Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

The Philadelphia Union are set to open their third season this afternoon, hosting the Colorado Rapids in a 4PM start. The faithful are preparing their tailgating gear or already on their way to Lot A or B, depending on how banged up they got celebrating a certain saint's feast day.
Rev has an in-depth preview of today's on-field action, and here are five parts of the fan experience we're looking forward to as the home schedule begins. 
5. Meet the New Kids
If there's one thing we've learned in our two seasons of MLS fandom, it's that we probably shouldn't get terribly used to the idea of individual players being around forever. MLS rosters endure a lot of turnover, and as we saw this off-season, it's not just the scrubs or mid-level players who come and go. 
This isn't strictly an MLS or Union thing, but the player shelf lives seem more transient because we know so little of them coming in (if anything), and there's not much time to get to know them before they're headed out in some cases. We did just have a clear example of what we might expect from a local team making some significant personnel changes though. Before the Flyers began their current season, no one had any idea what to expect from this year's team. Many of the guys we knew were gone. They weren't particularly old, but they were replaced by even younger players in most cases. So far, few would argue that the team has disappointed compared to last season's iteration. 
Will the same be true of the Union after allowing captain and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon head home and trading face of the franchise Sebastien Le Toux against his (and the fans') wishes? It's impossible to say at this point. There are signs the team could be more versatile and better built for the long-term, but also indications that long-term growth could come at the expense of contention this season. As we saw on Monday, there will be growing pains as this group gets to know each other. 
For now, as fans, it's time to turn the page and get to know the new guys and the players who will get more PT as a result of the roster changes. 

4. The MLS All-Star Game Comes to Chester
Growing up just outside of Chester and playing soccer as a young Delco kid, I never once imagined a soccer-specific stadium sitting beneath the Commodore Barry Bridge. Now, we drive down Kerlin Street every other week to the greenest patch of grass for miles. Because of the reception the MLS has received in the Philadelphia area since before they hung their shingle, the league has already awarded PPL Park an All-Star Game. We don't yet know what the sides will be, but we know that the league's focus will be on PPL Park this July 25 at 8PM. 
It's a telling acknowledgement of the fans and the franchise by a league looking to replicate this success in future expansion cities, as well as current MLS cities with weak or waning support and no soccer-specific stadium. 

3. Tailgating (and a note on parking changes)
The Union's schedule is mercifully weekend-heavy, making tailgating in the lots adjacent to the stadium ideal for us working stiffs. A change in the way parking is handled for 2012 could pose some challenges, with Lots A and B now reserved for only season-ticket holders who have requested and paid for full-season parking passes. The change here is that you can no longer park in these lots on a game-by-game cash basis. So, if you're a Lot A or B group, your friends without season tickets will have to park in Lot C, which is the southernmost lot and quite a hike from Lot A if they want to walk down and join you. 
The Union had to limit access to Lots A and B because demand from season ticket holders was high (season passes for them are sold out). As a Lot A resident, I can understand that. We would have been pretty upset if we weren't able to get our Lot A request filled. But, at least two carloads of our friends today will have to park in C and hoof it to A. That sucks, for sure, but it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times at the sports complex in South Philly either.  Admittedly, I'd be more upset if I were the one having to get in and out of Lot C, then drag a wheelie cooler halfway to New Hope. Private lots are also springing up around the stadium, but they are not run by the Union, and the team has been clear that they can't guarantee safety or acceptable conditions in lots they don't run. The Union lots are well-staffed and secure, in our experience. We don't know anything about the private lots yet, particularly where they fall on the Jetro-to-Scary Vacant Lot in Chester spectrum. 
Anyway, this was supposed to be about tailgating, not parking. But tailgating doesn't need much explanation. Battery-powered audio. Small grills. Kicking the ball around, throwing the frisbee, some ladders, washers… Gotta hurry up and finish this, get down there! 

2.  The Feeling of High Expectations 
A playoff berth in 2011 means only one thing—anything less will be considered a disappointment. Sound unreasonable? This is Philly sports. What's reason have to do with anything? 
After riding the wave at the top of the table a few times in 2011 and making that playoff appearance, the U have given us a glimpse at the potential for this to be a dominant franchise in the league. We didn't have to endure a long expansion process, or so we hope. The feeling of walking into the building expecting a win is something we've come to enjoy in Philly lately, but most of us know all to well the other end of it. Today, we'll get our ticket cards scanned and scream our way to the River End. 
Of course, with high expectations comes great fury when they aren't met. The Union got to see what the fanbase looks like when it's angry after Le Toux was traded away, and it wasn't pretty. But that energy can be quickly rerouted with the usual panacea—winning. 
It's now put-up time, when Peter Nowak and Company show us the fruits of their personnel plans. If not, the choruses will continue, but they won't be in such constant support as the franchise enjoyed in its first two seasons. We expect a winner now. 

