Matchday 18: I-95 Derby, Union Take On Le Toux and the New York Red Bulls

Matchday 18: I-95 Derby, Union Take On Le Toux and the New York Red Bulls

Can they make it four league wins in a row? That's the goal this afternoon as the Union travel up 95 North to Harrison, New Jersey where they'll face the New York Red Bulls (2:30PM/ESPN). To capture their fourth consecutive league win they'll have to do what no other visiting MLS team has been able to this season - walk out of Red Bull Arena with all three points.

I know I've said in the past that Sporting Kansas City can throw some serious offensive firepower at you, but the triumvirate of Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and recently acquired former Union star Sebastien Le Toux has to be up there too. New York sits second in the Eastern Conference table, one point behind SKC. With a win today they'll leapfrog SKC atop the standings.

The Union are winding down a brutal stretch where they'll have played six games in just 17 days. Despite the compressed schedule the U have regained their footing under interim coach John Hackworth. The ship has been righted and the blue and gold have played their best soccer of the season since the coaching change.

Roles are defined, players are being put in a position to succeed and the results have been coming. Yes, the Union sit in ninth place in the ten team Eastern Conference, but along with Columbus they've played the fewest games in the conference. In fact, the Union sit just four points out of sixth place. With the All-Star break looming (the game is at PPL Park on Wednesday night) they'll finally have an opportunity to rest and gear up for the second half of the season.

Amazingly, the three game winning streak is the first in franchise history. In order to make it four straight they'll likely have to do it without Michael Farfan, who is listed as doubtful with a groin strain. If Marfan can't go then you may see Josue Martinez get the starting nod in the midfield. As much as I'd love to see Roger Torres get the call I do not think he's fit enough to put in a 60-65 minute shift as he works his way back from injury.

Whomever plays in the center of the midfield will have to work hard to interrupt the passing of Dax McCarty, who is one of my favorite under-the-radar MLS players. You don't hear a whole lot about him, but McCarty can pick out a pass and spray the ball around the field.

Oh yeah, there's that Henry guy to worry about too. Carlos Valdes, the lone Union All-Star, and Amobi Okugo cannot let Henry receive the ball in dangerous positions. His first touch is too good, he's too creative and his finishing instincts are still there. This is   huge challenge for the U's centerback pairing, who have played so well over the last month or so.

The Union have been incredibly resilient recently. They'll have to work incredibly hard to earn even a point this afternoon. I say the do just that with a 2-2 draw.

Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

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Jim Schwartz already gushing about Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod

Anyone who follows the NFL knows to avoid reading too much into spring workouts. You don't gain valuable insight into a player's game-day ability by observing his speed in shorts or run-stuffing technique when tackles aren't being made.

First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sidestepped several questions after Tuesday's OTA about how specific players are fitting into his defensive scheme, but he made an exception for one position group in particular: his starting safeties.

The Eagles this offseason spent $35 million apiece to extend Malcolm Jenkins and sign Rodney McLeod away from the Rams. Jenkins got $21 million guaranteed, McLeod got $17 million, and they rank fifth and ninth among NFL safeties, respectively, in annual average salary.

"That was money well spent," Schwartz said Tuesday. "I'm sort of violating my rule of judging too much into this time of year — saying linemen need the pads on before we can judge, rookies let's not judge yet — but both [Jenkins and McLeod] are veteran players. And you can see that right away that both are multi-dimensional. They communicate very well, cover a lot of ground. They can blitz, they can play man (coverage), they can play zone. I'd be very surprised as the year went along if they're not one of the better safety tandems in the NFL. They've been very impressive so far."

Jenkins, who has emerged as the Eagles' most vocal leader, is coming off two terrific seasons. He set career-highs last year in tackles (109) and forced fumbles (three), intercepted two passes and returned one 99 yards for a touchdown. He graded out as the best safety in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. 

McLeod ranked 10th, eight spots ahead of Walter Thurmond, Jenkins' partner last season.

"I think we all believe that," Jenkins said when asked about the safety duo's chances of being one of the NFL's best. "The way that practice has been going so far and just what Rodney adds to the secondary, I think we're real excited about that tandem and what we'll be able to do. Both of us are very versatile, both of us know the defense and can get guys lined up and can problem-solve. All the rest of it we can do, but when you have guys that can quarterback the defense and problem-solve, it gets you out of a lot of bad looks."

