Matchady 16: Union Look to Keep Momentum Going

Matchady 16: Union Look to Keep Momentum Going

The Union, fresh off of their stunning 2-1 road win over LA Galaxy, host Toronto FC this afternoon at PPL Park (4PM/6ABC). If you watched the game midweek against LA you saw what was undoubtedly a shift in the fortunes of the Union. The Galaxy thoroughly outplayed the Union for long stretches of the game. Robbie Keane could have had a hat trick in the opening 25 minutes, but it was not to be.

Finally, the Union had some luck on their side. Yes, their two goals were incredibly well-taken, but if you're being fair you'd have to say that the Union were fortunate to take the three points. Now, they return home following a cross country flight, and face a Toronto FC team who is unbeaten in their last five.

It will be interesting to see how interim Union boss John Hackworth juggles his lineup. As mentioned, they just came off a cross country flight. On top of that they will host Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday in a US Open Cup semifinal. I would imagine we'll see a few new faces out there today in light of the looming semifinal match.

Ray Gaddis is back from suspension, so he could give either Gabe Farfan or Sheanon Williams a rest. Also, Lionard Pajoy, who came off of the bench to set up Michael Farfan's game winner may get the starting nod today. One player who should be field no matter what is Jack McInereny who is in incredible form right now - form highlighted by his stunning back-heel goal against LA.

These two teams are vastly different than the ones who met in Toronto on March 26th. Both teams are rejuvenated after going through coaching changes. Paul Mariner has injected new life into the TFC team since taking over from Aron Winter. The Union have experienced a similar renaissance under Hackworth.

First kick is set for 4PM.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."