Union make moves on draft day, scare the hell out of their starting goalkeeper

Union make moves on draft day, scare the hell out of their starting goalkeeper

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College soccer is not like football or basketball. Only the nerdiest soccer-heads have seen most of these guys play, so evaluating how a Major League Soccer team does on draft day is damn near impossible.

Andre Blake walks on stage after being selected by the Philadelphia Union Thursday.

I'm no expert on that front, so I listen to a few people who are. One of them is Ives Garlacep, who posted his final "Big Board" yesterday before Thursday's MLS Superdraft (held in Philadelphia).

The Philadelphia Union entered the draft with the No. 2 pick and No. 6 pick in the first round, and two second-round picks. By day's end, the Union left with three of Garlacep's top nine players, and (I can only assume) more allocation money they they started with.

They also have a very frightened and/or motivated starting goalkeeper (more in a minute).

The Union sent some allocation money to D.C. United to jump into the No. 1 spot. There they took UConn goalkeeper Andre Blake. The Jamaican international actually joined his national team for a few World Cup qualifiers in 2013 (didn't play) and, according to all the experts, was far and away the most talented, pro-ready player in the draft. Garlacep had high praise:

"Best talent in the draft. Considered the best goalkeeping prospect in a decade."

Many fans were confused by two things:

  • Why pay money to jump up a spot when D.C. United made it pretty clear they had no interest in taking Blake? Why not just take him second?
  • Don't the Union already have a starting goalkeeper in Zac MacMath?

Answer No. 1: It seems that Vancouver was pushing hard to trade into the top spot to take Blake. So D.C. United had leverage, even if it was never going to take Blake.

Answer No. 2 is more complex. Yes, the Union have MacMath, who had a strong season in 2013 after a slowish start. MacMath seemed confused by the pick as well, and apparently let his agent know it at the Convention Center.

But, a few things to remember: It is NEVER a bad draft strategy to simply take the most talented player in the draft, regardless of need. And by all accounts, Blake was far and away the best player in an otherwise "eh" draft class.

Two, Blake is a Generation adidas player. This means the league agreed to terms with him before the draft, and his salary does not count toward the Union's salary cap. Players "graduate" from the program after a year or two, but it could be longer if Blake doesn't play right away.

Three, the Union have no backup goalkeeper right now, and MacMath's play improved last year after the team brought in a proven backup. And, if Blake proves as strong as people say, maybe he earns the job and MacMath is a valuable trade piece.

To move up and get Blake, the Union sent the always ambiguous "allocation money" to D.C. United. In its simplest terms, allocation money is just money going from one team to another, except that it originally came from a league-funded pool of cash. We don't get to know exactly how much money the Union paid (at least not yet), but the team then turned around and traded down from No. 6 to No. 10, and then from No. 10 to No. 15. In both of those deals, they got allocation money back. I can only assume they either broke even or made a net gain in the wallet.

At No. 15, the team drafted Brazilian Pedro Ribeiro, a huge (6-foot-4) midfielder from Coastal Carolina University. Ribeiro was the No. 6 player on Garlacep's "Big Board:"

"The tall Brazilian playmaker is impressive on the ball, and can pass as well as anyone in this draft, but conerns about his ability to be a 90-minute player in the pros"

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In the second round, the Union filled two big needs by taking midfielder Kevin Cope out of Michigan State and left back Robbie Derschang from Akron.

Also Thursday:

  • Union brass indicated that talks are still ongoing with Maurice Edu, and that the rumor that the league "blocked" the move was untrue. John Hackworth is optimistic, saying to ESPN, "I think something very good is going to come out of it."
  • The Union claim they were in hard on Michael Bradley, who signed with Toronto.
  • The team announced the signing of Argentine midfielder Cristian Maidana as a designated player, who has spent the last day responding to tweets welcoming him to Philadelphia (he doesn't speak much, if any, English). It's a promising move in my opinion, as the team resisted the urge to sign a "name" designated player just to appease people. And at just 26 years old, Maidana is definitely in his "prime."

The rest of the draft wraps up next Tuesday, and the Union are slated to pick four more times.

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

Sixers-Clippers 5 things: Big men, minus Joel Embiid, in the spotlight

The Sixers (15-27) on Tuesday night open their latest back-to-back set against the LA Clippers (30-16) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Missing in action
The Sixers are used to Joel Embiid missing at least one game of back-to-back sets. However, they will have to forge ahead without him in both contests coming up on consecutive days.

Embiid will miss the Sixers' games on Tuesday and Wednesday after suffering a left knee contusion in the team's 93-92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. The matchups will mark three straight absences for the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he was sidelined for the Sixers' blowout loss in Atlanta to the Hawks on Saturday night.

The Sixers haven't exactly been able to survive without Embiid's production this season. They are 2-10 minus the Rookie of the Year frontrunner and have allowed 106.5 points in those games.

Brett Brown challenged his team to perform better — particularly on defense — during this upcoming stint without Embiid.

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said after practice Monday. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens, really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

2. The Blake Show is back
While the Sixers will be without their star big man in Tuesday's tilt, the Clippers are expected to get one of theirs back in their lineup.

Blake Griffin is likely to return to action against the Sixers after missing 18 games following right knee surgery.

Griffin was averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds this season as the Clippers jumped out to a 20-6 record. Griffin underwent an arthroscopic procedure to remove loose bodies from the knee on Dec. 19, and the Clips have recorded just a 10-8 mark since.

