Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

The Philadelphia Union are set to open their third season this afternoon, hosting the Colorado Rapids in a 4PM start. The faithful are preparing their tailgating gear or already on their way to Lot A or B, depending on how banged up they got celebrating a certain saint's feast day.
Rev has an in-depth preview of today's on-field action, and here are five parts of the fan experience we're looking forward to as the home schedule begins. 
5. Meet the New Kids
If there's one thing we've learned in our two seasons of MLS fandom, it's that we probably shouldn't get terribly used to the idea of individual players being around forever. MLS rosters endure a lot of turnover, and as we saw this off-season, it's not just the scrubs or mid-level players who come and go. 
This isn't strictly an MLS or Union thing, but the player shelf lives seem more transient because we know so little of them coming in (if anything), and there's not much time to get to know them before they're headed out in some cases. We did just have a clear example of what we might expect from a local team making some significant personnel changes though. Before the Flyers began their current season, no one had any idea what to expect from this year's team. Many of the guys we knew were gone. They weren't particularly old, but they were replaced by even younger players in most cases. So far, few would argue that the team has disappointed compared to last season's iteration. 
Will the same be true of the Union after allowing captain and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon head home and trading face of the franchise Sebastien Le Toux against his (and the fans') wishes? It's impossible to say at this point. There are signs the team could be more versatile and better built for the long-term, but also indications that long-term growth could come at the expense of contention this season. As we saw on Monday, there will be growing pains as this group gets to know each other. 
For now, as fans, it's time to turn the page and get to know the new guys and the players who will get more PT as a result of the roster changes. 

4. The MLS All-Star Game Comes to Chester
Growing up just outside of Chester and playing soccer as a young Delco kid, I never once imagined a soccer-specific stadium sitting beneath the Commodore Barry Bridge. Now, we drive down Kerlin Street every other week to the greenest patch of grass for miles. Because of the reception the MLS has received in the Philadelphia area since before they hung their shingle, the league has already awarded PPL Park an All-Star Game. We don't yet know what the sides will be, but we know that the league's focus will be on PPL Park this July 25 at 8PM. 
It's a telling acknowledgement of the fans and the franchise by a league looking to replicate this success in future expansion cities, as well as current MLS cities with weak or waning support and no soccer-specific stadium. 

3. Tailgating (and a note on parking changes)
The Union's schedule is mercifully weekend-heavy, making tailgating in the lots adjacent to the stadium ideal for us working stiffs. A change in the way parking is handled for 2012 could pose some challenges, with Lots A and B now reserved for only season-ticket holders who have requested and paid for full-season parking passes. The change here is that you can no longer park in these lots on a game-by-game cash basis. So, if you're a Lot A or B group, your friends without season tickets will have to park in Lot C, which is the southernmost lot and quite a hike from Lot A if they want to walk down and join you. 
The Union had to limit access to Lots A and B because demand from season ticket holders was high (season passes for them are sold out). As a Lot A resident, I can understand that. We would have been pretty upset if we weren't able to get our Lot A request filled. But, at least two carloads of our friends today will have to park in C and hoof it to A. That sucks, for sure, but it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times at the sports complex in South Philly either.  Admittedly, I'd be more upset if I were the one having to get in and out of Lot C, then drag a wheelie cooler halfway to New Hope. Private lots are also springing up around the stadium, but they are not run by the Union, and the team has been clear that they can't guarantee safety or acceptable conditions in lots they don't run. The Union lots are well-staffed and secure, in our experience. We don't know anything about the private lots yet, particularly where they fall on the Jetro-to-Scary Vacant Lot in Chester spectrum. 
Anyway, this was supposed to be about tailgating, not parking. But tailgating doesn't need much explanation. Battery-powered audio. Small grills. Kicking the ball around, throwing the frisbee, some ladders, washers… Gotta hurry up and finish this, get down there! 

