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Consecutive playoff series won by Penguins

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Sixers’ pursuit of the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, why this should also be a good draft week for the Flyers, and reports that Nelson Agholor had a good minicamp.

The 76ers will get to test themselves against three division leaders in the Eastern Conference — and the Cavaliers — during a challenging week. Eric Fisher also examines Robert Covington’s ascension, Joel Embiid’s antics and T.J. McConnell’s value.

After his game-winning hit Sunday against the Mets, Ryan Howard said the Phillies are headed in the right direction, but Eric Fisher says if The Big Piece is correct, it’s only because they’re so bad that they have nowhere to go except up. Eric also reviews Charlie Manuel’s induction into the Phillies Wall of Fame, questions why older players are starting late in the season and wonders if a Phillies pitcher will win 10 games.

Archive for the ‘Union’ Category

Union preview: New additions may pay off

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 3 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Writing the Union season preview induces feelings of déjà vu. Every year the Union seems to add a midfielder, a forward to improve their speed and scoring, and a defender. Every year the speculation is whether the additions will mesh with the remaining pieces, and whether that will produce a playoff berth and, possibly, the franchise’s first postseason victory.

The 2018 season isn’t an exception.

The Union officially added midfielder Borek Dockal to their roster on Wednesday. In January, the Union acquired speedy winger David Accam in a trade with Chicago. The newcomer on defense is Auston Trusty, a 19-year-old homegrown player from Media.

Will the new additions help the Union achieve their second playoff berth since 2011? Will the Union finally win a playoff game?

Let’s take a look at the roster.

GOALIE

Andrew Blake is one of the top goalkeepers in Major League Soccer. He registered nine shutouts in 2017, including four in a row, while compiling  a 9-10-7 record. He won goalkeeper of the year in 2016 and was a finalist for the award in 2017. As long as Blake stays healthy, the Union’s goalie situation is in good hands. John McCarthy has demonstrated that he is a capable backup.

DEFENSE

The fact that Blake was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016 and was a finalist for the award last season despite not having a winning record in either season should tell you something about the Union’s struggles on defense.

The Union are counting on young players to improve their defense. Trusty is expected to start at center back. He may be joined at center back in the starting lineup by either Jack Elliott or Josh Yaro. Elliott is a second-year defender who played a surprisingly large role last season after being selected in the fourth round of the MLS SuperDraft. Yaro was the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, but his star has faded during the past two seasons.

Keegan Rosenberry, selected one pick after Yaro in the 2016 draft, hasn’t slipped as far as Yaro, but his sophomore campaign did not live up to his rookie season, when he was runner-up for the rookie of the year award. Rosenberry is the likely starter at right back, with veteran Fabinho, 32, the likely starter at left back while 18-year-old Matt Real is groomed to be the starter for the future. Veterans Raymon Gaddis and Richie Marquez are available to provide reliability, although they don’t have the upside of some of the younger players.

The Union are counting on their youth to carry them on the back line. But young players usually endure growing pains, and inexperience can lead to costly mistakes. It’s likely that Blake will have to bail out his young defense on a regular basis. But how often can Blake save the Union while young players are enduring growing pains?

MIDFIELD

Have the Union finally put together an elite midfield? The Union have trotted out Tranquillo Barnetta, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu in recent years as midfield stars who could elevate the midfield, so skepticism that Dockal can achieve that is warranted. However, the Union already have Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin in place, so not as much pressure rests on Dockal’s shoulders.

Bedoya, the team captain, serves as the Union’s leader. In many ways, he is the glue in the center of the field that holds the team together. Medunjanin led the Union last season with 12 assists, twice as many as the next-closest player. Derrick Jones, 21, is ready to step in if one of the starters is injured, but expect to contribute off the bench.

Accam and Fafa Picault, who scored seven goals last season, are expected to provide the speed up the wings. Picault will miss the first three games of the season for using “offensive” language during an incident in a preseason game.

