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Points by Suns’ Devin Booker during 130-120 loss to Celtics

With Villanova, Temple, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s involved in four Big Five games this upcoming week, we take a look at the City Six teams thus far and assess how well they’ll do the rest of the season. Villanova and La Salle are off to good starts, Temple looks better than last season, Saint joseph’s is walking a thin line between victory and defeat, and Drexel and Penn are struggling to get into the win column.

The news that Saint Joseph’s center C.J. Aiken was turning professional was lost in the frenzy of the NCAA Tournament. But not to Eric Fisher, who first wrote about Aiken when he was a 7-year-old boy battling cancer.

Eric Fisher grades the Sixers on their progress during the first half of this season. Who received a high grade? Who needs improvement? Read the story to find out.

Archive for the ‘Union’ Category

Union preview: Revamped midfield holds key

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 4 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Union took a big step last season by making the playoffs for the first time since 2011. However, the Union are still seeking the first playoff victory in franchise history. Will this be the year?

There always seems to be substantial turnover during the offseason for the Union, and this offseason fit that pattern. The Union brought in a new striker, a new starting midfielder and a new starting center back.

The Union appear to have plenty of depth, but you can’t put all of the players on the field at the same time. It’s up to manager Jim Curtin to make smart decisions regarding playing time and make the parts fit together.

Will the Union be better than the sum of its parts or will the parts fail to mesh? Let’s examine the 2017 Union.

GOALIE

This is the position of stability. Andre Blake was named the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year last season. Barring an injury to Blake, keeper should be a position of strength this season.

DEFENSE

The Union’s young defense received a jolt of experience with the addition of 34-year-old Oguchi Onyewu at center back. The question is whether Onyewu can remain healthy through the long season. Richie Marquez returns for his third season as a starter.

Keegan Rosenberry, who played every minute of every game last season, did not disappoint after being selected third overall in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. The runner-up for rookie of the year, Rosenberry returns as a starter this season. However, Josh Yaro, who was selected second overall in the last year’s draft, is expected to miss several months due to a dislocated shoulder. Fabinho, who made 29 starts last season, or Ken Tribett, who started 19 games last season as a rookie, could play important roles.

If Onyewu provides stability on the back line and young players such as Rosenberry and Marquez continue to develop – and if Yaro returns in top form – the Union’s defense could solid this season. If age catches up to Onyewu, though, the defense could unravel, putting more pressure on Blake to keep the score down.

MIDFIELD

Add Tranquillo Barnetta and Vincent Nogueira to the long list of supposed midfield saviors for the Union. Barnetta returned to Switzerland after the season. Nogueira left in the middle of the season, and his departure was a major factor in the Union’s decline during the latter part of the season. Maurice Edu was supposed to be another midfield savior, but the 30-year-old starts 2017 on the sidelines, not fully recovered from the injuries that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season.

The Union is counting on Alejandro Bedoya to elevate the midfield this season. He should receive some assistance from Haris Medunjanin. Bedoya, who will turn 30 in April, only produced one goal (and no assists) in 10 games after being added to the roster last season. The Union is hoping that a full training camp will translate to improved production from Bedoya, who will serve as team captain.

Medunjanin, 31, is being counted upon to bring experience and quality to midfield. But, as we’ve seen in recent years, sometimes it’s difficult for a new midfielder to make a smooth transition into a new system for a new team.

Isinho and 20-year-old Derrick Jones could make important contributions, and veteran Brian Carroll always seems to resurface in a key situation every season. The challenge for Curtin is finding playing time for Roland Alberg, who scored nine goals last season despite making just 13 starters. How willing will Curtin be to pull a starter in order to get Alberg on the field to produce a spark?

FORWARD

C.J. Sapong scored seven goal last season, but he may be challenged for playing time at striker by newcomer Jay Simpson, who comes to the Union from England. Chris Pontious led the Union in scoring last season with 12 goals. Fabian Herbers, who registers three goals and seven assists last season despite making just 13 starts, could provide a spark, as could Fafa Picault.

OUTLOOK

The Union appear to have more scoring potential than it has in recent seasons, but there are major questions at midfield and on defense. The Union are developing young defenders such as Rosenberry, Marquez and the injured Yaro, but there could be growing pains, especially if Onyewu’s health doesn’t hold up. Blake can’t be expected to bail out the defense on a regular basis.

The key to the Union’s season may be the midfield. Will Bedoya be more comfortable than he seemed during the 10 games he played last season? Will Medunjanin make a difference or will he become the latest in the long line of promising midfielders who come through the Union’s revolving door and depart after one or two seasons.

The midfield provides the transition from defense to offense. How well the midfield controls the game and provides that transition could be the crucial element with regard to the Union’s chances of returning to the playoffs and notching the franchise’s first Major League Soccer playoff victory. It would be helpful if the Union jump out to a fast start, as they did last season, while avoiding the late-season slump they endured last season.