1.  Getting the Band Back Together
Ten years out of college, life is very different. I work all week, don't go out on school nights nearly as often, feel the effects of long nights for more hours the next day than I'd like, and put a whole lot more stock into quieter nights at home and weekend afternoons with the family. It's increasingly easy to turn down plans to go out, and I don't even mind admitting it. 
But with that, you start to lose touch with good friends, and the gaps between meet-ups get longer every year. For this reason, getting season tickets to the Union was one of the best decisions I've made. Two tickets in 2010 meant that me and one of my oldest soccer-fan friends could enjoy a few beers and some rowdiness not far from home on a regular basis. Friends started to join us on a game-by-game basis, people who had never followed soccer and others who kept up with the National team during World Cup play and maybe some English Premier League. In 2011, a few had become season t
icket holders as well, and our group's size increased with more people coming to their first, second, third… Union games, buying individual tickets along the way. In the second year, Union home games became meeting places for a group of guys that always has fun together, but otherwise might not get together half as much without a set time and place when it's understood we'll all be there. 
This year, our group has again grown, with new full and partial season ticket holders, spouses, and family. My brother-in-law just called to arrange where to meet up when he walks with my 8-year-old nephew down from their first ever Union tailgate in Lot C to meet us in Lot A for a bit. 
The home opener is a bigger beast than the regular home schedule, which spans from now til the leaves turn. But every other week or so, we'll meet in the lot under the Barry Bridge, have a couple beers, make fun of each other for a few hours, and walk in. What happens after that doesn't make or break the day, but the more DOOP the better... 

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Flyers, at this point, should sell a few valuable veterans ahead of deadline

Dave Hakstol’s Flyers returned home from Vancouver on Monday not quite resembling conquering heroes.

Sure, they salvaged two points from their three-game trek to Western Canada, but for a team that supposedly sees itself as a wild card, that just ain’t gonna get it done.

The Flyers required at least four points — ideally, five — from the trip to give us some proof they’re a legit contender for the wild card.

Right now, their wild-card hopes remain on life support.

Yes, they’re only two points behind Toronto. Thing is, the field of wild-card contenders have officially caught up and even passed them.

When the Flyers left for the trip, they were even in points with the Maple Leafs while holding down the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto had the second wild card.

Hakstol's team is the 11-seed now. Toronto, Florida and the New York Islanders are ahead of them with games in hand.

This trip should offer enough evidence to general manager Ron Hextall that his team is still floundering.

There are no moves Hextall can initiate at the trade deadline that will guarantee a playoff spot without mortgaging the future.

Since their return from the All-Star break, the Flyers are 3-5-1. Those numbers don’t suggest they’re headed to the playoffs.

And even if the Flyers were to qualify as the second wild card, they would face a very early exit against the Washington Capitals.

Again.

At this point, with the March 1 NHL trade deadline staring Hextall in the face, he has to be a seller at the deadline.

If you trust Hextall’s long-term plan of patience, you understand that what this is about is preserving assets and preparing young players to be integrated into the system next year and the year after, and the year after that.

Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto are two unrestricted free agents who could help someone else right now.

Streit has been strong this season on the power play, which is his forte. He’s the perfect deadline rental.

Even if Hextall would like to have Streit’s veteran leadership on the blue line next season on a one-year, low salary to “tutor” Robert Hagg or Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim, he could still move Streit now and re-sign him later this summer.

Del Zotto, at 26, will get a nice return in draft picks or a prospect. Del Zotto is going to want a big contract this summer (he’s making $3.87 million now).

There’s no incentive for Hextall to go that direction given the sheer number of young, outstanding defensive prospects in the system that will be arriving shortly, all of whom come with very low salary cap hits.

Don’t blame Hextall for not getting involved in the Matt Duchene/Gabriel Landeskog saga that is going on in Colorado. GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot.

Hextall seems reluctant to part with any future prospects or young players just to get the same in return.