2.  The Feeling of High Expectations 
A playoff berth in 2011 means only one thing—anything less will be considered a disappointment. Sound unreasonable? This is Philly sports. What's reason have to do with anything? 
After riding the wave at the top of the table a few times in 2011 and making that playoff appearance, the U have given us a glimpse at the potential for this to be a dominant franchise in the league. We didn't have to endure a long expansion process, or so we hope. The feeling of walking into the building expecting a win is something we've come to enjoy in Philly lately, but most of us know all to well the other end of it. Today, we'll get our ticket cards scanned and scream our way to the River End. 
Of course, with high expectations comes great fury when they aren't met. The Union got to see what the fanbase looks like when it's angry after Le Toux was traded away, and it wasn't pretty. But that energy can be quickly rerouted with the usual panacea—winning. 
It's now put-up time, when Peter Nowak and Company show us the fruits of their personnel plans. If not, the choruses will continue, but they won't be in such constant support as the franchise enjoyed in its first two seasons. We expect a winner now. 

1.  Getting the Band Back Together
Ten years out of college, life is very different. I work all week, don't go out on school nights nearly as often, feel the effects of long nights for more hours the next day than I'd like, and put a whole lot more stock into quieter nights at home and weekend afternoons with the family. It's increasingly easy to turn down plans to go out, and I don't even mind admitting it. 
But with that, you start to lose touch with good friends, and the gaps between meet-ups get longer every year. For this reason, getting season tickets to the Union was one of the best decisions I've made. Two tickets in 2010 meant that me and one of my oldest soccer-fan friends could enjoy a few beers and some rowdiness not far from home on a regular basis. Friends started to join us on a game-by-game basis, people who had never followed soccer and others who kept up with the National team during World Cup play and maybe some English Premier League. In 2011, a few had become season t
icket holders as well, and our group's size increased with more people coming to their first, second, third… Union games, buying individual tickets along the way. In the second year, Union home games became meeting places for a group of guys that always has fun together, but otherwise might not get together half as much without a set time and place when it's understood we'll all be there. 
This year, our group has again grown, with new full and partial season ticket holders, spouses, and family. My brother-in-law just called to arrange where to meet up when he walks with my 8-year-old nephew down from their first ever Union tailgate in Lot C to meet us in Lot A for a bit. 
The home opener is a bigger beast than the regular home schedule, which spans from now til the leaves turn. But every other week or so, we'll meet in the lot under the Barry Bridge, have a couple beers, make fun of each other for a few hours, and walk in. What happens after that doesn't make or break the day, but the more DOOP the better... 

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

Dave Zangaro predicts Eagles' 53-man roster 3.0

The Eagles are down to one final preseason game before they’ll have to figure out their final 53-man roster. 

But no need to wait, I have it right here. Or at least what I think it will look like after watching all of OTAs, training camp and the most important preseason games. The team made it a little easier with several key cuts on Sunday (see story)

Let’s jump right in: 

Quarterback (3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz 
With apologies to the law firm of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, this was pretty easy. 

Running back (4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
I toyed with the idea of taking Smallwood off the roster. I thought perhaps the team will try to stash him on IR — that quad could always act up again — and instead take Byron Marshall on the 53. But I just couldn’t pull the trigger. For now, the team will have to hope Mathews and Barner can carry the load while Smallwood gets caught up. 

Wide receiver (5): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner
I’m taking only five because the unit hasn’t been very strong. The team’s decision to cut Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday wasn’t very surprising to me. They were on prove-it deals and had only proven what the Eagles probably feared. Instead, the rookie Turner is on the roster, which is an important message for the team: Effort matters. Still, expect the Eagles to keep a watchful eye on the waiver wire here.  

Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Chris Pantale
Pantale isn’t nearly as good a tight end as the other three, but Doug Pederson seems determined to have him on the roster as a fullback and special teamer. Four tight ends and four running backs is tough to swallow in terms of roster spots available, but I think that’s the way it’s going. Look for Burton to have an increased role in the offense this year too. 

Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Allen Barbre, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Halapoulavaati Vaitai, Josh Andrews
I left Lane Johnson off this list because he’ll probably be suspended by the season opener and won’t count against the 53-man roster. Wisniewski will be the backup at all three interior line positions. After cutting Andrew Gardner on Sunday, the Eagles will keep Tobin and Andrews as reserve linemen. Andrews played guard on Saturday — likely a chance for him to prove he’s not just a center. Keep an eye on tight end-turned-tackle Dillon Gordon too. He has an outside chance to make the roster and a very good shot to stick on the practice squad; very athletic and versatile player. 

