Union make moves on draft day, scare the hell out of their starting goalkeeper

Union make moves on draft day, scare the hell out of their starting goalkeeper

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College soccer is not like football or basketball. Only the nerdiest soccer-heads have seen most of these guys play, so evaluating how a Major League Soccer team does on draft day is damn near impossible.

Andre Blake walks on stage after being selected by the Philadelphia Union Thursday.

I'm no expert on that front, so I listen to a few people who are. One of them is Ives Garlacep, who posted his final "Big Board" yesterday before Thursday's MLS Superdraft (held in Philadelphia).

The Philadelphia Union entered the draft with the No. 2 pick and No. 6 pick in the first round, and two second-round picks. By day's end, the Union left with three of Garlacep's top nine players, and (I can only assume) more allocation money they they started with.

They also have a very frightened and/or motivated starting goalkeeper (more in a minute).

The Union sent some allocation money to D.C. United to jump into the No. 1 spot. There they took UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake. The Jamaican international actually joined his national team for a few World Cup qualifiers in 2013 (didn't play) and, according to all the experts, was far and away the most talented, pro-ready player in the draft. Garlacep had high praise:

"Best talent in the draft. Considered the best goalkeeping prospect in a decade."

Many fans were confused by two things:

  • Why pay money to jump up a spot when D.C. United made it pretty clear they had no interest in taking Blake? Why not just take him second?
  • Don't the Union already have a starting goalkeeper in Zac MacMath?

Answer No. 1: It seems that Vancouver was pushing hard to trade into the top spot to take Blake. So D.C. United had leverage, even if it was never going to take Blake.

Answer No. 2 is more complex. Yes, the Union have MacMath, who had a strong season in 2013 after a slowish start. MacMath seemed confused by the pick as well, and apparently let his agent know it at the Convention Center.

But, a few things to remember: It is NEVER a bad draft strategy to simply take the most talented player in the draft, regardless of need. And by all accounts, Blake was far and away the best player in an otherwise "eh" draft class.

Two, Blake is a Generation adidas player. This means the league agreed to terms with him before the draft, and his salary does not count toward the Union's salary cap. Players "graduate" from the program after a year or two, but it could be longer if Blake doesn't play right away.

Three, the Union have no backup goalkeeper right now, and MacMath's play improved last year after the team brought in a proven backup. And, if Blake proves as strong as people say, maybe he earns the job and MacMath is a valuable trade piece.

To move up and get Blake, the Union sent the always ambiguous "allocation money" to D.C. United. In its simplest terms, allocation money is just money going from one team to another, except that it originally came from a league-funded pool of cash. We don't get to know exactly how much money the Union paid (at least not yet), but the team then turned around and traded down from No. 6 to No. 10, and then from No. 10 to No. 15. In both of those deals, they got allocation money back. I can only assume they either broke even or made a net gain in the wallet.

At No. 15, the team drafted Brazilian Pedro Ribeiro, a huge (6-foot-4) midfielder from Coastal Carolina University. Ribeiro was the No. 6 player on Garlacep's "Big Board:"

"The tall Brazilian playmaker is impressive on the ball, and can pass as well as anyone in this draft, but conerns about his ability to be a 90-minute player in the pros"

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In the second round, the Union filled two big needs by taking midfielder Kevin Cope out of Michigan State and left back Robbie Derschang from Akron.

Also Thursday:

  • Union brass indicated that talks are still ongoing with Maurice Edu, and that the rumor that the league "blocked" the move was untrue. John Hackworth is optimistic, saying to ESPN, "I think something very good is going to come out of it."
  • The Union claim they were in hard on Michael Bradley, who signed with Toronto.
  • The team announced the signing of Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana as a designated player, who has spent the last day responding to tweets welcoming him to Philadelphia (he doesn't speak much, if any, English). It's a promising move in my opinion, as the team resisted the urge to sign a "name" designated player just to appease people. And at just 26 years old, Maidana is definitely in his "prime."

The rest of the draft wraps up next Tuesday, and the Union are slated to pick four more times.

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”