Much of the fan base has been saying for a while now it’s time to move team captain Claude Giroux. He's in the midst of his fourth consecutive season in which his numbers have declined, and in some respects, dramatically from his two best seasons — 2011-12 (93 points) and 2013-14 (86 points).

Yet there is no indication from Hextall or anyone in the Flyers' organization that such is even being contemplated.

Or that the organization feels Giroux’s leadership abilities have been assumed by Wayne Simmonds, who is arguably the most popular Flyer, two years running now.

Hextall still sees veterans such as Giroux, who is only 29, as a player who would help the transition of younger pups coming along — Travis Konecny, German Rubtsov, Nick Cousins, Jordan Weal, etc. — and he also believes Giroux can recapture his offense.

In short, Hextall is not going to tear his roster apart nor is he going to make a blockbuster trade next Wednesday. But he will likely try to sell veteran assets that make the team younger in some way.

Which is the correct thinking for the Flyers now and right into this summer, as well.

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

Why the Eagles should ignore big names and buy low at wide receiver

It won't be a surprise if the Eagles go after a big name wide receiver.

The team's receivers were a disaster last year. There's the fact that among the Eagles' receivers, Jordan Matthews' 11 yards per catch led the group (minimum 10 catches). Matthews' also led the receivers in touchdowns with four. The team dropped 24 Carson Wentz passes, the fourth-most for a quarterback last season.

So Alshon Jeffery or DeSean Jackson would be a no-brainer, right? Maybe not.

At the moment, the Eagles' cap situation isn't ideal. Surely they'll take a few more steps to clear space, but signing a high-priced receiver isn't the right way to allocate that money.

Jeffery and Jackson have their pros and cons. Jeffery had two elite seasons in 2013 and 2014, but his last two seasons have been mired by injuries and a PED suspension. Despite being 30, Jackson still has the ability to stretch the field, but his red flags are well-documented. According to Sprotrac, Jeffery is scheduled to become the sixth-highest paid receiver, while Jackson will be the 19th-highest paid.

Sure, there are other options. Veteran Kenny Britt enjoyed a renaissance season under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh in L.A. and he's still only 28. He's also coming off a 1,000-yard season and could cash in on that. There's also Kenny Stills, who is only 24 and coming off a season where he averaged 17.3 yards a catch and caught nine touchdowns for Miami. Terrelle Pryor is still learning the position but finished with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns for the Browns.

Any of those guys makes the Eagles' offense better immediately. But in reality, just about any decent receiver would make this group better. Howie Roseman is better off buying low in free agency and building the receiver corps through the draft.

CSNPhilly.com Eagles Insider Reuben Frank recently highlighted the lack of success the Eagles' have had in signing free-agent receivers. The list is basically Irving Fryar and a bunch of guys. While the occasional trade (Terrell Owens) has worked out, the Eagles have been better off drafting receivers.

Looking ahead to the draft, this receiver class is extremely deep. There may not be the elite talent of the 2014 receiver class, but there are plenty of intriguing players to explore. In the first round, Clemson's Mike Williams or Western Michigan's Corey Davis could be available to the Eagles. Oklahoma's Dede Westbrook or Eastern Washington's Cooper Kupp could be there in the second. Even in the middle rounds, guys like Louisiana Tech's Carlos Henderson, Western Kentucky's Taywan Taylor and ECU's Zay Jones could be impactful.

As far as free agents go, the Eagles have other options beyond the big names. Kamar Aiken of the Baltimore Ravens is an intriguing name. The 27 year old had a breakout 2015 (75 catches, 944 yards, five touchdowns) followed by a disappointing 2016 (29 catches, 328 yards, one touchdown). He lost snaps to a healthy Steve Smith, free-agent signee Mike Wallace and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman. The Eagles can buy low on Aiken and hope his production is similar to 2015.

Kendall Wright, also 27, had a breakout season in 2013 (94 catches, 1,079 yards) but has fought injuries and inconsistencies over the last few seasons in Tennessee. Then there's Brian Quick from the L.A. Rams, another 27 year old who hasn't quite put it together. He had a career year in 2016, hauling in 41 catches for 564 yards under new Eagles receivers coach Mike Groh.

The Eagles' best bet would be to take a flyer and buy low on one of these receivers and dig deep on this draft. Aiken or Wright and two rookies could help overhaul the position and create serious competition.

Can the Eagles count on Roseman to deliver the next Irving Fryar? The safer bet is him delivering the next DeSean Jackson... instead of the actual DeSean Jackson.