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
possession.

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
expect.

Union 1, Sounders 1.

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Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

Want to play corner for Jim Schwartz? Must worry about more than deep ball

The Eagles might not have any top-flight cornerbacks, but they certainly have a lot of guys with some talent.

Many of them are young, and all of them are battling for just several roster spots.

That hodgepodge of talent has made the corner position one of the more intriguing spots at this year's training camp. We're not sure how it'll all shake out, who will be the starters, who will be the depth players.

But one thing's for certain: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants all of them to be aggressive.

"It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete," Schwartz said after practice Tuesday. "We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here. If they'll get up and they'll challenge receivers, like I said before, if you can cover — you can't cover many people if you don't want to challenge guys. That's God's honest truth. I could play the deep ball. I'd get my ass 50 yards deep and you couldn't get one over the top of me, but I couldn't cover anything else.

"There's a fine line in there. And the fine line is you obviously have to play the deep ball in this league, but if that's the only thing you're worried about, you're not going to cover anything else."

Schwartz said he's happy with the blend of veteran and young players on the roster, before rattling off five names: Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, JaCorey Shepherd and rookie Jalen Mills.

The one notable omission from that list of names is second-year player Eric Rowe, who finished last year as a starter, but has been somewhat of a forgotten man this spring and summer. On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson mentioned some "hiccups" Rowe encountered learning the new defensive scheme (see story).

Even with Rowe buried on the depth chart for now, there are still plenty of talented, young corners fighting for jobs.

Carroll, on the other hand, isn't young. He's 29 and a returning starter from last year. Schwartz praised Carroll's smarts and said he's been a resource for younger players. But Carroll is also coming off of a fibula fracture and subsequent surgery. That's why he's one of the select vets that reported to camp early.

"This is important for him now," Schwartz said. "It's a good opportunity for him to come back before the full club gets here, just to sort of test it out and see how he's feeling. You don't want to judge too much. He might need a day here or there. It helps that he's a veteran player."

It seems Carroll, on a one-year deal, has a decent shot of being a starter opposite McKelvin. During the spring, Brooks worked outside in the base package and moved inside to the slot. At times, the rookie Mills also played in the slot.

Schwartz said corners in the slot need a different set of skills than the ones outside. They need to have the "courage" to take on big-bodied running backs and the occasional pulling guard. They also need to cover differently.

"It's very rare that you're getting the same routes," he said. "You're not getting the same routes from the slot as you are from the outside. So there's a different skill set. Some guys can play both, some guys can't. So it's our job to determine over the next six weeks where all the guys fit in that."

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Ichiro in CF, 4 hits away from 3,000

Ryan Howard is in the Phillies' lineup Tuesday night, batting fourth against Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. 

It's the second start in three games for Howard, who has actually been productive lately when he's gotten a chance to start. He went 2 for 3 on Saturday and had a homer in three of his previous five starts. Over that span he's gone 6 for 21 with three home runs and five RBIs as the Phillies' starting first baseman.

One of those homers was against Koehler last week at Citizens Bank Park, a two-run shot.

Howard's struggles this season have been well-documented and he's still hitting just .165, but he and Tommy Joseph have produced from a power standpoint. The only team in the majors that has more home runs from its first basemen than the Phillies (24) is the Cubs (26).

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cody Asche, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

And for the Marlins:

1. Ichiro, CF (four hits away from 3,000)
2. Martin Prado, 3B
3. Christian Yelich, LF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
5. Chris Johnson, 1B
6. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
7. Jeff Mathis, C
8. Miguel Rojas, 2B
9. Tom Koehler, P

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Wayne, Pa. -- Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q+A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime.