New York City FC -- Another (Richer) New York Rival for the Union

New York City FC -- Another (Richer) New York Rival for the Union

I had originally planned something for today about the Union's 1-0 victory last weekend and HUGE game in Montreal this coming weekend. But that can wait a day or two.

Today's big Major League Soccer news is all about New York -- because when are things not about New York?

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The league announced Tuesday that English Premier League moneybags (and this writer's preferred EPL club) Manchester City are teaming up with the New York Yankees (yes, the Yankees) to own Major League Soccer's 20th team. The team will begin play in 2015. Where they will play is still unknown, although it appears an area near City Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing is the leading candidate. They'll start in a temporary home, which could possibly be Yankee Stadium.

Casual Union fans might be wondering why a league with only 19 teams (now 20) would add a second New York team before the list of other interested cities -- including Miami, Orlando, San Antonio and St. Louis, among others mentioned across the interwebs.

The answer is simple. New York City FC (please don't try to be called just "City") is the first New York MLS team.

Now that doesn't mean the Don't-Call-Me-New Jersey Red Bulls can't be a success (they are decidedly not, right now). They have money, they have the backing of a hugely successful company, and they have what is arguably the best soccer stadium in America. They also have a huge audience nearby in central and northern New Jersey to cater to.

But the Red Bulls have never attracted the attention of the glamorous, Upper West Side audience they seem to need in order to feel special. Not even the arrivals of high-priced stars like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have changed that perception.

The Red Bulls' attendance so far in 2013 is slightly down from 2012 (better-attended summer dates are still to come), although it's safe to safe the butts-in-seats number is nowhere near the current "paid" attendance average of 17,053.

A trip from Manhattan to Red Bull Arena takes 25 minutes by Google Map, 70 minutes by Google Transit, and a lifetime in non-Google reality. Even without a traffic catastrophe, it would be faster to drive from Center City Philadelphia to Red Bull Arena than for a soccer mom to drive there from Long Island. Add gas, parking, Hudson River tolls (which I think are $46 and a first-born at this point) and the chance to spend a day in lovely Harrison, N.J., and the Red Bulls are never going to get the crowd they think they deserve.

And that's just fine -- but only if the Red Bulls put away their ego. There are PLENTY of soccer fans in central and north Jersey, and the greater New York area is plenty large enough for two teams. NYCFC (little clunky acronym, no?) does not necessarily spell doom for the Red Bulls. But without a change of mindset, it might.

What does NYCFC mean for Union fans? Nothing but good things.

Aside from an excuse for a fun road trip weekend into the Big Apple, nothing bad can come from another driveable/transitable local rival. Games at PPL are more fun when the visiting fan section is full, and the Manchester City bank vault (which makes the Yankees look like hobos, by the way) can only serve to bring more big-name stars into the league.

People like to argue that the "rich" clubs in MLS are driving us closer to repeating the history of the North American Soccer League, where a few big-money teams drove the rest of the league into the ground. MLS is established. 20 teams, most with their own stadiums, and a single-entity structure, where, in its simplest terms, the entire league technically owns the rights to and signs the paychecks of every player.

So if you're a New York Red Bulls fan (where are you, first of all?), you might want to be a little bit worried about your new not-so-nearby-neighbor.

If you're a fan of the Union or any other MLS team, the biggest problem with New York City F.C. is that you might see John Rocker on the 7 Train to Flushing.

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is all about trusting the process.

He manages to insert the well-known phrase into just about every interview, hashtags it on social media and soaks in the chants during games. 

While “trust the process” is commonly associated with former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s patience-required approach to building the team — which resulted in three years of dismal losing and suffering setback after setback — Embiid has his personal take on the mantra.

“I think I have my own process,” Embiid said Friday at practice.

Embiid is playing for the first time this season after waiting two years to recover from foot injuries. His long-anticipated debut was a focal point of “the process,” and his return to the court marked a new chapter in the organization.

“I went through two surgeries, lost my brother, thought about some stuff I shouldn’t have thought about, so that’s my own process,” he said. “And then the process of going through the rehab and finally getting back on the court and getting the chance to finally play in the league, that’s my process.”

Embiid is now synonymous with the word. He credits Sixers fans for the moniker, which he added to his Instagram profile. 

“I don’t think it came from me,” he said. “Fans just started and then I just went along with it.”

Wednesday marked the next step in the process, both for the Sixers and Embiid. His regular-season debut (20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) was a long time coming and garnered buzz all over the NBA world.

“I was the third pick and then I missed two years,” Embiid said. “The excitement in the city, everybody’s happy to finally see me play. Even though it was weird because a lot of people kind of wrote me off a long time ago saying that I’d never play as a Sixer, I’d never play in the league. So it’s all fun. Everybody’s going to have an opinion.”

He’s just got to trust in his own.