Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

The appetizer to your Memorial Day Soccer Saturday kicks off at 12:30 on Comcast SportsNet. It was such an amazing sentence to read that I couldn't resist lifting it directly from the MLS.com game preview..."Toronto FC remain home to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field".

Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. It even feels strange to type that. Yes, they are tied with New York (who has a game in hand) for first place, and technically are listed second in the standings thanks to goal differential, but the fact remains that ten games into the season the second year Union sit atop the table. Fairly remarkable, no?

In the course of preparing to write this I took a quick look at the Union's road record this season. Thus far they are 1-3-0 on the road. I wanted to compare their road futility with the other teams in the league to see how they stacked up away from home. What I saw was stunning.

If you had to guess how many of the 18 MLS teams had a winning record on the road what would you say? The answer? Three teams, LA 3-2-3, Real Salt Lake 2-1-1,and Chivas USA 2-1-2, are (barely) over .500 on the road.

How is that possible? What explains that? Honestly, I have no idea aside from the conventional soccer wisdom that road teams play more conservatively on the road in the hope of escaping with a point. Is the travel that rigorous? Are the home crowds that important? I mentioned this is an earlier post, and I have zero documentation to back it up, but I'd venture to say that those road numbers are even worse for teams traveling cross-country. Yes, I am making wild claims based on zero empirical evidence. Go with it.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, perhaps we should temper our expectations when the Union are away from PPL Park. Now, Toronto is not an elite MLS team. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, tied with D.C. United, with 12 points from 12 games. They bring a -6 goal differential into the match.

They are coming off a game where their leading scorer, Maicon Santos (3 goals on the season), came off the bench in the 60th minute. Similarly, in their last game they started an entirely new midfield. This is a team trying to figure out who they are and who can play where.

Yes, BMO Field used to be a very difficult place to play, but if the Union are going to earn some much needed road points this may be the spot to do it. This is particularly true considering that TFC just played a rain shortened game against Vancouver on Tuesday night as part of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

The Union are riding high after their offensive explosion (sarcasm) last week. For the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game. Both goals came off of dead ball situations. Michael Farfan flawlessly executed a textbook training ground corner kick. Carlos Ruiz put the Union ahead in style with that ridiculous golazo. It's wonderful that they executed on set pieces, but now the challenge will be to actually, you know, score some goals from the run of play.

The defense, playing in front of Faryd Mondragon, continues to be this team's strength. Although I hate to make yet another baseball comparison in a Union pregame post the fact remains that defense, like good pitching, will keep you in games and give you a chance to win each time out.

I'd imagine the first five names on Peter Nowak's team sheet each week are Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Harvey. The sixth is obviously Sebastien Le Toux, who along with Mondragon and Valdes, has played every minute of every game thus far. Le Toux = fitness.

You'd have to guess that after last week Ruiz is also going to be penciled into the lineup. Which brings us to the midfield, where there has been the most flux this season. Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Stefani Miglioranzi, the Farfan brothers...take your pick. No one has really put a stranglehold on a position. Last week it was Michael Farfan, Carroll, Okugo, and Mapp. This week? I have no idea. Perhaps coming off of a win this group will start together again.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Torres, Okugo, Carroll, Farfan, Le Toux, Ruiz.

Final Score Prediction: Just like pimpin' winning on the road aint easy. I see this one ending 1-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Let's go with Ruiz. It would be so him to follow up on that ridiculous goal from last week with a red card this week.

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

Joel Embiid unhappy with how Sixers handled injury updates

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid will miss the next four games and is slated to return March 3 against the Knicks in Philadelphia, so long as he is symptom-free. While Embiid wants to play as soon as possible, he’s just glad there is now a definitive timetable announced.

Prior to Thursday, the team had not announced a specific timeframe.

“I wasn’t too happy with the way it was kind of handled before,” Embiid said. “I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn’t happy with the way it was handled.

“I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I’m happy that they did that today and they said that I’m out for the next four games.”

Embiid suffered a left knee contusion on Jan. 22 against the Trail Blazers. He sat out three games and returned on Jan. 27 to play the Rockets. He has not played since then, sitting out the last eight games.

