Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

By Steve Moore

Do you know who Bakary Soumare is?

If you’re a dedicated Union fan, you know he’s
the (really) big defender with lingering knee problems who barely played
after signing last summer (one league start). If you’re a casual fan
who didn’t pay much attention in August and September as the floundering
Union played out the string, then you’re likely still trying to pronounce
it.

He’s also the reason the Union don’t have a first-round
pick in this month’s MLS SuperDraft.

Instead of picking fifth and snapping up one of five
Generation Adidas players – players who sign with MLS before the draft
to pricier contracts than other rookies and don’t count against the
salary cap – manager John Hackworth and the Union will sit out the
first round before picking 26th and 29th overall.

The team shipped its first-round pick to Vancouver
so it could move to the top of the allocation order and sign Soumare,
6-foot-4 center back who now must fight for a starting spot with new
signing Jeff Parke (just called up to the U.S. National Team camp),
2012 MLS All-Star Carlos Valdes and one of last year’s lone bright
spots in midfielder-turned-defender Amobi Okugo.

Soumare’s role coming out of next month’s training
camp in Florida could provide some early insight into Hackworth’s
plans. If he’s healthy and competes for a center back spot, Okugo
could move forward into a holding midfielder position. The 21-year-old
(and No. 6 overall pick in 2010) was great last year alongside Valdes,
but it was his awareness and positioning that impressed the most –
skills that easily translate into his more natural midfield position.

As for Parke, the Abington native will turn 31 in
March, and has been one of the league’s top center backs for years,
most recently with Seattle. In a (read: my) perfect world, he would
start alongside Valdes in the middle, with Sheanon Williams locked in
on the right. Gabriel Farfan played on the left much of last year, but
often seemed lost, and may be better suited in the midfield or, ideally,
as a utility piece off the bench. Part of me thinks the starting left
back for the March 2 opener against Sporting Kansas City (get your long
johns ready) is not yet on the roster.

So, unless the whispered
Valdes-loan/sale-to-Colombia
turns out to be true,
Soumare seems to be nothing more than a big man taking up a seat on
the bench.

Depth is great, and real competition for starting
spots is even better. But defenders almost always go 90 minutes (barring
injury), and this is not Europe, where teams can be involved in four
competitions and play two or three games in a week.

With the semi-uncertainty about Valdes’ future
– reports are out there that Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe wants
him on a loan (or more)
– Soumare could possibly
still find a steady role with the Union. But in the small-salary world
of MLS, Soumare’s $240,000 base salary is a steep price
to pay for a little bit of defensive depth (especially when Freddy Adu
is making $400,000 or more).

Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz have spent most of
the winter cleaning up from the disaster that was Peter Nowak’s ego
– both on the field, and in the minds of fans and paying customers.
So far, it seems to be working, as the mindset on my Union-heavy Twitter
timeline (@smoore1117) is closer to the excitement of 2011
than the expletive-laden vitriol of 2012.

Soumare’s place in the squad may not be as sexy
a topic as the return of Sebastien Le Toux, the signing of Conor Casey,
the team’s inability to score goals, or the enigma that is Freddy
Adu. But it could prove to be an early indicator of the team’s fate
in 2013.

*

Thanks to Enrico and The Level for letting me help out with Union
coverage this year. I’ve been a Union season ticket holder from the
start, and, like many “soccer nerds”, we are very particular about
news coverage of the sport and our team. This site has treated the Union
fairly from the start, and not as some novelty act. I hope to provide
intelligent soccer talk for the die-hards, while also helping the casual
fan keep up with the ins-and-outs at PPL Park. Feel free to compliment,
critique or criticize. Just promise you’ll try a little harder than
“no one cares about soccer,” OK?

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

ap-bol-bol.jpg
AP Images

Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

Bol Bol, the 17-year-old son of the late Manute Bol, is a top high school basketball prospect with offers from schools like Arizona, Kansas and Creighton. This highlight tape should give you an idea why.
 
Bol, whose father played in the NBA for parts of 12 seasons, including 215 games for the Sixers, now attends the famed Mater Dei High School in California and played in his first game of the season this past weekend. Listed as the No. 16 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class by Scout, Bol started his season off with a big 21-point, 10-rebound effort.
 
Take a look at the highlight tape from the 6-foot-11 Bol and expect to see him carry on his father’s legacy on the court at a major NCAA college basketball program soon.