Vote: The700Level's Philadelphia Union 2011 Regular Season Awards

Vote: The700Level's Philadelphia Union 2011 Regular Season Awards

The Philadelphia Union will begin their first ever playoff series against the Houston Dynamo this weekend, with game 1 in Chester on Sunday. Before the playoffs make or break what should be considered a fantastic run no matter what, we thought we would take the pulse of Union fans on what were the best and brightest moments and players on the pitch this regular season.

MVP
OK we're not going to vote for an actual Most Valuable Player, because it's Sebastien Le Toux, hands down. But who would be the Union's Second Most Valuable Player?

Who is the Union's Second MVP?
Brian Carroll, Faryd Mondragon, Sheanon Williams, Carlos Valdes

Who is the Union's Second MVP?

Top Newcomer
This goes to the Union player who wasn't with the club last year. This being the MLS, there were quite a few to choose from. We're not going to list them all, but here are a few.

Who was the Union's Top Newcomer?
Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel, Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan, Faryd Mondragon, Veljko Paunovic, Zac MacMath, Carlos Valdes
Who was the Union's Top Newcomer?

Best of the Backline
The Union back line went from inaugural year weakness to second year strength. The defense conceded 13 fewer goals this season, despite playing four more games.

Who was the Union's best defender?
Danny Califf, Gabriel Farfan, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams
Who was the Union's best defender?

Most Improved
Which Union player showed the most improvement during the 2011 campaign compared to 2010?

Who was the most improved member of the Union?
Danny Califf, Amobi Okugo, Kyle Nakazawa, Roger Torres, Sheanon Williams
Who was the most improved member of the Union?

Sub of the Year
The MLS season runs for 34 games over eight long months. A successful team must have quality depth and the ability to shift tactics and players on the fly. The quality of the players coming off of the substitutes bench goes a long way towards determining a team's success. These Union players were the key contributors off the bench.

Who was the best off the bench?
Danny Mwanga, Roger Torres, Kyle Nakazawa, Jack McInerney, Freddy Adu
Who was the best off the bench?

Most Disappointing
With the team improving from 8-15-7 to 11-8-15, a 17-point swing over four more games, it feels a little counterproductive to seek out the players who could or should have been better along the way. But, here are a few we expected more from.

Whose performance was most disappointing?
Juan Diego Gonzalez, Justin Mapp, Danny Mwanga, Carlos Ruiz
Whose performance was most disappointing?

Most Likely to Make the Jump Next Year
Take one look at the Union roster and you can see they place an emphasis on identifying and acquiring youth. The roster is littered with talented young players who have gained significant experience this season. These are the players we feel are most likely to make the leap and break out next season.

Which Union player is most likely to be an MLS star next year?
Michael Farfan, Gabriel Farfan, Jack McInerney, Danny Mwanga, Zach Pfeffer, Roger Torres, Sheanon Williams **(We had to reset the poll below due to two players being left off that were intended to be on. The votes on this poll have been restet as well; please feel free to cast yours again if you have already.)***
Which Union player is most likely to be an MLS star next year?

So that's our completely scientific poll of the field of Union players deserving of consideration for 2011 regular season awards. In the comments, please feel free to let us know who you voted for, why, and whether we omitted anyone deserving in any category. It wasn't easy to fit so many players into these subjective categories, so there's bound to be a few.

Compiled by Rev and Matt P.

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

As the rain poured down on him, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive lineman lumbered off the field at Villanova Stadium, a picture of dripping wet intimidation.

And then he spoke.

“I don’t really like the rain,” the Villanova senior said softly.

Then, he thought about the Wildcats’ trip to freezing South Dakota for a second-round FCS playoff matchup with South Dakota State on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN3).

“I don’t like the cold, either.”

Meet Tanoh Kpassagnon, a quiet, articulate, intellectual business school student who doubles as one of the fiercest football players in Villanova history and a big-time NFL Draft prospect.

“He’s a bit of an anomaly,” Villanova defensive line coach Joe Trainer said. “He almost has that California chill mode to him. One of the first thing I tell scouts is he’s not that alpha male who’s gonna come up and go, ‘Hey, dawg, what’s going on, man?’ He’s going to wow you physically but he’s not gonna come out of his skin with personality. A lot of times people initially mistake that for softness but he definitely has an understated toughness and hardness about him that has served him well.”

It’s also served Villanova well as the No. 9 Wildcats rode their gentle giant to an 8-3 regular-season record, their sixth playoff berth in nine years and an opening-round 31-21 win over Saint Francis last week.

