Towards A More Perfect Union? Previewing Year Two in Chester

Towards A More Perfect Union? Previewing Year Two in Chester


Finally. After five long months the Union open their second season Saturday on the road against the Houston Dynamo (8:30PM, 6ABC). With an inaugural 8-15-7 record, the U have plenty of room for improvement. Quite simply, in the offseason they needed to address the two-headed problem of conceding too many goals and scoring too few.

They've allocated resources towards revamping their defense and tweaking their offense. Defensively, they kept just two clean sheets in league games last season. Even more alarming was the fact that they finished the year with a dismal -14 goal differential.

Offensively, their 35 goals scored was fifth worst in the MLS. Sebastien Le Toux (14 goals) and rookie Danny Mwanga (7) carried a disproportionate amount of the scoring load, combining to score 21 of the Union's 35 goals. It doesn't take Jose Mourinho to figure out that they need more balanced scoring.

So, what can you expect from Peter Nowak's club in Season Two?

Well, as mentioned you'll see new faces. Lots of new faces. On the flipside, some familiar faces have moved on. Here's a quick primer on some of the Union's key additions and subtractions.

Welcome to Chester: Faryd Mondragon (GK), Carlos Valdes (D), Carlos Ruiz (F), Brian Carroll (M), Zac MacMath (GK).

Thanks for Your Service: Chris Seitz (GK), Brad Knighton (GK), Michael Orozco-Fiscal (D), Shea Salinas (M), Alejandro Moreno (F), Fred (M), Andrew Jacobson (M).

The most striking thing about the transactions listed above is the turnover at the goalkeeper position. The Union jettisoned both Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton. Seitz' struggles between the sticks were well documented. Knighton was a slight upgrade, but not a standout. Enter Faryd Mondragon.

Mondragon, a 39 year old veteran of both the Bundesliga and the Colombian National Team, brings a much needed veteran presence to the team. Neither Seitz nor Knighton lacked size or athletic ability. They lacked experience and  confidence. Mondragon  has both and will have no problem barking at his back four and taking charge of his box.

Carlos Valdes, another Colombian international, should bring a bit more athleticism to the center back position. The combination of Orozco-Fiscal and Danny Califf was often shaky and uncertain. They allowed opposing players to turn too easily and were often caught out of position. The hope is that a Valdes-Califf pairing can make the center of the Union defense a strength.

Sheanon Williams provides some much needed pace from the outside back position. Jordan Harvey, who seemingly played every minute last season, should benefit from Mondragon's ability and willingness to organize his back line. Here's hoping we never have to see Harvey tracking back 90+ yards in an attempt to cover a blown assignment.

What did the Union do to address their shortcomings in the offensive third? Well, they brought in El Pescadito, Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz is a former MLS MVP, who has scored 82 career goals in MLS play. Although short and squat he plays as a target man and possesses a unique ability hold up play.

He's somewhat similar to Alejandro Moreno (both spend an inordinate amount of time picking themselves off the ground), except that unlike Moreno he's an accomplished goal scorer.

Adding Ruiz will enable Nowak to slot Le Toux in the hole behind Ruiz and Mwanga. Playing as an advanced midfielder Le Toux's ability to run all day will be that much more evident and effective. Ideally, Ruiz plays with his back to goal, holds up play, knocks balls to an oncoming Le Toux, and the Union are off to the races.

The most notable new face in the midfield belongs to Brian Carroll. Carroll, a veteran of 200+ MLS games, is reunited with Nowak, who coached him when both were with D.C. United.

He'll likely combine with some combination of Roger Torres (the most creative Union player), Justin Mapp (the biggest enigma), and either Stefani Miglioranzi (just a plain solid veteran) or Kyle Nakazawa (other than Le Toux the most dangerous in dead ball situations) in the midfield. Carroll should provide a steadying, calming, ball winning presence in the middle third.

My mancrush, Jack McInerney, has another year under his belt and will be a nice changeup to Ruiz in late game situations. Amobi Okugo should provide fresh legs to the central midfield. First round pick MacMath can ease his way into the lineup and learn from a veteran like Mondragon.

If you notice, the one consistent thread in the Union's offseason moves was to bring in veteran players who ply their trade through the middle of the pitch. Mondragon, Valdes, Carroll, and Ruiz all play in the middle of their respective third of the field.

Peter Nowak can now rely on seasoned professionals who have represented their national teams in the pressure cooker provided by international matches. Soccer is no different from any other sport in that you need to be strong in the middle. The moves they made should go a long way towards turning that weakness into an area of strength.

So, with all of that being said what's a fair expectation for the Union in their second campaign? I think it's realistic for them to contend for a playoff spot, cut down on the goals against, keep a few more clean sheets, and have more balanced scoring.

Season Prediction: I am not ready to definitively state that the Union will absolutely make the playoffs, but if they're able to improve their road record (they were just 2-12-1 away from the Linc/PPL Park) they should be in the mix come playoff time.

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid to play Monday vs. Nuggets; Jahlil Okafor questionable (illness)

Joel Embiid will play Monday night against the Nuggets at the Wells Fargo Center.

The reigning Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month is still unable to play back-to-back games. He'll likely be out Tuesday night when the Sixers travel to Memphis to play the Grizzlies.

The home crowd will get see Embiid but they may not get to see him paired with fellow big man Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is questionable on Monday with an illness. The pair played together for nearly 13 minutes in last Friday's blowout loss to the Magic. They each recorded a double-double.

Robert Covington, who sprained his left knee in the loss to Orlando and is now battling the flu, is out against Denver. Jerryd Bayless, who's missed the last four games while stilling battling a left wrist injury, is also out on Monday.

For the season, Embiid leads all rookies with averages of 18.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game in 13 games. 

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands