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.

Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

052416-snc-schwartz-web1bestvideo3_1920x1080_692281923860.jpg

Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

Eagles rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans will report to training camp on Monday, July 25. 

The rest of the veterans will report on July 27, with the first full-team practice of training camp taking place on Thursday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m., the team announced Wednesday. 

The majority of training camp practices this summer under Doug Pederson will take place at the NovaCare Complex, beginning at 8:15 a.m., which is earlier than the team practiced during camp under former head coach Chip Kelly. The early practices hark back to training camps under Andy Reid at Lehigh, although now the team will have its walkthroughs in the afternoon. 

The Eagles will have two practices open to fans at Lincoln Financial Field: Sunday, July 31 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. Both open practices are free and don't require tickets. Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The Eagles will have several off days throughout camp: Aug. 2, Aug. 9, Aug. 12. And camp ends on Aug. 16, with the preseason opener vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs in the middle, on Aug. 11. 

With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

052416-zangaro-on-schwartz-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_692149827897.jpg

With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

Getting in a rhythm, getting in a flow, is important for Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. 

Really important. 

“That’s everything,” Kendricks said after Tuesday’s OTA practice. “It truly is.”

That’s why last season was so tough on the veteran linebacker. Under former defensive coordinator Bill Davis and head coach Chip Kelly, Kendricks was forced into a rotation with DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and later Jordan Hicks. 

In a year when he did nurse a hamstring injury for a few weeks, Kendricks played just 52 percent of defensive snaps in 2015. After playing all 77 snaps in the opener, Kendricks never got above 90 percent again and didn’t play more than 70 percent of snaps in any of the last five games of the season. 

That’s quite a departure for someone who is widely considered to be a three-down linebacker. In 2014, Kendricks played 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in seven games. 

“I just feel like it was too much hot and cold, with all the players rotating in and out and whatnot,” Kendricks said about his 2015 season. “No one was able to get in the flow. It was odd. But I didn’t feel like I played as good or as much. For the time that I was in, I feel that my numbers were OK. But it’s hard to be a force or something to reckon with when you’re not on the field.”

Kendricks admitted the rotation was tough on him, but did what he was told. 

This season, he’s not expected to be in a rotation. For now, he’s the team’s starting weakside linebacker, while Jordan Hicks is in the middle with Nigel Bradham on the strongside. All three, however, are versatile and could be moved around. 

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “And you have to be now.”

Aside from the rotation at inside linebacker a year ago, Kendricks also dealt with another injury. He basically missed a total of four weeks in 2015 with a lingering hamstring injury. In 2014, Kendricks missed four games with a calf injury. 

While Kendricks has never made a Pro Bowl, before last season, when healthy, he has played to that level. In fact, making the Pro Bowl is a personal goal for Kendricks this season. 

“I feel like if I stay healthy, you’ll see me in the Pro Bowl,” he said. “Those are things that you can’t control. Unfortunately, a couple times, I’ve fallen short of my personal goal because of an injury. No one wants that. I’m not making any excuses or anything, that’s just what it is. 

“I used to beat myself up over that, but as you get older and you start understanding the game, you know that there’s some things that you just literally do not control. You can’t beat yourself up over it.”

If Kendricks does get named to the Pro Bowl this season, his production will match the four-year, $29 million contract extension he signed before the 2015 season began. 

From the outside, it seems possible that Kendricks’ new contract might have been a factor in his decline last season, but the linebacker doesn’t seem to think it played much of a role. 

“Have I thought about it? Yeah,” Kendricks said. “But then I look back at all the scenarios that could have played an effect. I got paid and I didn’t play as much as I’d like to. It could have went both ways. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have played at all. I don’t know. Sometimes the grass is greener; sometimes the grass isn’t greener. I’m not a fortune teller or a future teller, I just go with my gut.”

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

052416-ingram-slide.jpg

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.