One of the top defensive players in the Football Championship Subdivision, Kpassagnon was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and recently earned an invite to January’s Reese’s Senior Bowl. He led the league in the regular season with 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, while adding two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one blocked kick and a touchdown.

And his stock may continue to rise with a good performance in Saturday’s Top 10 showdown against No. 7 South Dakota State.

“It’s more TV time, just showing we’re good as a team,” he said when asked about the extra playoff exposure. “I was just talking to the Sauce Squad — that’s what we call the defensive line — about our goals for the year and we had nothing except a national championship on our mind. That’s something that’s been ingrained in our minds, and we’re gonna do everything we can right now in order to reach it.”

The fact that Kpassagnon quickly turned the attention from himself to the team is indicative of how he’s handled his growing reputation around the country. According to Trainer, scouts from every NFL team have been to a Villanova practice or game at least twice this year with most teams coming three times. There have even been four or five NFL general managers at Villanova Stadium to see Kpassagnon, who retiring head coach Andy Talley has called “probably the greatest player we’ve ever had” in his 37 years at the helm.

But while calling the presence of scouts “nice,” Kpassagnon also said he “doesn’t really think about it too much” — at least not until the season ends.

“He’s a very grounded guy,” Trainer said. “The greatest compliment I can give him in terms of non-measurables is he’s as consistent of a player as I’ve ever been around. I mean that not in a performance standpoint but in a life standpoint. A lot of times young kids today are really high and then really low. He’s just steady as the day is long, and he takes everything in stride. His mom and dad have done a great job with him.” 

It’s also because of his parents, both of whom originally hail from Africa, that Kpassagnon isn’t laser focused on the NFL. His mother is a chemical scientist and his father an economist and both stressed education above sports. He never even watched any sports as a kid and didn’t begin playing football until the sixth grade.

Later, he morphed into a three-sport star at Wissahickon High, playing basketball and running track on top of his blossoming football career. But he never took his eyes off the books. A finance major with minors in accounting and entrepreneurship in the Villanova School of Business, he already has four job offers to go along with very good grades. And he likes to study the game of football too, taking pride in maybe finding things that others can’t on film.

“They have a highly skilled backfield but I’ve been paying attention to their line mostly, trying to see their tendencies, trying to see if they have any tells,” Kpassagnon said of the South Dakota State offense. “I think I picked up on a couple.”

He laughed, then added: “I’ll keep that a secret for now.”

No matter what happens Saturday in South Dakota, it’s clear that the secret on Kpassagnon is out. And judging by how much he’s been scouted — and his place on several mock drafts — it’s not a question of if he gets drafted but what round.

“I think he’s the best prospect that this league has ever had in all of my time here,” said Trainer, who coached at Villanova from 1997 to 2004 before becoming the head coach at Millersville and then Rhode Island, returning to ’Nova in 2014. “He’s a special talent whose best football is ahead of him. And he’s not even close to his ceiling.”

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

The Sixers (4-14) will tip off against the Orlando Magic (7-12) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Floored
Let's try this again.

The Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center court for the first time since Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of moisture on the floor.

While the Sixers were frustrated that they couldn't face the Kings, the team was also happy that player safety was made the top priority in the postponement decision.

"It was disappointing not to play," head coach Brett Brown said after practice on Thursday. "It got to a stage the longer that it went and it was being prolonged and prolonged, I'm glad that ultimately we didn't play."

2. Rested and ready
The postponement of Wednesday's game means the Sixers haven't played since Monday's road loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Center Joel Embiid should be even more rested than his teammates since he didn't make the trip north of the border because it was the second game of a back-to-back set.

When Embiid does return to action Friday against the Magic, he will have a little more freedom. The NBA's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had his minutes restriction raised from 24 to 28 earlier this week.

That should only mean good things for Embiid, who turned in a strong effort when the Sixers faced off against the Magic earlier this season. Embiid recorded 18 points and 10 boards for his first-ever double-double in a 103-101 loss to Orlando back on Nov. 1.

3. Protection plan
Perhaps Embiid's bump in minutes will help the Sixers better protect the paint this time around.

During the season's first meeting, in which the Sixers blew an 18-point lead, the Magic scored a massive 60 points in the paint. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka led the way with 45 combined points.

The Sixers can't allow that type of production inside, especially from a team that ranks 25th in the league with an average of 39.5 points in the paint per game.

4. Injuries
Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Former Sixer Jodie Meeks (foot) is a game-time decision for the Magic.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost three straight to the Magic.

- Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

- Dario Saric scored a career-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting in the season's first clash.