Defensive end (6): Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Steven Means, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
Six defensive ends is a lot, but at this point, Braman isn’t really a defensive end. He’s just a special teams ace. And with the rotation at DE, I think it’s more important to have ends than it is to have extra players in the secondary. If the team is able to trade either Means or Smith, then this number could be down to five. 

Defensive tackle (4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart
During training camp, Jim Schwartz said to not count out Allen and Hart just because they didn’t seem to be scheme fits. Both have proven him right this preseason. Sure, undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu have looked good, but they won’t be able to contribute as much this season as the veterans. At least one of those rookies should hold down a practice squad spot. Mike Martin was the third defensive tackle for a long time but was released on Sunday, after a few weeks of a knee injury. 

Linebacker (6): Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Stephen Tulloch, Najee Goode, Quintin Gause
Tulloch will be the primary backup at the MIKE, while Goode and Gause, the undrafted rookie from Rutgers, get the nods at the backup outside 'backer positions for now. But expect the Eagles to take a good look at the waiver wire for linebackers. 

Cornerback (5): Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
If the Eagles keep five, I think these will be the five. Rookie C.J. Smith has been impressive but could use a year on the practice squad. I thought Denzel Rice, thanks to his special teams contributions, had an outside shot, but he was cut on Sunday. 

Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Chris Maragos, Jaylen Watkins
A little light at safety, but Mills or Rowe could probably move back there if needed. Really, Jenkins and McLeod aren’t going to come off the field much as long as they’re healthy; there won’t be a rotation. If five safeties were to make the team, sixth-rounder Blake Countess would be the next one up. I think Ed Reynolds is a longer shot at this point.  

Specialists (3): Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos, Caleb Sturgis
After an impressive training camp, Sturgis takes down Cody Parkey for the kicker job. 

Practice squad: DT Destiney Vaeao, CB C.J. Smith, G Dillon Gordon, WR David Watford, WR Marcus Johnson, G Darrell Greene, LB Myke Tavarres, S Blake Countess, CB Aaron Grymes, RB Byron Marshall

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

Tales of Carlos Ruiz’s generosity still coming out of Phillies' clubhouse

NEW YORK — A.J. Ellis started (and starred in) his first game for the Phillies on Sunday afternoon (see game recap).
 
Carlos Ruiz has already been in the Dodgers’ lineup.
 
Initial reactions to the swap of backup catchers on Thursday has subsided, but there are still anecdotes worth sharing as it pertains to Ruiz’s impact in the Phillies’ clubhouse.
 
Here are a couple, compliments of Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis.
 
According to Franco, Ruiz viewed it as his responsibility to help young Latin players learn the ropes in the big leagues.
 
When Franco, a native of the Dominican Republic, came to the big leagues for the first time two years ago, Ruiz, from Panama, immediately reached out to him. Franco was just 22. Ruiz was 35 and had eight major-league seasons on his résumé and a World Series ring on his finger.
 
The Phillies were on a road trip and Ruiz told Franco to meet him in the hotel lobby one morning. They got in a cab and ended up at a stylish mall where Ruiz proceeded to purchase Franco some road attire — a suit, some nice shirts and a couple of ties.
 
“It was a beautiful thing he did for me,” Franco said. “Chooch was so good to me. I will never forget that day.
 
“The day he got traded, I called him. He had trouble talking because he was emotional. He almost cried. That boy is different. He’s special.
 
“I still have the suit. It is even more special now.”
 
Galvis also felt the warmth of Ruiz’s generosity.
 
He unexpectedly made the big club out of spring training in 2012 as a fill-in for injured Chase Utley.
 
There’s a lot of learning in your first season in the majors. Ruiz became Galvis’ tour guide.
 
“Every time we went to a new ballpark, he made sure to go with me on the first day so I would know where the entrance was, how to get to the clubhouse, things like that,” Galvis said. “He was always looking out for you.”
 
When Galvis broke camp with the club, he told Galvis, ‘You’re in the major leagues, you have to look good.’
 
“He took me out and bought me four suits, eight shirts and eight ties,” Galvis said with wide eyes.
 
That’s better than Franco did.
 
“Well, I was the only young guy on the team at that time,” Galvis said. “Chooch was good to me. That’s why I was sad to see him go, but also happy because he has a chance to win another World Series.”
 
Galvis, from Venezuela, and Ruiz were like brothers. At the all-star break in 2015, Galvis traveled to Panama with Ruiz for a few days of R&R.
 