With fellow superstar Chris Paul now sidelined with an injured thumb, getting the five-time All-Star Griffin back should be a major boost for the Clippers.

3. Take care
The Clippers may not be the force they once were in the open court (15th in the NBA with 12.7 fastbreak points per game this season), but that doesn't mean they still can't revert to their Lob City ways in the blink of an eye.

That could be the case on Tuesday if the Sixers continue to turn the ball over at such an alarming rate.

The Sixers, who are last in the league with 17.1 turnovers per game, have somehow been even worse during this recent string of success. They have committed 19.4 turnovers a night over the last five games and 17.8 during the last 10 contests.

The Sixers have been able to survive thanks to their active defense creating opportunities on offense and some clutch shooting. However, with Embiid sidelined and facing a Clippers team that ranks in the top five in field-goal and three-point percentage, those miscues may come back to haunt the Sixers.

4. Injuries
Okafor (knee) is probable. Embiid (knee), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

Griffin (knee) is probable. Paul (thumb) and Brice Johnson (back) are out for the Clippers.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost nine straight games to the Clippers.

• Ersan Ilyasova is averaging 17.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during January.

• DeAndre Jordan has averaged a double-double of 11.3 points and 12.8 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

Scouting reports: Villanova-Marquette and St. Joe's-St. Bonaventure

Scouting reports: Villanova-Marquette and St. Joe's-St. Bonaventure

Two City 6 schools are in action Tuesday night. Let’s take a closer look at the matchups.

No. 1 Villanova (19-1, 7-1 Big East) at Marquette (13-6, 4-3 Big East) 
8 p.m. at BMO Harris Bradley Center on FOX Sports 1

Last time out
Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins combined for 44 points, as No. 1 Villanova won its fifth straight game Saturday afternoon, dispatching Providence, 78-68, at the Wells Fargo Center in a game that four Wildcats scored 10 or more points, three or more assists and three or more rebounds. After the game, Villanova head coach Jay Wright opened up about the Wildcats’ “constant challenge” of a national championship hangover and how ‘Nova has overcome it (see story).

Marquette is coming off a 102-94 upset win Saturday over No. 7 Creighton in the second game of a difficult three-game stretch against top-25 teams. Last Monday, the Golden Eagles fell, 88-80, to No. 13 Butler, and tonight, they tip off against the top team in the nation.

Scouting report
While Wright admitted the Wildcats are fighting through a championship hangover, it might not seem that way if you take a look at the scores during their current five-game winning streak.

Villanova won by an average of 18 points during the streak, including a 25-point win over then-No. 15 Xavier and a 30-point win over Seton Hall. Jenkins has scored over 15 points and shot 50 percent or better from three in four out of the five games.

Marquette started off the year 10-3, but has seen a drop-off since. Entering tonight, the Golden Eagles have lost three of their last six games, including one to Villanova on Jan. 7.

The Golden Eagles rank second in the Big East in points per game at 84.6, and lead the conference in three-point percentage at 41. They have five players averaging double digits, with Jajuan Johnson leading the way with 13 points per game and Markus Howard at 12.8 ppg.

What it means
With a victory, Villanova would extend its win streak before its matchup with No. 12 Virginia on Sunday afternoon.

A win for Marquette would help its résumé for the NCAA Tournament. It currently has an RPI ranking of 53, and a victory over ‘Nova would give its profile a significant boost.

History
This will be the second of two meetings between the two schools this season, as Villanova beat Marquette back on Jan. 7 in its first game after its first loss of the season — a 66-58 defeat to then-No. 18 Butler on Jan. 4. The Wildcats shot a season-best 60 percent from three against Marquette in the victory, with Jenkins shooting 6 of 9 from downtown and scoring a game-high 23 points.

What’s next
Villanova takes on No. 12 Virginia at 1 p.m. Sunday on FOX. 

Marquette will face Providence at home Saturday.

St. Joe's (9-9, 2-4 A-10) at St. Bonaventure (12-6, 4-2 A-10)
7 p.m. at the Reilly Center on TCN

Scouting report
The Hawks have lost four of their last six games entering tonight, and with Shavar Newkirk out for the season with a torn ACL, Lamarr Kimble and James Demery have become St. Joe’s primary scorers, averaging 14.7 and 14.9 points, respectively.

Charlie Brown is coming off a stretch that earned him A-10 Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season. The freshman is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds over his previous two games, and scored a career-high 19 points against Penn last Saturday. 

But, the Hawks will have their hands full with St. Bonaventure's backcourt. For the Bonnies, Jaylen Adams averages 21.8 points, while Matt Mobley averages 19.9 points. St. Bonaventure also leads the A-10 in scoring, averaging 81.6 points.

History
The Hawks fell to St. Bonaventure, 98-90, last season at the Reilly Center. St. Joe’s had five players in double figures but it wasn’t enough, as Marcus Posley put up a game-high 47 points. 

But, the Hawks will be without four of those five players that put up double figures last March. DeAndre’ Bembry declared for the NBA draft, Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown both graduated and Newkirk tore his ACL in December. The Hawks will need to count on Kimble, the one player the Hawks have who scored double figures against St. Bonaventure last season.

What’s next
St. Joe’s will take on La Salle in a Big 5 matchup at Hagan Arena on Saturday.

St. Bonaventure plays Rhode Island Saturday afternoon.