The Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup is pretty much set – you know, except for one of the most important positions

The Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup is pretty much set – you know, except for one of the most important positions

Well, Union fans, it looks like this is your team.

The summer transfer window closed this week with the Union opting to make only a backup goalkeeper (Oka Nikolov), a backup left back/left winger (Fabinho) and a long-term project (Gilberto) their international acquisitions. Part of that is due to salary cap restraints but it also shows that manager John Hackworth is mostly content with his starting lineup (and will probably not make any significant trades until after the season).

So with 11 games left in the year and the Union right in the thick of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race (look at these standings!), we pretty much know how the team will look. Zac MacMath will be in goal; Ray Gaddis, Jeff Parke, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams will hold down the defense; Danny Cruz and/or Fabinho will be on the left wing and Sebastien Le Toux will be on the right wing; and Conor Casey and Jack McInerney will start up top.

Of course, the one starting spot still sort of up for grabs is one of the most important ones on the field: central attacking midfielder. And while the Union have a lot of options there, none of them have exactly seized the opportunity.

Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel have earned the most playing time but have combined to rack up a grand total of one goal and two assists between them in 2,680 combined minutes. Leo Fernandes has become one of Hackworth’s favorite midfield reserves but showed his rookie inexperience by committing a turnover right before the go-ahead goal in last week’s loss to the Chicago Fire. And then there’s World Cup winner Kleberson and fan favorite Roger Torres, who’ve been completely buried on the depth chart despite possessing the kind of technical ability few players on the Union can match.

Leading up to Saturday’s critical nationally televised game against D.C. United at PPL Park, Hackworth fielded a lot of questions about the spot and why Kleberson – the team’s highest-paid player – hasn’t played at all since June 1, first because of an injury and then because he seemingly got passed on the depth chart by a player in Fernandes who once idolized him.

“Kleberson is a big name and I know there’s a lot of people that have this huge expectation for him,” Hackworth said. “But he was brought here for a reason and he has done everything we asked and if we get the opportunity to plug him in, I’m quite confident he’ll be ready for it.”

When Hackworth says, “He was brought here for a reason,” what he probably means is, “We had to bring him in order to get rid of Freddy Adu.” But it’s still hard for some fans to believe that Kleberson can’t leapfrog the club’s collection of uninspiring central midfield choices and find his way back onto the pitch.

“We’ve got a lot of different options to choose from based on the game and based on how things are working,” explained captain Brian Carroll, who’s started every game as the club’s holding midfielder. “It’s a great problem to have.”

Well, it is a problem. It just doesn’t really seem like a great one.

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."