Need a Philly Sports Fix? Here's a Union Primer

Need a Philly Sports Fix? Here's a Union Primer

The Phillies crashed and burned in the NLDS. The Eagles are 1-4. The Flyers, who are off to a phenomenal start, are just three games into an 82 game season. The Sixers? Well, the NBA might be a while.

So, where can you turn during a sports crisis like this? Where and how should you reallocate your suddenly available sports watching hours?

How about the Union?

Now, I realize that for whatever reason a large percentage of you are anti-soccer. That’s fine. I am not here to convert you. I am simply saying that if you are reading this site you are a sports fan. You enjoy watching teams or individuals compete.

You particularly enjoy watching games where the home team is good, the stands are full, the crowd is invested, and the tension is palpable. How much fun is it to watch the Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park in front of a sellout crowd hanging on each pitch? How great is it to watch a game being played at the Palestra?

It’s a fairly easy equation. Competitive Philadelphia Team + Boisterous Crowd = Compelling Sports Television.

Week in and week out PPL Park is bonkers. The Union average 18,201 fans. The team is in first place. It’s a good time to hop on board.

In the event you are worried, I can assure you that you will not turn into that pinko commie soccer loving caricature by simply watching a game. I promise.

In case you are joining this season already in progress here’s what you need to know.

WHERE THEY STAND

The Union, in just their second season, sit in first place in the MLS Eastern Conference. They host Toronto FC tomorrow in the final home game of the regular season. Win and they clinch a playoff berth.

I am not going to get into all the possible playoff permutations. What you need to know is that if the Union win their last two games they’ll finish first in the East.

WHO TO WATCH

The best player is Sebastien Le Toux. He’s a classic Philly fan favorite. Yes, he leads the team in both goals and assists, but what makes him special is his effort. Le Toux has played every minute of every league game. His work rate is off the charts. He never stops running. Ever.

ORGANIZATIONAL PHILOSOPHY

Fifteen of the twenty-seven players on the roster are 23 years old or younger. Yes, their most important players (Le Toux, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Brian Carroll, and Faryd Mondragon) are all older than 23, but the organization has placed a premium on identifying young talent.

No matter the sport you need to be strong up the middle. It’s no coincidence that the Union deploy their veteran players in the middle of the field. Mondragon, Califf, Valdes, Carroll, and Le Toux are the spine of the formation.

The rest of the starting lineup is composed primarily of young players. The other six starting spots usually come down to some combination of the under-23 group of players.

THE KEY YOUNGSTERS

Freddy Adu (22 years old) – Yes, he’s still only 22. He scored last week against Seattle and is rounding into form.

Michael Farfan (23 years old) – A revelation on the outside. Crafty beyond his years.

Gabriel Farfan (23 years old) – Michael’s twin brother has filled the void created by the trade of Jordan Harvey.

Zac MacMath (20 years old) PICTURED – Has stepped in and gone 3-0-4 in relief of the injured Mondragon.

Jack McInerney (19 years old) – A striker with an uncanny ability to get behind opposing defenses.

Danny Mwanga (20 years old) – The former first overall pick is coming back from injury. The most physically talented of the Union forwards.

Amobi Okugo (20 years old) – A ball-winning midfielder who could develop into a box-to-box midfielder.

Zach Pfeffer (16 years old) – The Upper Dublin native has seen some important minutes down the stretch. A future playmaker in the midfield.

Roger Torres (20 years old) – The most creative player on the team. Brings a much-needed offensive mindset to the midfield.

Sheanon Williams (21 years old) – Runs all day. Gets forward. His long throw-ins are a dangerous weapon.

THE COACH

Peter Nowak has won an MLS Cup as both a player (Chicago Fire) and coach (D.C. United). He’s a hardnosed coach who wants his players to attack, attack, attack. He’s probably the most intimidating coach in Philadelphia since Mike Keenan. Would destroy Keenan in a tough-guy staredown.

WHERE TO WATCH

Saturday’s game against Toronto will be on Comcast SportsNet (4PM). You could also do a lot worse than spending a Saturday afternoon tailgating outside of PPL Park prior to kickoff.

Tickets are tough to come by, but there’s always a handful available online. The weather should be nice -- mid-60’s, no rain.

The game will be over at 6ish, which transitions nicely into the Flyers/Kings game and Mike Richards’ return to Philly.

Union soccer. Seriously.

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Photos from the Union on Facebook and US Presswire

Former Eagle Byron Maxwell benched by Dolphins

Former Eagle Byron Maxwell benched by Dolphins

Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell is not starting tonight against the Bengals. Maxwell, who the Eagles traded this past offseason, was already seeing his playing time diminish. Now, he will sit in favor of Tony Lippett, who has not seen a single snap for the Dolphins this season.

The Eagles big trade this offseason keeps getting better and better.  They acquired the 8th overall pick in the draft in exchange for the 13 overall pick, Maxwell and Kiko Alonzo. Not only were they able to rid themselves of Maxwell’s awful contract, but they were able to get value for a player who is now not considered an NFL starter. 

The 8th overall pick that the Eagles acquired from Miami was flipped to the Browns among other picks to move up to number two. As you may know, that number two pick became offensive rookie of the month Carson Wentz. 

At the time of the trade, Maxwell originally failed his physical due to a shoulder injury. It was reported that the shoulder was so bad that he could not perform a simple pushup, but the Dolphins traded for him anyway.

The Byron Maxwell trade was the stepping stone for the Eagles to land their quarterback of the future, and this news can only make them feel better about the move. Howie Roseman had an incredible offseason cleaning up the mess Chip Kelly left behind, and Maxwell’s benching will certainly help his case for executive of the year. 

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens (Noel) - Jahlil (Okafor) thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist.