Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales (11) takes a penalty kick and scores the tying goal during stoppage time against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 3.

From afar, if you simply looked at this year's standings with two games to go and last year's standings, you'd call this season a success for the Union, whether they make the playoffs or not (this cool graphic shows the Union's form this season).

The team already has 10 more points than it earned all of last season, and controls its own playoff destiny with two games to go. A win on Saturday in Montreal (2 p.m. -- Comcast Network) and another next weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City would clinch a playoff berth, no matter what happens elsewhere in the incredibly tight Eastern Conference.

But if you have followed the season closely, there is a feeling of frustration with this year's team. That's because there are a few specific cases where the Union "dropped points."

There's two kinds of games where you can drop points (an oft-used soccer term meaning a match you lost when you should've drawn, or settled for a draw when you had three points in the bag).

The first is a game  you were expected to win from the jump. A bad team, or a home game -- or a bad team in a home game. These are games where you looked at the schedule back in March and said, "That's three points right there."

The other kind of miss is a little trickier to identify. These are games where maybe you weren't expecting much at kickoff, but with 15 minutes left to play, you look up and say, "Hey, we can win this thing!" It doesn't matter the opponent, it doesn't matter the venue. This is where you learn if your team can close things out.

The Union have had a few misses this season in each category. Should they miss the playoffs, here's three they'll really regret -- six dropped points that should have them fighting for the Supporter's Shield instead of scrambling for a playoff spot.

Without further ado, in reverse order from "gut punch" to "throwing things around the living room."

April 13 -- Union 1, Toronto FC 1

This falls in the first category: a bad team in a home game. Toronto is a team you MUST beat at home. And if not for Kleberson's amazing free kick a few weeks ago, the Union would have two home draws this year against the Reds.

In the first meeting, the Union not only settled for a draw, they needed a stoppage-time equalizer from Jack McInerney to get the one point. Danny Cruz missed a gifted first-half chance, Toronto goalie Joe Bendik made two big saves early in the second half on a Jack McInerney header and Conor Casey drive, and the Union had a goal disallowed due to a foul.

The late goal may have left Union fans feeling relieved. But another look at the Toronto goal makes you realize just how bad a draw it really was.

June 29 -- Union 2, FC Dallas 2

This one actually fits in both categories. Dallas is a below average team that was winless in five games coming in, the game was at PPL Park, and the Union had a win in the bag if they could close it out.

But they didn't.

After Casey, McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux combined to waste an early counterattack, Amobi Okugo put the Union on top in the first half. After giving up an equalizer, Aaron Wheeler appeared to lock it up with an 87th minute goal to give the Union a 2-1 lead.

From there, it got crazy. Dallas -- which was playing a man down -- should have tied it if the ref had seen that a Blas Perez shot went across the line. Minute later, DEEP into stoppage time, Union goalie Zac MacMath came out weakly for a ball in the area and watched from his butt as Perez tied the game. Remember, they were STILL playing a man down.

July 3 -- Real Salt Lake 2, Union 2

The only road game on the list is yet another draw. A road draw against a team that can still win the Supporter's Shield for the most points in the league. A game where you'd GLADLY take a draw when looking at the schedule, especially without an at-the-time-red-hot McInerney, who was away with the U.S. National Team.

But a closer look reveals a game that might be the toughest result to swallow this season.

Le Toux gave the Union a first-half lead, and the Union went up a man for the final half hour after an RSL red card. Philadelphia lost the lead on a nice header off a corner, but quickly regained it on a nice play from Antoine Hoppenot and Casey.

With a 2-1 lead, Le Toux had an absolute gimme breakaway in stoppage time to ice the game, but failed to finish.

He would regret it a few minutes later.

Just Missed the Cut: Oct. 12 at D.C. United (1-1 draw); Sept. 14 vs. Houston (1-0 loss); Aug. 31 vs. Montreal (0-0 draw).

Prediction Sure to Be Wrong

The Union play a Saturday matinee in Montreal. Normally, it would be a game where you'd accept a road draw. But the Union would lose playoff tiebreakers to Houston, Montreal and Chicago, so they need to separate themselves. They go into a tough setting needing a win.

Since they couldn't get three road points against lowly D.C. United last weekend, I can't count on the Union to get three against a much better team in a much more intimidating environment against Montreal.

That means they'll enter the finale against Sporting KC needing a home win and likely some help.

Union 1, Impact 1.