An MRI also revealed Embiid has a slight tear in his meniscus, which is not thought to be related to the contusion.

Embiid went through a full practice on Thursday for the first time, he estimated, in four or five weeks. (Wednesday’s practice was not intense.) According to the Sixers, they are encouraged by the progress Embiid showed but do not feel he is game-ready. Team doctors are holding him out the next four games to minimize the risk of aggravating his knee. In order for him to be cleared, Embiid has to be symptom-free.

Embiid had eyed a return on Friday against the Wizards because he was feeling well, he said, but he had some swelling on Thursday.

“No swelling, no pain, nothing,” Embiid said of his criteria to play.

Now the team -- and fans -- can move forward without daily questions of Embiid’s status.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” Brett Brown said. “For you all to understand, the people that buying a ticket to understand, for me as a coach to prepare my team that he’s not going to be here for four more games. I like that clarity. I’m fine with it. Obviously, you want him playing, but the mystery that surrounds that speculation I think is frustrating for people and we understand that.”

Embiid reiterated the patience aspect of the injury, noting he waited two years to rehab his foot and there is no need to rush his knee. Now everyone can be in the loop with his status.

“The end point is basically making sure I’m ready to play instead of just putting me out there,” Embiid said.

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

In Justin Anderson, Sixers get solid defensive wing who was buried in Dallas

On the surface, the Nerlens Noel trade doesn't look good.

The Sixers on Thursday traded the third-year big man to the Dallas Mavericks for forward Justin Anderson, center Andrew Bogut and a top-18 protected first-round pick. That first-rounder turns into two second-round picks if it doesn't convey in 2017. Yuck. And double yuck.

The only hope in this trade comes in Anderson. The former first-round pick has the look of a prototypical NBA wing. At 6-foot-6 with a nearly 7-foot wingspan, he has the frame to disrupt passing lanes and the bulk at 228 pounds to muscle up stronger swingmen.

At Virginia, Anderson was a key cog for a team that was ranked as high as No. 2 and earned a 2-seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. After that season, Anderson opted to forego his senior year and enter the NBA draft. He was selected 21st overall by the Mavericks in 2015.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett preaches defense and Anderson was one of his finest disciples in that regard. Offensive limitations and being a part of a balanced attack with the Cavaliers caused Anderson's stock to drop. Despite shooting 45 percent from three in his final season, Anderson was considered a streaky shooter and, frankly, that's remained the NBA.

His rookie season was one to forget. The Mavericks were competitive in the Western Conference, finishing as the 6-seed and losing to the Thunder in the first round. Anderson couldn't find his way into Rick Carlisle's rotation. Dallas' never-ending supply of point guards coupled with the sharpshooting duo of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons relegated Anderson to just 11.8 minutes a game his rookie season. In his limited time, he shot 41 percent from the field and 27 percent from three.

Unfortunately, it's been a similar story this season, but with some glimmers of hope. Anderson is still losing minutes to Matthews and also big free-agent acquisition Harrison Barnes, who's having a strong first season with the Mavs. But over a three-game stretch in late January, Anderson averaged 15.7 points and 4.3 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He also shot 6 of 16 (38 percent) from three during that span.

“I don’t want to sell myself short,” Anderson said to the Star-Telegram during that run. “I still think that I can be a really great player in this league, but I think it’s going to take a lot of hard work.

“I think [the early-season struggles] may be the best thing that’s happened to me in my career. All we can do is wait and just keep working hard, push through it and hopefully one day it’ll all pay off."

The most promising numbers in Anderson's young career are that he's averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes as a pro. At the very least, Anderson should develop into a solid defensive wing. If he develops offensively, who knows?

Per ESPN's Kevin Pelton, "Noel and Anderson (who just sneaks over the bar) are both among the 21 players in the league who have averaged 2.0 steals per 100 team plays and blocked 2.0 percent of opponent 2-point attempts or better in at least 500 minutes."

It's tough to argue that this trade was a good one for Bryan Colangelo. With that said, Anderson could still turn out to be a decent NBA player. He needs minutes and patience, two things the Sixers can offer in spades.