponent] score on you, it’s easier to win games. Here, I’ll see what the coaches want me to do. I watched a lot of NHL games. One of my criteria was to be good at the penalty kill.”

The only hard question Hakstol has to answer is Lyubimov’s adjustment to the smaller rink.

“I think he is still working through that but he is game for it,” Hakstol said. “He doesn’t look for open ice in terms of shying away from traffic areas. He is battling in those high traffic areas.”

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare made the adjustment quickly, coming over from France. Michael Raffl played a couple games with the Phantoms after coming over from Austria.

It’s possible the Flyers could start Lyubimov with the Phantoms and then call him up.

“He plays a small-ice type of game,” Hextall said of Lyubimov. “He goes hard to the net, he’s good on the wall, does all those little things. Space I don’t think will affect him as much as other guys.”

He had a prime scoring chance in Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, chasing down a puck behind the net and getting a wraparound that was blocked at the post by defenseman Kyle Burroughs.

Lyubimov finished with 12:07 of ice time and two shots.

His best shot to make the cut is to take away VandeVelde's spot on the fourth line (see story). Once Bellemare returns from the World Cup of Hockey, someone has to go. Another factor here is whether the club carries 23 players instead of 22.

Lyubimov said what impressed him about the Flyers was how players are treated here, on and especially off the ice.

That was always something former Flyers loved about their late owner Ed Snider. He treated them as family, not employees.

“There is a difference,” Lyubimov said. “Everything here is comfortable and done for the players. Here I live five minutes from the rink. In Moscow, it’s 45 minutes. Everything works for me here.”

So much so, Lyubimov is bringing his wife, Katrina, and their 1-year-old daughter Alexa, over this fall to live here even though he has just a one-year deal worth $925,000.

“I want to stay here more than a year,” he said. “I will do whatever I have to do. This is the place I wanted to come.”

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent – hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in – he’ll try to put me in – to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel the only one of the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”