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

Union emotional after Maurice Edu's season-ending injury

CHESTER, Pa. — On the eve of his comeback after missing nearly 13 months with a left tibia stress fracture and other related injuries, Union midfielder Maurice Edu fractured his left fibula on Saturday, keeping him out for the 2016 playoffs and beyond.

“I was trying to take the shot on goal and my foot got stuck in the turf,” Edu said Sunday, in his blue Union-issued suit and supported by crutches. “My ankle rolled and twisted and it kind of snapped a little bit. I heard it crack, and a lot of pain from there. I got a scan afterward, and there was a break.”

There's no timetable his return.

Edu, 30, has spent over a calendar year fighting various injuries that have kept him out of game action. His trouble began on Sept. 30, 2015, when he played through the U.S. Open Cup final with a partially torn groin and sports hernia. It was during Edu’s recovery from those injuries that he developed a stress fracture.

"A little bit frustration. A lot of frustration, to be honest," he said. "But all I can do now is get back to work, focus on the positives and make sure that my situation isn’t a distraction from the team."

Edu’s teammates were equally devastated by the news. Edu, the Union captain when healthy, is popular and well-respected in the locker room.

"I feel so bad for him," said Alejandro Bedoya, who wore a dedication to Edu under his jersey on Sunday. "He’s one of my good friends, so I was looking forward to playing alongside him. I know how hard he’s worked to get back, and to see him go out like that, it’s heartbreaking. I’m sad for his loss and I hope he stays strong."

Edu, who has been with the Union since 2014, returned to training in July and played three conditioning appearances with the Union’s USL team, Bethlehem Steel FC. He was on the bench for the Union’s last three games and was set to make his first appearance in over a year against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, a game the Union eventually lost, 2-0 (see game story).

"We’re gutted for Mo," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "He was slated to start today. It’s real upsetting because he’s worked so hard to get back on the field. It’s been a tough 2016 for him, but I know he’ll come back stronger."

While he was visibly shaken by recent injury, Edu is driven to return.

"What happened, happened," Edu said. "I have no control over that. The only thing I do have control over is my next steps from here, how I prepare myself mentally and emotionally and how I continue to support this group."

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

CAMDEN, N.J. — Toward the end of Sixers practice Monday, Joel Embiid participated in a fast-break drill … by himself.

Embiid brought the ball up the floor in a one-on-none situation against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. 

He's already showed off his three-point shooting skills and now he’s running the break? 

“I’ve always thought I was a point guard,” Embiid joked. “So that’s something that I want to do.”

In all seriousness, Embiid worked on his ball-handling skills during his two-year rehab from foot injuries. It’s not that he wants to become an unconventional point guard, it’s that he is striving to be an all-around threat. Embiid focused on recording his first assist, as an example, during the preseason. 

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I think I can do everything on the court. Doing that shows I think it can help my team, too, in other aspects.” 

With running the break comes attacking the basket in traffic. It could be an anxious moment for a coach to watch a player fresh off two years of foot injuries to drive in a crowd. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he has to be past the feeling of holding his breath whenever he watches Embiid do so. 

“We are so responsible with how we use him and play him,” Brown said. “It’s like us with children. They go out for the night. You’re nervous, but they go out for the night. He plays basketball for a living, and so he plays. We’ve just got to keep putting him in responsible environments and monitoring his minutes.”

As a point guard, T.J. McConnell appreciates Embiid’s skills, especially given his size. 

“To the people that try to pick him up when he brings the ball up the floor, good luck,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty incredible to see.” 

Robert Covington watched Embiid practice his ball handling during his lengthy recovery. He has seen improvements and likes the dynamic it creates for the team on the break. 

“His handle is really tight and then he’s really strong with it as well,” Covington said. “We’re very comfortable with him pushing the ball.”

That being said, Brown isn’t about to anoint Embiid into a point-center role. He knows Embiid’s desire to be active all over the court, but just as he’s said he doesn’t intend for Embiid to become a go-to three-point shooter, he also wants Embiid to focus on his true position. 

“Joel likes to be a player,” Brown said. “He wants to be a guard. He wants to shoot a three. He wants to be a post player. He wants to play. And we all have seen enough to think he actually can. 

“There are times that he rebounds and leads a break, we want him being aware of get off it, get it to a point guard more than not. I don’t mind him coming down in trail if he’s got daylight, him shooting some. He’s got a wonderful touch and I’ve seen it for two years. 

“... All over the place, I want to grow him. I’m not just going to bucket him up. I still say, like I say to him, 'At the end of the day, you’re a seven-foot-two post player. Post player.'”

Watch Embiid running the floor here: