Union, Soumare put impending break-up on hold

Union, Soumare put impending break-up on hold

CHESTER, Pa. – Imagine you’re living with someone who doesn’t treat you how you think you deserve to be treated. So you tell this person you want to leave. And this person, though a little bit surprised, doesn’t want to change and decides to help you look for a new place to live.

Now imagine that after a couple of months of trying to coexist in the same house while essentially broken up, you both realize maybe it’s in your best interests to stay together – at least in the short term until you both find something better.

No, this isn’t the plot to a cheesy movie. (Or maybe it is? Did I just describe “The Break-Up” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? That movie didn’t really make a lasting impression on me.) It’s pretty much the sports equivalent of what’s going on right now with the Philadelphia Union and high-priced center back Bakary Soumaré.

Despite asking for a trade very early in the season because of a lack of playing time – and the Union telling him they’d grant that that request – Soumaré is poised to make his season debut Saturday against the Chicago Fire because of a hamstring injury to starting center back Jeff Parke and a one-game suspension to right back Sheanon Williams (who can also play center back).

To be clear: Soumaré still wants to be traded to a team where he can play regularly. And it seems unlikely Soumaré plays so well Saturday that manager John Hackworth opts to reshuffle the lineup and make him a full-time starter ahead of staring center backs Parke and Amobi Okugo.

But here’s the part that’s sort of interesting: there doesn’t seem to be any animosity between the two sides. Soumaré says he’s content with how the Union have shopped him around and is very excited to get back on the field and wear the Philadelphia uniform this weekend. And Hackworth seems happy that Soumaré has still worked hard in training for the past two months, thus making him ready to come off the bench and fill the void created by Parke’s injury.

Take a look at this Hackworth quote from Wednesday’s press conference when he was asked about the relatively good relationship he’s maintained with Soumaré despite the trade request:

“I think that speaks volumes to both sides and how we approach this. The term I would use is it’s a professional approach. We tried to leave personal agendas out of it. And from both ends, you have to look at it from a business side and what it means for our team. And you have to look at it on a personal level and what it means to a player. And you come to a point where both sides are working diligently to get something done. And then you have a little bit of respect that at least the process is going according to how it should be.”

Yes, it’s still sort of silly that the team’s second-highest paid player (behind Kléberson, another guy that doesn’t play) is being used as a backup until he’s traded. But, hey, it probably could have been worse. Maybe Soumaré could have simply decided to stop showing up to training until a trade is completed. Or maybe the Union could have decided to completely ice him out as a punishment for going public with his trade request, which has probably made the act of trading him more difficult.

Take a look at this quote from Soumaré, who seemed to be in very good spirits after Wednesday’s practice:

“If I’m called upon, I’ll be ready. Just like I was ready the week before. Just like I’ve been ready. The thing with Hack, it’s always been that we’re trying to trade you but you’re still a part of this team and if we need you we’re going to call on you so be ready. And this is what’s happening now.”

It seems likely that Soumaré will still end up playing elsewhere at some point this season. But I think it’s also fair to say this could have been a much messier break-up. Like in that movie “The Break-Up.” Or something.

Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com. Email him at djzeitlin@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Worst loss of the year for excuse-less Sixers against Magic

Another new feeling for the rebuilding Sixers: The bad loss with no excuse. For at least one and possibly multiple seasons, there was no real such thing as an inexcusable L, because they were so never the favorite going into any game that their excuse could almost always be "the other team was better." But four wins and one transcendent player into this season, the Ballers actually do need an excuse for dropping a home game against a subpar team by double digits. And if they had one last night in their 105-88 loss to the Orlando Magic, they weren't telling the rest of us.

Really, this game couldn't have been teed up much better for Philly: We were home, well-rested after Wednesday's weird-ass cancellation, against a 7-12 team we nearly beat early in the season, who were on the second night of a back-to-back after ceding a tough one to the Grizzlies -- and we had Joel Embiid for up to 28 minutes. If this one was to be a laugher by early in the fourth quarter, you'd almost have to assume that it'd been the Sixers who put it to bed early. 

Instead, the Sixers slumped horribly from the field in the first quarter, missing bunny after bunny and plenty of open jumpers, as they dug themselves a hole they were never quite able to climb out of. Philly kept it manageable and D.J. Augustin and Nik Vucevic caught fire for Orlando in the third quarter, and the game was suddenly in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot territory before we could even process what was happening. 

Of course, you can't blame Embiid for this one. Though JoJo was a little out of sorts defensively on this one -- and personally, I really wish he'd stop trapping five feet outside the arc, it may cause panic in the Magic's ball-handlers but it really seems to compromise our own half-court D -- he still finished with a resounding 25-10-4 with three triples, and for the first time in his young career, 0 turnovers. (I coulda swore I saw at least one, but so says the box score, anyway.) Just another game for the Process, though the Sixers (for some reason) needed him to be immaculate last night, and he was merely phenomenal. 

Less phenomenal were the rest of the Sixers' shooters. Our bench in particular was absolutely putrid, going a combined 0-12 from three, with Nik Stauskas's streak of consecutive games with a three snapped at 15 after his scoreless, 0-6 performance. (Five assists for Sauce, at least.) Jahlil posted a dominant stat line of 16 and 13 (on 8-10 shooting) but was again hapless on defense, ending a team-worst -19 for the night. And Dario Saric's slumping continued with a 1-5 shooting outing with no rebounds or assists, likely his worst game of the season. 

It was a surprisingly listless effort from a team that should have looked much sharper, and the most positive non-Joel-related thing to be said about it is that it's (sort of) nice to finally have expectations high enough to have them let down. It'll be a lot harder for Philly to let down tonight against the Celtics, without JoJo, against a pretty good and mostly healthy Boston team. But that's five losses in a row already for the improving Sixers, and it'd be nice to cut off that streak soon, before it starts threatening double digits -- we could certainly do with being done with those for the forseeable future.

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”