MacMath Gets First Test As Union and New England Both Search For a Win

MacMath Gets First Test As Union and New England Both Search For a Win

You want storylines? I’ll give you storylines. How about two teams, each winless over their last six games, facing each other? Check. A rookie keeper, drafted #5 overall, thrust into the starting lineup for the first time due to an injury to the team captain and lone MLS All-Star? Check. A rescheduled game being played mid-week thanks to a hurricane? Check.

All of these stories are in play as the Union host New England tonight at PPL Park (8PM/The Comcast Network). Oh, and as if all of those storylines aren’t enough it’s the first ever Dollar Dog Night at PPL. Adding processed meat in tube-form into the equation can only add to the intrigue.

Speaking of intrigue, how will rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath fare stepping in for the injured Faryd Mondragon? Stepping in for Mondragon, who is out 2-4 weeks with a broken right ring finger, is a near impossible task. The Colombian keeper has made a seamless transition to MLS. His skill and experience enabled him to step right into a starting role, assume the captain’s armband, and become a team leader.

MacMath? Well, many are surprised that he’s even on the Union roster. Leading up to the MLS Super Draft many Union fans hoped the team would select an offensive-minded player to help jumpstart the struggling attack. Instead , despite rumors having surfaced that the team was set to sign Mondragon, the Union opted to select All-American out of the University of Maryland.

There’s no questioning MacMath’s pedigree. He was an All-American and All-ACC player for a reason. At just 20 years old he’s got plenty of time to fill out his 6’2” frame. However, it’s asking quite a bit for a rookie goalkeeper to step in and help right the ship of a side struggling to stay in playoff contention.

If he has any hope of succeeding he’ll need his back line to step up and return to early season form. As the MLS game notes point out, after allowing a season-high two goals just five times in the opening 22 games of the season, they have now allowed two goals in each of the last three.

You’d think New England would be an ideal opponent for MacMath to face in his first ever MLS start. They are tied with Toronto for the fewest goals scored (26) in MLS. However, Rev’s head coach Steve Nicol will likely pair a couple of 6’2” forwards at the top of his formation. Designated Player Milton Caraglio and Rajko Lekic provide nice target options for Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph.

The combination of the Argentinean Caraglio and the Danish Lekic will pose challenges for the center of the Union back four. Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes (back from a yellow card suspension) will need to be decisive in front of MacMath. They cannot afford any miscues or miscommunication with a rookie keeper behind them.

Offensively, the Union continue to struggle. It certainly was nice to see Sebastien Le Toux finally score from the run of play – as he did on Saturday in Salt Lake. Peter Nowak has to hope that the volley Le Toux picked out of the air and sent into the back of the net gives his most complete player a confidence boost.

Freddy Adu, who has come off the bench the last two matches, is getting closer to being able go the full ninety minutes. Earlier in the week he alluded to the fact that he continues to work on his fitness and conditioning. It’s easy to forget that Adu, aside from a few appearances in the Gold Cup, had not been training regularly since the end of his club season in Turkey. Lord knows the Union are desperate for a player like Adu to inject some creativity into the offense.

Danny Mwanga is another player who needs to get things going. He never seems to find himself in dangerous goal scoring positions. Perhaps frustrated with a lack of service he’s constantly checking back to the midfield to pick up the ball with little options in front of him.

To be honest, Veljko Paunovic has seemed more willing than Mwanga to pay the price to get into those danger areas.

A number of you have complained about Nowak’s insistence on playing two holding midfielders – feeling that he’s sacrificing too much offensively. Well, I think you’re out of luck tonight if you hope to see him change that. With MacMath in net I’d imagine Nowak wants to provide as much cover as possible for his rookie keeper.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: MacMath, Williams, Califf, Valdes, G. Farfan, Mapp, Carroll (there are conflicting reports as to his health/availability, but if he’s healthy I’d start him), Okugo, Adu, Le Toux, Paunovic.

Final Score Prediction: The winless streak for both teams moves to seven as this one ends 1-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely To See Red: Califf, who may be too aggressive in seeking to protect his young keeper.

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

Sixers' '66-'67 team reflects on success of 'best team ever'

As part of their “Salute Saturday” series, the Sixers honored the 1966-67 championship team at halftime of their 107-106 loss the Celtics on Saturday.

Fifty years after winning the title, the success of the squad (which went 68-13 in the regular season) still resonates with those representing the Sixers today. After all, they are the group Wilt Chamberlain described as “the best team ever.” 

