Matchday 4: The Return of Le Toux

Matchday 4: The Return of Le Toux

It's really a perfect storm for a third-year franchise facing the first real crisis of fan confidence. A tumultuous offseason has been followed by a nightmare 0-3 start. Now, needing a win in the worst way, the most popular and productive player in franchise history returns to the stadium where he became a beloved figure - his new team undefeated and atop the MLS Western Conference table.
Putting the Le Toux drama aside for a moment, the reality is that the Union is desperate to pick up the three points today against Vancouver (4PM/6ABC). This is a team attempting to integrate a new first choice keeper, a new left back who has at times looked overmatched, a new and possibly redundant holding midfielder and two forwards new to MLS. Rationally, in light of all the changes we knew the team would likely struggle at the outset. It's not so much that they've begun the 2012 campaign 0-3 - it's how they've gone about it.
They've looked disorganized in the back. Zac MacMath has made multiple game-changing mistakes. Porfirio Lopez has struggled (and that's being kind). Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez, two similar players, have not figured out how to work together. Aside from a brief spell against Colorado (who was playing a man down) the midfield has been non-existent. Although Lionard Pajoy has played fairly well, the forwards as a whole have failed to finish their chances.
This is not to say that the team as currently constituted is destined to finish at the bottom of the table. They've yet to develop an identity. The new acquisitions are getting acclimated to a new league. Two presumed starters (Freddy Adu and Sheanon Williams) have spent time away from the club with the US U-23's. It's an incredibly long season. There's a ton of time to right the ship. It'd just be nice to start seeing some positive signs.
The good news is that for the most part Peter Nowak will have a full, healthy side at his disposal. Adu, who played a ton of minutes with the U-23's last week, likely will not start, but may be in the game day 18. Danny Califf, who has not played the last two weeks, should be fit and ready to rejoin the back line. Speaking of that back line, anyone else in favor of Nowak returning to a back four? I know I am.
As mentioned, Vancouver comes to town undefeated (2-0-1). Much has been written about their attacking options, but their early success has been a result of a defense yet to concede a goal. Goalkeeper Joe Cannon has recorded two of those three clean sheets. Former US international Jay DeMerit is the linchpin of the Whitecaps back line.
The Union will catch a break as Whitecaps forward Eric Hassli, who is nursing an ankle injury, did not make the trip. However, they will have to deal with the tireless running of Sebastien Le Toux. Seba, who scored in his first appearance for Vancouver, will be beyond motivated to show the Union brain trust that they made a major mistake in letting him go.
How will Le Toux be received? I don't think there's any question he'll be given a hero's welcome by the PPL Park faithful. However, once the game kicks off he'll be treated as any opposing player would. The will he or won't he shake Nowak's hand is a petty sideshow. Granted, Peter Nowak has not handled the Le Toux situation all that well himself, but he was right when he stated that no one player is bigger than the club
This is a must-win game for the Union. They are playing at home, against a team who has traveled across the continent, in what is sure to be a charged atmosphere. If Danny Mwanga is ever going to be motivated to perform it'll be today on the same field as Le Toux - the player he's replaced.
It should be a fantastic atmosphere at PPL Park this afternoon. The Union has 90 minutes to make a statement.
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Williams, Califf, Carlos Valdes, G. Farfan, Carroll, M. Farfan, Gomez, Torres, Daniel, Mwanga, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: Mercifully, the Union earn its first point of the season with a 1-1 draw.

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL Draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect the Sixers to take a cautious approach when determining Ben Simmons’ return to the court.

Simmons will undergo surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, according to a league source. No date has been set for the surgery. On Friday, Simmons rolled his ankle during the final training camp scrimmage. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Sixers believe Simmons has an acute injury that is not related to his weight, which is up to 250 pounds.

The Sixers placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining health and preventing re-injuries during camp. That focus will continue into the regular season. They implemented load management, in which they allocate the best use of a player’s designated minutes. 

The approach was applied to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, as they entered the preseason coming off of injuries. Embiid, who is nearing his NBA debut, had been sidelined the past two years with foot injuries. Okafor underwent season-ending right knee surgery last March. Both are slated to play Oct. 4 in the preseason opener. Gerald Henderson also followed load management for rest.  

“There are more variables going on pre-practice,” Brett Brown said Friday. “Before we design our practices and figure out how we’re going to maneuver through the day, the first thing we always do is we put on a digital projector a depth chart and we have the medical staff behind us talking about the circumstances of each player and the restrictions that each player has. 

“Once you understand that world, then you go over to the practice plan and you say, ‘How do you want to spend your money?’ I don’t want to use Joel’s minutes up in a lot of small drills when I could spend it easily and more wisely playing.”

Following this plan, Embiid, Okafor and Henderson did not participate in all of the scrimmages. When they did, Brown utilized Embiid and Okafor in spurts instead of long stretches. 

“Four-minute clumps and really trying to test themselves,” Brown said. “Let’s learn a little bit before we play the Celtics. Let’s just go as hard as you possibly can, let’s see what that means.”

The mapped-out formula allows the players to gauge how they assert their energy on the court. The Celtics took a similar approach with Kevin Garnett during the 2011-12 season. Doc Rivers implemented a “5-5-5” plan in which Garnett played in three five-minute spurts. 

“You kind of know the rhythm you are going to have,” Okafor said. “I think that’ll make it easier for myself and I’m sure for Jo as well knowing that we have four minutes to go as hard as we can, to make an impact on the game, and then we have a sub.” 

The Sixers assessed the length of these segments by comparing them to real-game situations. They want the scrimmage setting to simulate the flow regular season contest. The Sixers are looking to feature an uptempo this season and ranked first in the NBA last season with a total of 1,427.4 miles run. 

“With our sports science program, we’re designing our practice on trips,” Brown said. “How many trips does a normal NBA game have before there’s a stoppage in play? You see, it’s about six, seven trips. You’ve got to go for that … We’re very calculated on how we design our practice to reflect the true pace of a game.”

While there is the eagerness of players to make a comeback as quickly as possible, following the team’s carefully constructed recovery timeline is critical to prevent the reoccurance of injuries. Embiid better understands the importance of waiting after undergoing two surgeries. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab … the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor told me you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to people have to say.”

The Sixers drafted Simmons to be a centerpiece of their team for the future, not just this season. It is worth being careful early on to help him be healthy down the road.