In January, Galvis is planning to travel back to Panama. Ruiz and his wife are expecting a child.
 
“I am going to be the godfather,” Galvis said proudly.

Jahad Thomas to lead crowded Temple backfield

Jahad Thomas to lead crowded Temple backfield

The way Jahad Thomas remembers it, the football culture in Elizabeth, New Jersey, was vibrant. Friday night meant flocking to Williams Field to watch Elizabeth High School play. In Elizabeth, football dominates while basketball and baseball take a back seat.

Elizabeth has produced several NFL players, including former Eagles defensive coordinator and Jets head coach Todd Bowles, but two that came to mind for Thomas are linebacker Khaseem Greene and running back Raymond Graham, both of whom he watched growing up.

"You know, every Friday night, we looked forward to going to them games after Pop Warner practice," Thomas said. "And just knowing that we were going to be in those shoes one day … just knowing that we had some big shoes to fill, we just loved it. We grasped the opportunity and took advantage of it."

Thomas, Temple's top offensive weapon, finds himself in a position where the Owls will have to find someone to fill his shoes soon enough. Now, the senior tailback is among the Owls' core leadership group with three sophomore running backs behind him who are expected to receive their fair amount of touches in 2016.

Both Thomas and head coach Matt Rhule said Temple will be employing a rotation in the backfield with Thomas, Ryquell Armstead, Jager Gardner and David Hood. Rhule called Armstead a "co-starter," Hood a "jack-of-all-trades" and also praised Gardner.

"They are game-ready now," Rhule said of the sophomores. "They're battle-tested a little bit more, so we'll put them in there and not even think about it."

As for Thomas, the plan still is to use him as the feature back, but move him around the field to create mismatches and other creative ways to get him the ball in space. With the depth Temple has at running back, it allows offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas the opportunity to put Thomas in the slot and not lose much by not having him in the backfield.

For Thomas, who was hurt a bit last season, the committee also allows him a chance to make plays but also help preserve his body without having to carry the ball 20 times per game.

It'd be easy for Thomas to be selfish after rushing for 1,262 yards and 1,677 all-purpose yards, third most in program history, and scoring 19 total touchdowns last season. But with Rhule asking more from him in a leadership role, he's embracing guiding Armstead, Gardner and Hood and wants to set a standard for the trio to follow.

"Just being a mentor to them guys," Thomas said. "Just show them how guys before me showed me when they were here, just lead by example, show them what a leader is. I've been here four years. I've seen a lot, I've been through a lot here. Just try to be those guys' older brother. That's what I try to be for those guys."

Last season, while Thomas was the star of the group, Hood, a redshirt sophomore, did contribute when called upon. Against Tulane, a Temple blowout victory, the 5-foot-9 tailback ran for 47 yards on 16 carries, mainly in mop-up duty, while adding a 10-yard touchdown reception.

When Thomas, dealing with some bumps and bruises, struggled against Memphis, Rhule turned to the hot hand in Hood, who rewarded the head coach with a 14-61-1 day on the ground.

Hood described Temple's backfield as group that brings a little bit of everything. Both Armstead and Gardner are power backs, Hood said, while Thomas and himself can do it all.

"We just got a lot of guys who are ready to go attack," said Hood, who had 272 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns in 2015. "We got a lot of depth, so there's always competition every day, just fighting for a spot. Everyone is talented and able to be a starter, so every day it's lace up and play your best to get the spot."

The Owls' offense lost a dimension with the loss of lead wideout Robby Anderson, who went undrafted but is currently enjoying a fine preseason with the New York Jets.

While the younger players such as Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings will be relied on to help out the passing attack, the running game is the heart of the offense Rhule wants to deploy. And the Owls know how dangerous they can be on the ground with what senior quarterback Phillip Walker, a longtime teammate of Thomas' dating to as far back as high school, called a "four-headed monster."

"At any moment, any one of them can have a big game," said Walker, who himself remains a key compenent of Temple's offense (see story). "Jager had a big game last year vs. SMU. Ryquell was just consistent each game every time he played last year. Jahad just had a great season. And David Hood stepped in when Jahad got hurt vs. Memphis and played well and blocked very well on third down.

"You don't know what you're going to get from those guys each week. You just come to expect that they're all going to play good. I think we have a good group of guys and they're all consistent."