Towards A More Perfect Union? Previewing Year Two in Chester

Towards A More Perfect Union? Previewing Year Two in Chester


Finally. After five long months the Union open their second season Saturday on the road against the Houston Dynamo (8:30PM, 6ABC). With an inaugural 8-15-7 record, the U have plenty of room for improvement. Quite simply, in the offseason they needed to address the two-headed problem of conceding too many goals and scoring too few.

They've allocated resources towards revamping their defense and tweaking their offense. Defensively, they kept just two clean sheets in league games last season. Even more alarming was the fact that they finished the year with a dismal -14 goal differential.

Offensively, their 35 goals scored was fifth worst in the MLS. Sebastien Le Toux (14 goals) and rookie Danny Mwanga (7) carried a disproportionate amount of the scoring load, combining to score 21 of the Union's 35 goals. It doesn't take Jose Mourinho to figure out that they need more balanced scoring.

So, what can you expect from Peter Nowak's club in Season Two?

Well, as mentioned you'll see new faces. Lots of new faces. On the flipside, some familiar faces have moved on. Here's a quick primer on some of the Union's key additions and subtractions.

Welcome to Chester: Faryd Mondragon (GK), Carlos Valdes (D), Carlos Ruiz (F), Brian Carroll (M), Zac MacMath (GK).

Thanks for Your Service: Chris Seitz (GK), Brad Knighton (GK), Michael Orozco-Fiscal (D), Shea Salinas (M), Alejandro Moreno (F), Fred (M), Andrew Jacobson (M).

The most striking thing about the transactions listed above is the turnover at the goalkeeper position. The Union jettisoned both Chris Seitz and Brad Knighton. Seitz' struggles between the sticks were well documented. Knighton was a slight upgrade, but not a standout. Enter Faryd Mondragon.

Mondragon, a 39 year old veteran of both the Bundesliga and the Colombian National Team, brings a much needed veteran presence to the team. Neither Seitz nor Knighton lacked size or athletic ability. They lacked experience and  confidence. Mondragon  has both and will have no problem barking at his back four and taking charge of his box.

Carlos Valdes, another Colombian international, should bring a bit more athleticism to the center back position. The combination of Orozco-Fiscal and Danny Califf was often shaky and uncertain. They allowed opposing players to turn too easily and were often caught out of position. The hope is that a Valdes-Califf pairing can make the center of the Union defense a strength.

Sheanon Williams provides some much needed pace from the outside back position. Jordan Harvey, who seemingly played every minute last season, should benefit from Mondragon's ability and willingness to organize his back line. Here's hoping we never have to see Harvey tracking back 90+ yards in an attempt to cover a blown assignment.

What did the Union do to address their shortcomings in the offensive third? Well, they brought in El Pescadito, Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz is a former MLS MVP, who has scored 82 career goals in MLS play. Although short and squat he plays as a target man and possesses a unique ability hold up play.

He's somewhat similar to Alejandro Moreno (both spend an inordinate amount of time picking themselves off the ground), except that unlike Moreno he's an accomplished goal scorer.

Adding Ruiz will enable Nowak to slot Le Toux in the hole behind Ruiz and Mwanga. Playing as an advanced midfielder Le Toux's ability to run all day will be that much more evident and effective. Ideally, Ruiz plays with his back to goal, holds up play, knocks balls to an oncoming Le Toux, and the Union are off to the races.

The most notable new face in the midfield belongs to Brian Carroll. Carroll, a veteran of 200+ MLS games, is reunited with Nowak, who coached him when both were with D.C. United.

He'll likely combine with some combination of Roger Torres (the most creative Union player), Justin Mapp (the biggest enigma), and either Stefani Miglioranzi (just a plain solid veteran) or Kyle Nakazawa (other than Le Toux the most dangerous in dead ball situations) in the midfield. Carroll should provide a steadying, calming, ball winning presence in the middle third.

