Matchday 20: Bienvenue Montral

Matchday 20: Bienvenue Montral

The Union will be north of the border this evening as they face the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo (7:30PM/The Comcast Network). The two teams met just three weeks ago at PPL Park. Union captain Carlos Valdes scored a stoppage time winner to propel the U to a 2-1 win.

The Impact are fresh off of a 3-1 home win over New York Red Bulls. The game marked a couple of firsts for the expansion Impact. Former AC Milan man and World Cup winner Alessandro Nesta made his MLS debut. Marco Di Vaio, the Impact's first designated player signing, opened his MLS account against NYRB. 
Di Vaio, who made several dangerous runs against the Union when the teams faced off at PPL Park in July, will not play. He had to return to Italy as part of the ongoing match-fixing scandal...

Nesta was one of three changes along Impact manager Jesse Marsch's back four against NYRB. Nelson Rivas and Jeb Brovsky joined Nesta along Montreal's shuffled back line. Rivas and Brovsky replaced former Union player Shavar Thomas and Lancaster native Zarek Valentin.

The Impact sit five points ahead of the eighth place Union in the MLS table. However, Montreal has played five more games than Philadelphia. In fact, the Union, along with Columbus, have played the fewest games of any Eastern Conference team (19). Amazingly, considering all of the drama surrounding the Union at the start of the season the playoffs remain a possibility.

One player who could bolster their playoff chances is Bakary Soumare, who may make his Union debut tonight. Soumare, who is listed as probable on the MLS injury report, is not a given to start ahead of Amobi Okugo along the backline. Okugo has been fantastic alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union defense. I don't know how interim manager John Hackworth can take Okugo off the field, but Soumare was not signed to sit on the bench.

Granted, Soumare is coming off of a knee injury and is not match fit, so Hackworth can slowly ease him into the lineup. He'll have an interesting decision to make once Soumare is fully fit. What would I do? I wouldn't mind seeing Okugo shift back to his more natural central midfield role. Between Brian Carroll, Carlos Gomez, Michael Lahoud and Okugo you've got options, but I don't know how you can sit Okugo.

One player who perhaps should return to the bench is Antoine Hoppenot. I don't say that as a knock against Hoppenot, who has been a revelation since Hackworth took over, I just think the Union tend to play too direct when he's in the lineup. At this point in his career I prefer him as a 60th minute substitution who can just run at people for 30 minutes.

Regardless of who starts the Union need to do a better job away from home. They are just 2-6-1 on the road this season with a -6 goal differential. If they hope to make a push for the playoffs they'll need to start earning results on the road.

I see them earning a point tonight with a 1-1 draw.

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

Ivan Provorov displays durability, versatility in Flyers' preseason loss

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — How much of a horse is Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov?

Well, consider this:

The 19-year-old logged a game-high 28:48 of ice time Monday night during the Flyers' 2-0 split-squad loss to the Devils in which he also quarterbacked the first-unit power play (8:03) and had the most penalty kill time (3:58) (see story).

“I thought I played well,” Provorov said. “It took me a few shifts to get into the game. I competed as hard as I could.”

He said he was used to playing more than 25 minutes in Brandon (WHL), anyway.

“Of course, this is a better league, high pace and it will take a few games to adjust,” Provorov said.

Because the Flyers have yet to work on power play, the results aren’t there. They were 0 for 7 in the game.

“We haven’t done anything on the ice, but have done some video on the PK on the board but nothing on the power play,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s other priorities now with so many players (64) in camp.”

Provorov worked both points on the power play and had just one official shot in the game.

“We didn’t get to do much power play [in camp],” he said. “It will get better as the preseason goes on.”

Rookie forward Travis Konecny worked the low slot on the top power play. He logged 18:34 of ice time, including 6:01 PP time. Konecny had two shots in the game.

He was on Andy Miele’s line with Scott Laughton. Konency had the only shots on his line.

Hakstol said Konecny and Provorov each “settled in” as the game went on. Hakstol isn’t sure if one or both will play Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Konecny’s body language in camp exudes confidence unlike a year ago when he was skittish in his first-ever Flyers training camp. Now he sits back, takes it all in and has that look on his face of been there, done that.

In fact, he was trying to calm down some of his buddies, Anthony Salinitri and Connor Bunnaman, who were seeing the lights before the game.

“Me and [Ivan] Provorov were just talking,” he said. “We feel a lot more comfortable this year.

“I’ve been in this position here. I have my guys Salinitri and Bunnaman, we all hang out together and it’s their first year.

“They’re excited for their first preseason game just like I was last year, but I’m not thinking, ‘Wow, it’s an NHL arena.’ I’m thinking about the game and getting ready to play.”

Konecny was impressive last fall as an 18-year-old and Hakstol said he takes everything into account with more emphasis on the now than the past.

“Your body of work includes your season last year,” Hakstol  said. “Includes everything. The most important information is what you do right now. No question in my mind. I take everything into account.”

Take this into account: Alex Lyon is going to be a contender with Anthony Stolarz for the starting job in goal with the Phantoms this season. He was outstanding with 28 saves on 29 shots.

“They spent some time in our zone and had their big guns out there,” Lyon said of being under siege for two-thirds of the game. “They had a few shots but we did a good job keeping them to the outside. No super grade A opportunities.”

Lyon stopped two breakaways by Beau Bennett, one within three minutes of play.

“I felt like a newborn deer and could barely stand up,” quipped the former Yale goalie. “I was so nervous. It felt good to stop the first one.”