Union Youth Make Most of Everton Opportunity

Union Youth Make Most of Everton Opportunity

It was just a friendly. Neither side fielded their full complement of players. The Union are in midseason form, while Everton are touring the US in pre-season mode. All appropriate disclaimers acknowledged, it still felt good to see the Philadelphia Union beat Everton FC at PPL Park last night.  

The final score read 1-0, but the Union controlled most of the game, and had a few golden opportunities narrowly miss on a night when pristine finishing eluded them. Their younger players had a chance to play hard against an esteemed English side, and they played their asses off.

The friendly was a good opportunity to see some international players and also some of the Union's own young talent on display. Roger Torres, 20, played big minutes and controlled the Union attack. Later in the game, we got to see the likes of Zach Pfeffer and Christian Hernandez, who are 16 and 17 years of age, respectively, and facing off against Everton. Fellow Union Academy stud Jimmy McLaughlin and local product Ryan Richter also played well.  

Pfeffer has received his share of acknowledgement already, but Hernandez took home the headlines last night, scoring the game's only goal. Hernandez, the U-17/18 Development Academy Player of the Year, entered the game in the 71st minute and broke its scoreless tie in the 87th. He knocked home a ball that Everton failed to clear after Pfeffer took a dangerous shot.  

The MLS teams haven't been faring well in the European invasion this week, so a Union loss would have been understandable. Instead, they probably should have won this by a goal or two more, missing out a few "Awww"-inspiring opportunities.  

With Faryd Mondragon joining Tim Howard in sitting this one out, Zac MacMath and Thorne Holder (awesome name) kept the sheet clean for the Union. Holder made an amazing save to keep the game level in the 74th minute. 

[watch video highlights from the Union-Everton match here]

The Union had an edge to them in the game, and despite the low stakes and a lack of much offensive motivation, so did some of the Everton players. John Heitinga earned an ejection, perhaps inspired by Benny Feilhaber in the previous match footage he saw. The Union wouldn't let themselves be bullied though, with the kids and the veterans standing pushing back as needed.  

So, as I began… it wasn't a high-stakes match, and we saw a lot of reserves and youngins get significant PT. But both the depth and the future of the Union were on display last night, and each looked good.  

The write-up on Everton's own page doesn't water down the result, and friendly or no, this is on the front of their page right now:

Photos by Nick Waters

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

This time, Steve Mason bailed out by Flyers' teammates

This time, Steve Mason bailed out by Flyers' teammates

Steve Mason was not his sharpest Thursday night and he's the first to admit it.

"There's nights where you're not feeling as sharp as you'd like to," Mason said. "This is a situation the guys in front never quit. They earned the two points for sure."

Mason yielded five goals for the third time this season, but made enough saves to secure the Flyers' seventh straight win, a 6-5 victory over the Oilers at the Wells Fargo Center.

The win streak is the longest the Flyers have had since Dec. 2-15, 2011, when "Mr. Universe" Ilya Bryzgalov was their goaltender. Mason finished with 28 saves.

"The guys bailed me out," Mason said, "When your goalie is not making the saves that you need, but the guys keep battling in front, from a personal standpoint, it's huge to see."

Making his 16th start in the Flyers' last 17 games, Mason appeared to show signs of fatigue against Edmonton. He's started the last six games, winning all six.

His current six-game win streak is a career-high, and the five goals allowed Thursday is the first time he's allowed more than two goals during this current streak. 

Entering Thursday, Mason was 5-0 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in his previous five starts, and 8-3-1 with a 2.11 GAA and .930 save percentage since Nov. 12. So Thursday is just a small blemish on Mason's impressive résumé of late.

"I didn't think he looked tired," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. "This win's a little bit indicative of the type of team we have. A couple nights ago, Mason was the best player. He picked up a lot of guys around him and tonight maybe wasn't his best.

"But it was pretty good. The guys battled hard. They picked up some of the slack. That's what it takes. Every guy's not going to be at their best every night.

"You'd like them to be, and I know the guys want to be at that level, but when one piece isn't working, the other part has to pick it up."

The Flyers' offensive outburst came two days after Mason stole two points against the Florida Panthers, and nine days after the goalie stole another two points against Boston.

Twice on Thursday the Flyers faced two-goal deficits, and both times they found a way to erase them. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in Flyers' history they were able to win a game in which they were down two goals twice.

"Once we got it to 5-4," Mason said, "I tried to lock it down as best I could. There's nights where you're not feeling as sharp as you'd like to.  … Coming back in a couple of days, from a personal standpoint, I got to be more sharp."

After going falling behind 2-0, the Flyers tied it, 2-2, with three goals in 72 seconds in the second period, the quickest three-goal burst since Feb. 14, 2009, vs. the Islanders. 

Then, the Flyers fell behind 5-3 before Voracek sparked a three-goal third period with his 10th of the year at 6:31. Claude Giroux tallied his second of the game, and Michael Raffl pushed the Flyers to victory with his sixth of the season at 18:31 of the final stanza.

"It's a great feeling to come back from behind," Flyers rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov said. "You never want to be in that position, but that's the way it sometimes go. We stuck with it and came from behind and won the game. It's a great effort."

Of the five goals allowed Thursday, the first goal Mason allowed was the only one that can be pinned on the netminder. It was not a great goal to give up, on the second shot of the game, too. Afterward, he said the read was the backdoor play, but Leon Draisaitl slipped it through Mason's five-hole for his fifth goal in as many games.

"Some nights you can be better than the other nights," Provorov said. "And that's what the team's all about. We play for each other. If someone has a mistake, we all help him out and play for each other. That's why we win games."

"That's how you become a great team," Voracek, who tied a career-high with four points, said. "Mase playing the last six games the way he did, it wasn't his night.

"We came big for him. It's how you get into the playoffs, and it's how you have success in the playoffs. It's a good thing we won the game and get rolling now."