My mancrush, Jack McInerney, has another year under his belt and will be a nice changeup to Ruiz in late game situations. Amobi Okugo should provide fresh legs to the central midfield. First round pick MacMath can ease his way into the lineup and learn from a veteran like Mondragon.

If you notice, the one consistent thread in the Union's offseason moves was to bring in veteran players who ply their trade through the middle of the pitch. Mondragon, Valdes, Carroll, and Ruiz all play in the middle of their respective third of the field.

Peter Nowak can now rely on seasoned professionals who have represented their national teams in the pressure cooker provided by international matches. Soccer is no different from any other sport in that you need to be strong in the middle. The moves they made should go a long way towards turning that weakness into an area of strength.

So, with all of that being said what's a fair expectation for the Union in their second campaign? I think it's realistic for them to contend for a playoff spot, cut down on the goals against, keep a few more clean sheets, and have more balanced scoring.

Season Prediction: I am not ready to definitively state that the Union will absolutely make the playoffs, but if they're able to improve their road record (they were just 2-12-1 away from the Linc/PPL Park) they should be in the mix come playoff time.

Instant Replay: Temple 86, Tulane 76 (2OT)

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Temple 86, Tulane 76 (2OT)

BOX SCORE

Temple snapped a three-game losing streak Saturday with an 86-76 double-overtime win over Tulane on Senior Day at the Liacouras Center.

Shizz Alston Jr. scored a putback layup with eight seconds left in regulation to even the Owls with the Green Wave at 65 and send the game to OT. In the first OT, Alston made two free throws with five seconds left to put Temple up, 71-68. But Tulane rolled the ball up the court and Malik Morgan made a deep three as time expired to send it to double OT.

The Owls (15-15, 6-11 AAC) scored seven quick points in just under two minutes in the second overtime that put them up 78-71, a lead Tulane (5-23, 2-14) could not recover from.

Turning point
The Owls jumped out to a 17-4 lead early in the first 4:25 of the game and had a 35-28 lead over Tulane at halftime. They looked to be in control for most of the game until the Green Wave outscored them, 19-11, to take a 47-46 lead with 11:31 left in the second half.

In the second OT, however, Temple outscored Tulane, 15-5, to seal the win.

Big men on campus
The Owls were led by by Alston's 25 points (10 for 10 at the free-throw line), eight rebounds and six assists. Senior Daniel Dingle had 13 points and eight rebounds. Mark Williams, another senior, had 20 points and six rebounds after fouling out in the second OT. Junior forward Obi Enechionyia added 14 points.

Tulane was led by junior Cameron Reynolds, who scored a team-high 21 points.

Inside the box score
• The Owls shared the ball well with 17 assists, compared to just eight by Tulane.

• Temple led for 42:23 of game time, with 13 being its largest lead in the first half.

History lesson
The Owls move on to 7-2 all-time against Tulane, winning six straight in the series.

Up next
Temple will end its season on the road at USF next Sunday afternoon.

Tulane will stay on the road and play at Memphis on Friday.

Ilya Bryzgalov warns Flyers fans to bring speedos to Heinz Field

Ilya Bryzgalov warns Flyers fans to bring speedos to Heinz Field

The last time the Flyers were in an outdoor game, Ilya Bryzgalov was drinking from a thermos on the bench while Sergei Bobrovsky started against the Rangers five years ago.

Fast forward to Saturday night. Bryzgalov is out of the NHL, Bobrovsky has himself in the conversation for his second Vezina Trophy in Columbus, and the Flyers face off against the  Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in a Stadium Series game … weather permitting.

The weather is expected to cooperate tonight, though. The forecast called for rain today and temperatures in the 50s, but it hasn't rained much. The temperature is expected to drop into the 40s and 30s, and may even hit a lot of 28, according to Weather.com.

Don't tell Bryzgalov that. "Bryz" took to Twitter to offer advice for Flyers and Penguins fans attending the Stadium Series match tonight.

You don't need no stinkin' thermos.

If you're not following Bryzgalov on Twitter, you should click that follow button now. He's always an entertaining follow.