MATCHDAY: Effort and Will vs. Touch and Skill -- the Danny Cruz problem

MATCHDAY: Effort and Will vs. Touch and Skill -- the Danny Cruz problem

Much of the fan frustration in the Union so far this season --
especially without Freddy Adu to kick around anymore -- has been directed at
midfielder Danny Cruz.

I'm not as down on Cruz as some of the vitriol I see on Twitter
proves others are, but I don't think he really has  a place in this team,
especially as it is currently constructed.

No one doubts that Cruz puts out maximum effort. The guy has
taken free kicks to the head multiple times this season and is in constant
motion down the right flank. He runs his ass off for 90 minutes and can be a
pest to opposing left backs and left midfielders. He even had a great touch and
assist on a Conor Casey goal in the win over D.C. United.

But one thing Cruz does not have is anything resembling a good
first touch (or second, or third). He does not have the on-the-ball skills to
take on defenders one-on-one, and while he can deliver a good pass here and
there, he is not that strong a crosser of the ball.

If John Hackworth is going to play with two attackers -- Casey
and Jack McInerney -- or even three when Sebastien Le Toux is on the field
(something I expect to see today against Seattle), then those remaining in the
midfield need to be able to keep at least a little bit of possession.

Brian Carroll is not the greatest passer in the world (I'm being
kind today) and Michael Farfan has spent much of the season in the witness
protection program (more on this next week). The Union need someone on the
right flank who will take on defenders, and I'm not even sure such a player
exists on the roster. In the absence of that, they at least need to focus on

That's where designated player Kleberson comes in, as my old friend and
soon-to-be-dad Dave Zeitlin pointed out earlier this week

He is more of a holding midfielder than attacker, but in my
limited viewing of his play (read: YouTube clips) he would be well-suited in
front of Brian Carroll with Farfan or Daniel on the right. I'm sure Kleberson
could also handle playing wider, as well.

Hackworth said this week that he was hesitant to use Kleberson
on turf last week at Gilette Stadium considering his lack of experience on
artificial surfaces, which is understandable. But we're past the point of
"getting acclimated" with the system or his teammates, or
"ability to play 90 minutes." You're either ready or you're not. And
it's time to see what the new guy can do. And if that means Danny Cruz -- by
all accounts a great guy and great teammate who gets far too much grief from
fans in my book -- needs to sit down, then so be it.

Today's Game: 

Philadelphia Union (3-3-2, 11 points) vs. Seattle Sounders
(1-3-2, 5 points)

4 p.m. -- PPL Park -- TV: 6ABC

Prediction Sure to Be Way Off:

After a few games with the same (or roughly the same) lineup, I
expect one or two changes (Le Toux, maybe). Based on the Sounders' slow start,
the Union should expect three points at home. But I have no idea what to

Union 1, Sounders 1.




/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).