Matchday 21: Shorthanded Union Host Chicago Fire

Matchday 21: Shorthanded Union Host Chicago Fire

The Union look to continue their recent good form at home as they welcome the Chicago Fire to PPL Park (7PM/Comcast SportsNet). The U, who have won four consecutive games at home, need to start stringing some wins together if they hope to make a second-half playoff push.

John Hackworth's team will be without the services of a few key players. Captain Carlos Valdes was called in by the Colombian National Team for training in advance of World Cup Qualifying. Similarly, Gabriel Gomez (Panama) and Keon Daniel (Trinidad & Tobago) were called into their respective national team camps for midweek friendlies (UPDATE: Daniel apparently has not yet left for T&T's camp as he is in the starting lineup).

Jack McInereny will be out as he serves a red card suspension for his retaliatory push of Montreal Impact player Nelson Rivas after Rivas headbutted Antoine Hoppenot. Hoppenot suffered a broken nasal bone, but should be available to play tonight. What do all of these absences mean?

Well, we will likely see the Union debut of Bakary Soumare, who should slide into Carlos Valdes' spot next to Amobi Okugo in the center of the Union backline. With Gomez unavailable you'd imagine that Michael Lahoud would get the starting nod in the midfield. Finally, without McInereny available I am guessing Hackworth will start Lionard Pajoy at one forward spot. He'll then likely choose between Josue Martinez and the now fully fit Chandler Hoffman, who has recovered from a broken toe, to play with Pajoy.

These two teams last met on March 24th at Toyota Park where the Fire walked away 1-0 winners. The Union team who lost to the Fire that day is a vastly different one than will take the field today. Peter Nowak's starting XI included Chris Albright, Porfirio Lopez, Roger Torres and Danny Mwanga, Neither Albright, Lopez or Torres has seen many minutes since then - and Mwanga was jettisoned to Portland.

Fire manager Frank Klopas has his team in fifth place in the MLS Eastern Conference - five points ahead of Montreal. Chicago is 3-5-3 away from Toyota Park with a -4 road goal differential.

Philadelphia native Dan Gargan, who played his high school ball at Chestnut Hill Academy, returns to his hometown as a regular contributor for the Fire. He's appeared in 19 games this season, starting 17 of them. He was replaced in the starting lineup last week by Gonzalo Segares, but I'd imagine Klopas would give him the nod in his return to his hometown.

Offensively Chicago is paced by Marco Pappa (6 goals) and Dominic Oduro (5 goals). Chris Rolfe, who returned to Chicago after playing in Denmark for a few years, has scored 2 goals in just 10 appearances since returning to MLS. Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause control things in the midfield for Chicago. Sean Johnson, who was just named to Jurgen Klinsmann's USMNT roster for the friendly against Mexico on Wednesday, should be between the sticks before leaving for Mexico City.

Pajoy, who has had chances to finish recently, will need to convert opportunities with McInereny out serving his suspension. The Union played well enough against Montreal last week, but just could not finish in the final third. Someone will need to shoulder the goal scoring load. If nothing else their depth will be tested tonight.

Eagles' rookies get their first taste of what Dallas week entails

Eagles' rookies get their first taste of what Dallas week entails

At the conclusion of his weekly Wednesday radio show on 94WIP, Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan was asked about the Dallas Cowboys and the rivalry game on tap this weekend.

First, he said he and his teammates don’t need any extra motivation for this one. But before he got off his mic — in a few seconds that didn’t make it on the air — Logan eloquently dropped a “F--- Dallas.”

Logan gets it.

No, maybe the Eagles-Cowboys rivalry isn’t what it once was. Maybe the days of Seth Joyner refusing to think about signing with the Cowboys because he just couldn’t wear a star on the side of his helmet have passed. But there’s still some bad blood. It’s still a rivalry. And fans in the Delaware Valley still care about two things: winning football games and beating Dallas.