“It’s just part of the history of this city and the organization,” said Brett Brown, who has established a relationship with Billy Cunningham through practice visits and emails. “There was a toughness with that team that he personified and the city sort of reflects. It’s stuff you hear me talk about all the time how you want our team to reflect the spirit of the city. That team did it.”

Prior to their tribute ceremony, members of the team reflected on their run in which they beat the San Francisco Warriors for the title. 

On Wilt Chamberlain
“Wilt was such a dominant figure, not only as a basketball player, but he’s almost bigger than the game,” Matt Goukas said. “He played so well, he was such a good team player – he started really passing the ball right around that time --and that enabled great scorers like Hal (Greer) and Billy and Chet Walker to do their thing, and Wilt was very happy to give them that leeway.”.

On fond memories
“It was a team that we played well together and we lived as a family and that’s what made it so good for us," Greer said. "A lot of fun, a lot of fun. We missed the next year, but 68-13 is not bad at all.”

“It’s hard to forget a situation like that where we had such a terrific team and the season went so quickly, we won so many games and then of course winning a championship,” Goukas said. “As a first year player I said, ‘This is the way it’s supposed to be, I guess.’ But of course I never won another championship as a player, but we had such a terrific group of guys and true professionals that for me as a rookie, Billy Melchionni as a rookie, we really benefited from guys like Hal Greer, Wally Jones and Harry Costello, they really showed us the way.”

On team chemistry
“It was very difficult times when you look at the sixties from a social aspect,” Cunningham said. “Martin Luther King was killed the following year we won the championship. Race relationships weren’t the best. And this time, which was just about half black-half white, I’m not even sure, it was never an issue. That’s the beauty I think of being on a team you know getting to know people, you judge them as an individual and nothing more than that.”

“I think it was our coach Alex Hannum, for one (that kept the team together),” Greer said. “And of course the big guy. He held us together most of the time, he could rebound, play defense, do it all.”

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov moved on but didn’t forget.

The 19-year-old still remembers losing his footing on the United Center ice in front of 21,263 fans, alone in his own end and costing the Flyers a goal in a blowout defeat to the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

In just his third NHL game, Provorov had his rookie moment. He also had a minus-5 rating when the 7-4 loss was all said and done.

Well, on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, he saw the Blackhawks again and made it a point to show them his best. Provorov ripped off two goals in 31 seconds of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit and spearhead a 3-1 win for the Flyers (see story).

Better output than last time?

Provorov laughed, paused and then laughed again.

“A little bit,” he said. “I think so.

“I was trying to use it as a positive thing. Try to prove that that’s not me, that it’s just one bad game.”

Consider that job done.

“I didn’t play my best at that game,” Provorov said. “But I put it behind me, learned from it and this was a better result tonight.”

In 31 ticks of the clock, the Russian defenseman topped his goal total through the first 25 games (see 10 observations). Provorov uncorked a slap shot and slung a wrister for the tallies early in the middle stanza.

“I think you have to keep everything in perspective from a night like that,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Provorov’s first game against Chicago. “He is a guy that continues to work at his game and continues to build.”

Provorov didn’t net the hat trick, but in the same period, saved a goal on the defensive end when he quickly pounced on a puck dribbling toward the goal line off and behind goalie Steve Mason.

“I came from the left corner and I saw the puck was rolling on Mase’s shoulder,” Provorov said. “It went down, rolled to the goal line. I just got there as quick as I could and swiped it out.

“I think it was close. As soon I saw the puck, I tried to get there as fast as I can.”

After experiencing some growing pains to start the season, Provorov has played better. Once he makes a mistake, he rarely makes it again.

“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said a little over two weeks ago. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well."

Mason isn't surprised by Provorov's development.

"When you come into the league at a young age, it’s not easy and you’ve got to get your feet under you," Mason said. "We’re starting to see that [with Provorov]."

And two goals in half a minute don’t hurt.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said. “Two great plays by our forwards. The whole team, it was a great effort, we played a great hockey game, so it was easy to play.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster. For me, it’s defense first but when you get goals and assists, it’s always nice.”

The Flyers had the players’ dads on hand for Saturday’s game. Provorov’s father, Vladimir, couldn’t make it from Russia, but you can bet he tuned in.

“He watches every game back home,” Provorov said. “Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so yeah, I think my whole family watched it.”

He watches the other games at 3, 4 a.m.?

“Yeah,” Provorov said with a smile, “then he takes my brother to practice at 6.”