Jenkins had watched McLeod on tape so he knew the type of player the Eagles were adding. What stood out most to him was how "violent" McLeod played in St. Louis, how he played much bigger than his 5-10/195-pound frame. But what's impressed Jenkins most in OTAs with McLeod is how he sees the field and reads situations. Those instincts are what Jenkins thinks can make the pairing special.

"Now playing next to him, you really start to see the smarts and his football IQ, knowing different defenses, ways to adjust things, having the ability to use tools for different situations," Jenkins said of McLeod. "He's an extension of a coach on the field. Talk about a guy being able to quarterback your defense on the field, he's somebody who understands the totality of the defense and has that ability to communicate and get guys lined up. It's just good to have two guys back there now that can do that.

"I think from what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table from a football standpoint, I think our talent level can put us in that conversation (of the NFL's top safety tandems). But once we really get in tune with each other as far as calls, tools that we can use ... when you got two guys with high football IQs, you can really be special."

Jenkins and McLeod have been playing left and right safety interchangeably so far in practice. McLeod says that this voluntary workout period for the safeties has been about figuring out which of them does what better. He'll have a better idea of their specific roles once training camp comes.

Jenkins and McLeod were in constant communication on the sidelines after coming off the field for certain plays at Tuesday's practice. Jenkins was doing a lot of the talking and McLeod a lot of the listening. McLeod would explain what he saw and why he broke the way he did, and Jenkins would coach him up and advise him what to do next time they see a certain look. 

"Big competitor, man. Just from Day 1, offseason drills and things like that when we compete, even in the weight room you can just see how he gets after it," McLeod said of Jenkins. "It carries over into the field, big trash talker. He carries a swagger about him. Very smart and instinctive player.

"Me and Malcolm, I think we're gonna build something great here and you can see glimpses of it in practice now."

Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

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Sixers reportedly covet additional high first-round pick in 2016

The Philadelphia 76ers haven't found themselves in a position of power much on the hardwood over the past few seasons, but when it comes to the 2016 NBA Draft, the Sixers are in the driver's seat.

As longtime NBA reporter David Aldridge put it in a column on Monday, the Sixers are one of four teams that will "run the show" on draft night. The Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, and Phoenix Suns are all poised for a big draft night as well.

Not only do the Sixers have the first gigantic decision of the evening but they have a handful of assets, in the form of additional picks as well as moveable players, to make another big splash on draft night (Thanks, Sam Hinkie).

The first debate in Philly will clearly be Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Once that decision is made though, things could still be very interesting for Bryan Colangelo.

Aldridge goes on to discuss the logjam in the Sixers frontcourt that Sixers' observers have been talking about forever, but he also adds that, "There is strong support within the organization for Nerlens Noel, who provides defense and rebounding that none of Philly's other bigs provide."

Not only does Aldridge state that there is strong support for Noel, he also says that the team would like to get back up into the early portion of the draft.

Yet the Sixers already have Okafor at the four, and possibly Saric next year. Taking Simmons wouldn't make sense unless they were determined to trade Okafor, whose up and down rookie season hasn't adversely affected his value around the league. And trading Okafor would be the easiest and best way for Philly to get another high first-round pick, which the Sixers covet.

Coveting another high first-round pick and actually obtaining it are clearly different things. Unless the front office finds a way to put a package together involving the 24th or 26th picks this year and some sort of future considerations, the player who can certainly get you back near the front of this year's draft is clearly Jahlil Okafor.

The Sixers fan base is mixed on the idea of trading Jahlil Okafor. Boston seems like an obvious fit with their No. 3 overall pick being the prized target.

June 23rd will be a very interesting night to see how Bryan Colangelo, his father, Josh Harris, and his co-owners feel about such a deal.

Savon Goodman transfers to La Salle for 2016-17 season

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USA Today Images

Savon Goodman transfers to La Salle for 2016-17 season

Forward Savon Goodman has enrolled in graduate classes at La Salle and will play the 2016-17 season with the Explorers.

“Savon is the perfect addition to our team next year,” La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini said in a statement released by the school. “He shoots a great percentage and rebounds and defends with a tough, athletic style of play. He was a key part of an Arizona State NIT team and has had big games against great competition.”

Goodman, a Philadelphia native, graduated from Arizona State and is not subject to transfer rules. 

He averaged 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in 28 contests as a junior in 2015-16. He shot 55 percent from the field overall.

In leading Constitution High School to the PIAA State Championship as well as the Philadelphia Public League title during his senior year, Goodman earned Public League MVP honors.