Prediction: The Union return to the playoffs for the second straight season, but fail to secure the franchise’s first postseason win.

 

Union preview: When will future arrive?

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 6 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

Perhaps this will be the year.

Perhaps this will be the year that all of the offseason tinkering finally brings the Union back to the playoffs.

Or not.

The Union can’t be overly sensitive to a sense of skepticism regarding their offseason overhaul. Although some see the glass as half full and enthusiastically embrace the changes, others say we’ve seen and heard all of this before.

Fernando Aristeguieta, Ethan White, Steven Vitoria and Andrew Wenger were among the additions who were supposed to make a difference during the past two years. None of them are still on the Union roster.

The Union have not reached the postseason since 2011. That’s difficult to do in Major League Soccer, where six of the 10 teams in each division make the playoffs.

One difference this year is that the offseason acquisitions were made by new sporting director Earnie Stewart. The Nick Sakiewicz regime is over, so it’s not fair to taint Stewart with the skepticism that Sakiewicz’s moves deserved.

Having said that, there are still a lot of things that need to go right for the Union to do well this season.

Let’s take a look at the revamped roster.

GOALIE

After two seasons of stops and starts, partly due to injuries, Andre Blake, the top pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, is the Union’s starting goalkeeper. The Union traded Zac MacMath last year, cut ties with Rais Mbolhi, ending the disastrous tenure, and have relegated John McCarthy to Blake’s backup. Just in case Blake’s knees cause him difficulty again this season, the Union picked up veteran goalie Matt Jones on line from a Portugal club.

DEFENSE

The Union have touted numerous defenders as anchors or budding stars for their back line. Few have panned out. Sheanon Williams regressed, Amobi Okago was traded, Ethan White never panned out … and I could go on and on.

Three starters (Raymon Gaddis, Fabino and Richie Marquez) return from a defense that allowed 55 goals, but there is also significant turnover. The Union used the second and third overall picks in this year’s MLS SuperDraft to select Joshua Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry. They used the 23rd overall pick to select Taylor Washington.

Drastic changes may not occur this year, but they are coming. The Union didn’t draft three defenders, including two within the draft’s first three picks, for nothing.

Yaro and Rosenberry are clearly part of the future, but it remains to be seen if they’re part of the present. If they’re not ready, the unheralded Ken Tribbett (a Drexel product) and Anderson Conceicano could fill the gaps this season.

Marquez had a promising rookie year and, hopefully, will continue to develop, but the Union don’t have a true stopper on their back line. The Union defense is built for the future. It’s far from certain, however, that the future is now.

MIDFIELD

The midfield is supposed to be the strength of the Union. That was also supposed to be true last season, but it’s likely that the Union open the season with an entirely new starting midfield.

Cristian Maidana, who led the Union with 15 assists, is gone. Maurice Edu, arguably the Union’s best player last season, is recovering from surgery to repair a sports hernia.  Vincent Nogueira appears to be a forgotten man. Maidana, Edu and Nogueira formed the highly touted starting midfield at the beginning of last season. Even backup Zach Pfeffer, a homegrown product who seemed to be coming into his own, was traded during the offseason.

In their places are offseason acquisitions Chris Pontius and Roland Alberg, and Tranquillo Barnetta, who was acquired during the 2015 season. Barnetta’s knees are causing him problems, so he will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by Ilsinho. Holdovers included Brian Carroll and 19-year-old Eric Ayuk, who provided a spark at times last season, but the mainstays in the midfield are new faces.

Will the latest version of the Union’s midfield be any better than last year’s version, which was also supposed to be the strength of the team? We’ll find out soon.

FORWARDS

This might be the biggest question mark for the Union. C.J. Sapong, the team’s leading goal scorer (9) returns. The Union have to hope Sapong can avoid the injury issues that cut into his playing time last season. Sebastien Le Toux (8 goals, 6 assists) returns, but one has to worry if age will start to catch up to the 32-year-old veteran.

Fabian Herbers is the other forward with experience, leaving the Union extremely thin on their front line.

OUTLOOK

Switching to American football for a moment, the Eagles have discovered the pitfalls of bringing in a bunch of players and hoping they will quickly become a cohesive unit. The Union may learn the same lesson this season.

Even if the midfielders’ talent matches the hype, they will need time to mesh their games to produce a whole that’s greater than the sum of their parts. Keeping in mind that the midfielders are being counted upon to serve as the strong link between a young defense and a thin forward line, that’s a lot to ask of players trying to adjust to new teammates and surroundings.

Because the bar for making the postseason isn’t set very high in MLS, there is a chance that the Union could end their playoff drought. But it would take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

With so many new parts, it’s unlikely that everything will go smoothly this season. A playoff berth should be a goal, but the true measure of the Union’s offseason moves will be if they’re a better team during the second half of the season than they are during the first half.

If they’re not any better during the second half, then manager Jim Curtin might be the next victim of Stewart’s team makeover during his first year as sporting director.

 

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