From a talent standpoint, the Union finally have a terrific midfield. Dockal may not play in the season opener, but combining his play-making abilities with the steady and versatile Bedoya and the nifty passing of Medunjanin should produce plenty of scoring opportunities for Accam, Picault and the Union’s forwards. One concern is that Bedoya and Medunjanin are both in their thirties, so injuries could be a factor.

FORWARD

C.J. Sapong scored a career-high 16 goals last season, more than doubling his 2016 total. On the other hand, Jay Simpson scored just one goal after being touted as a high-profile acquisition. A wild card could be Cory Burke, who has played for Bethlehem Steel, the Union’s minor-league affiliate in the USFL.

OUTLOOK

The additions of Dockal and Accam should pump new life into the Union’s offense. The midfield appears to be talented and experienced across the board. The question is how well head coach Jim Curtin can fit the pieces together so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The improved midfield should lead to more scoring opportunities for the forwards, so Sapong will be expected to match or exceed last year’s goal total.

The biggest question mark is on defense. The Union are relying on young players to anchor their defense. As mentioned earlier, young players – even talented ones – make mistakes. If too many of those mistakes end up in the back of the Union’s net, it could cost them a playoff berth.

Prediction: Barring long-term injuries to their midfielders, this could be the year the Union return to the playoffs. It might even be the year in which they pick up the franchise’s first playoff victory, but I’m going to stick to achieving the more modest goal of making the playoffs.

 

Young Philly players

Posted by Eric Fisher On October - 21 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

There were many years when we would have had to stretch to create a Top 10 list of good young players on Philadelphia teams. But now there are more good young players in town than at any time in recent memory. The criteria for this list is a player must be younger than 25 years old and can’t be beyond his third year with the professional team. (Sean Couturier, 24, is ineligible because he’s already played six seasons. Aaron Nola, 24, has already completed three seasons with the Phillies. Union goalie Andre Blake is 26 years old. Scott Kingery, 23, hasn’t joined the Phillies yet.) We’re also putting more value on long-term potential rather than how good they are right now.

Without further ado, PhillyPhanatics.com presents its Top 10 list of the best young players in Philadelphia.

10. Nick Williams In his first half-season in the big leagues, talented outfielder displayed little of the immaturity and lack of discipline that had people questioning his future while in the minors.

9. Derek Barnett It usually takes defensive ends a year or two before they begin to make an impact in the NFL. The Eagles should be patient with the 14th overall pick in this year’s NFL draft.

8. Nolan Patrick The second overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft, Patrick has already displayed terrific vision and play-making skills. There are questions regarding whether he will ever develop into a top-line center.

7. Markelle Fultz There are questions about the game of this year’s top overall pick in the NBA Draft. Fultz may turn out to be good, but he may not be great.

6. Shayne Gostisbehere After a rough sophomore campaign, Gostisbehere seems even better than he was during his impressive rookie campaign.

5. Ben Simmons The top overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Simmons has an amazing combination of size and speed. The question as his NBA career begins is how much he can improve his shooting.

4. Ivan Provorov He was the Flyers’ best defenseman last season as a rookie. Just 20 years old, Provorov plays with the calmness and poise of a veteran. Barring injury, he should be a mainstay on the Flyers’ blue line for at least a decade.

3. Rhys Hoskins Although he tailed off at the very end of the season, Hoskins hit 18 home runs and drove in 48 runs in 50 games after being called up from Class AAA Lehigh Valley. The first baseman of the future has the power to be a superstar.

2. Joel Embiid If he can get healthy, Embiid has the potential to be among the NBA’s best players. Nobody would be surprised if Embiid wins an MVP Award.

1. Carson Wentz Playing with the poise of a veteran, the second-year quarterback inspires supreme confidence among his teammates. Less than halfway through his second season, Wentz may already be an elite NFL quarterback.

Honorable mention: Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Nelson Agholor, Jake Elliott, Jalen Mills, Dario Saric, Travis Konecny, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro, Josh Yaro, Derrick Jones, Keegan Rosenberry.

 

 

Couturier scores Game 5 game-winner