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.

Temple cracks Top 25 in final CFP rankings, will play in Military Bowl

ap-temple.jpg
The Associated Press

Temple cracks Top 25 in final CFP rankings, will play in Military Bowl

After winning its first American Athletic Conference championship Saturday, Temple learned its postseason fate Sunday and it does not involve a New Year's Six bowl game.

The Owls will play Wake Forest in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Maryland. Temple also finished No. 24 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and No. 23 in the AP poll.

At 10-3, Temple has its first back-to-back 10-win season in program history. It's also the first time the Owls have been ranked in consecutive seasons. Head coach Matt Rhule now has 28 wins as Temple's head coach, tying him with Bruce Arians' for the sixth-most in school history.

Wake Forest finished the season 6-6 and on a three-game losing streak, but two of those three loses came to No. 2 Clemson and No. 13 Louisville. The Deamon Deacons have lost five of their last six games.

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers-Predators 5 things: Going for longest win streak since 2014

Flyers (13-10-3) at Predators (11-8-4)
6 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

The Flyers have won a season-high four games in a row. They'll try to make it five Sunday night when they visit the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena for the second game of a back-to-back set.

Let's take a look at five things you need to know.

1. Streaking like 2014?
Not only do the Flyers have a chance to extend their season-best winning streak, but they're also looking to win their most consecutive games since March 15-22, 2014, when they also won five straight.

The Flyers have put up strong showings in the back ends of back-to-backs, going 4-1-1 thus far.

“You just have to have the work ethic night in and night out," Steve Mason said Saturday after the Flyers' 3-1 win over the Blackhawks. "And, I think we were struggling to find that. There are games when we were swarming and giving teams no other option, and other nights we were chasing the puck.

"We have another tough test going to Nashville to play. So, we’re going to have to follow up with another great effort.” 

2. A Provorov encore?
Ivan Provorov's confidence has to be at his highest of the season.

In Saturday's win, the 19-year-old blueliner scored two goals in a 31-second span to double his goal total through the first 25 games.

Provorov said he thinks defense first, but the offensive production is a good sign.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster."

3. Predators finding stride
After losing eight of their first 11 games, Peter Laviolette's Predators have gotten on track, going 8-3-1 since.

Nashville ranks in the top half of the league in goals per game (3.00 — tied for fifth), goals against per game (2.61 — 15th), power-play percentage (22.6 — sixth) and penalty-kill percentage (84.5 — 10th).

Last time out, the Predators blew a 4-1 lead in the third period for a 5-4 overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday, so they should be extra focused.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: On Saturday, Brayden Schenn scored just his second goal in his past 18 games. Schenn can be streaky so maybe he feeds off that goal. He's also a career plus-4 against the Predators, with two goals and three assists in eight games.

Predators: Let's go P.K. Subban, who isn't exactly a favorite among Flyers fans. He's off to a nice start in his first season in Nashville with six goals and 10 assists, and eight points (three goals, five assists) in his last eight games.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is 7-7-5 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 20 career games against the Predators.

• Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne is 3-2-2 with a 2.91 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in seven career games against the Flyers.

• Claude Giroux is four assists away from passing Rick MacLeish (369) and Eric Lindros (369) for fifth on the Flyers’ all-time list.