Logan has been with the Eagles since 2013, so he understands. For Carson Wentz and his fellow rookies, this will be their first crack at it.

“I know how much this means to the city, how much it means to these fans,” Wentz said. “There’s a lot of excitement going on just with Eagles football, but definitely this week. I recognize that.

“But at the same time, I don’t let that bother me or let it distract me from the main goal and that’s just preparing every day. Because I know if I get sidetracked by any of those things, it’s going to mess up the preparation and it’ll affect the game on Sunday.”

Head coach Doug Pederson emphasized the importance of “business as usual,” but admitted this rivalry isn’t just usual. He’s been a part of it as a player in 1999 and as a coach under Andy Reid.

He took the correct coach approach on Wednesday, saying the Cowboys game is important because it’s a division game. And it’s even more important because the Eagles lost their first division game a couple weeks ago in Washington.

“It is a little bit different, but our guys have just got to come ready to play, and it's a road game,” Pederson said.

While this is Jalen Mills’ first time being a part of the rivalry as a player, he was raised near Dallas in DeSoto, Texas, and grew up with it as a part of his life. The most important games of the year, he remembered, were Cowboys-Eagles and Washington on Thanksgiving.

Mills said the rivalry was a “pretty big deal” in his house as a youngster. Now, he finds it pretty cool that he gets to be a part of it.

“Oh man, no doubt,” Mills said. “It’s an experience that I can’t wait to experience, but it’s going to be exciting.”

The defensive back said, without hesitation, the biggest rivalry he’s ever been a part of before was LSU-Alabama. The most important thing he learned from those games is that execution is key. It’s OK to buy into the hype during the week, but he realized it was counterproductive to change anything about preparation.

“You can’t get caught up in it,” Mills said. “Of course you’re going to hear about it, like right now before the game. But once that clock starts, it’s all about just playing sound football.”

Like Mills, Halapoulivaati Vaitai grew up in the Dallas area (Haltom City) and has been around the rivalry his whole life. In fact, both rookies have previously played games at AT&T Stadium. Sunday will be the first time Vaitai’s parents get a chance to see an NFL game. Eagles-Cowboys is a pretty good start.

And it’s not just Eagles rookies who are getting ready to experience the rivalry for the first time. Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott will live it for the first time on Sunday too.

How much does he know about the rivalry?

“A little bit, man,” he said on a conference call with Philly reporters this week. “I grew up a Cowboys fan. I can’t tell you certain games or things like that from the past. But I’ve always known it to be a good game anytime they meet up and a good rivalry in the division.”

Nah, not exactly Logan-like responses from these guys. But give them time. They’re rookies.

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Gunn's Bullet Points: Flags could fly in secondary for Eagles-Cowboys

Some notes and keys ahead of Sunday night's Eagles-Cowboys game:

• Since throwing for 301 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 3, Carson Wentz's aerial numbers have declined — 238 yards in Detroit, 179 in Washington and 138 vs. Minnesota.

• Even though he missed two games with an injury, I still can't understand how Zach Ertz has been targeted only 16 times in four games this season.

• Dallas WR Cole Beasley is arguably the best slot receiver in the game right now. Last November against the Eagles, he had nine receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns. With the Eagles' best slot cornerback, Ron Brooks, out for the year with a ruptured quad tendon, Malcolm Jenkins will have his hands full trying to keep up with Beasley in the slot.

• Eagles and Cowboys defensive backs beware: Jerome Boger's crew is officiating this game. This season, Boger's crew has called 36 penalties for defensive pass interference, illegal contact or defensive holding.

• The Eagles' 20 sacks ties them for third-most in the league. Dallas has allowed just nine, second-fewest in the NFL.

• Does Doug Pederson still have faith in RB Ryan Mathews late in games? Mathews has fumbled with less than five minutes left in two of the last three games. The head coach says he has not lost faith in Mathews, and Mathews says he'll stop fighting for more yards late in games. Time will tell.