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Games in December against NFC opponents for Eagles

What if, like the participants in WWE’s Royal Rumble on Sunday, we could throw out all the people we’re sick of in the local sports scene? Eric Fisher gives his best effort to eliminate those who need to go.

Carson Wentz leads the Eagles to a touchdown on their first possession, but, with Wentz out of the game, the Eagles didn’t reach the end zone again during a mistake-filled 24-9 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the young defensemen trying to make the Flyers, the Sixers’ crowded center picture and deaths of Arnold Palmer and Jose Fernandez while avoiding any mention of Carson Wentz.

Archive for the ‘Union’ Category

Union preview: Change doesn’t equal success

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 1 - 2019 ADD COMMENTS

If the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, then the Union certainly are the opposite of insane.

They do different things every year and keep coming up with the same result.

As the Union enter their 10th season, which kicks off Saturday (1 p.m.) against visiting Toronto FC, they are still searching for their first playoff win. They have changed things up this season. Ernst Tanner became the team’s sporting director in October. He has added a new striker (Sergio Santos), a new midfielder (Marco Fabian) and a new defender (Kai Wagner), just as the Union seem to do every season.

Fabian is considered a player who can change a game. But do you remember midfielders Tranquillo Barnetta, Vincent Nogueira and Maurice Edu, just to name a few of the players who were supposed to be the answer at midfield?

Wasn’t Jay Simpson supposed to be the answer at striker when he came to the Union from England? The Union declined Simpson’s contract option during the offseason. Let’s hope that Santos fares better than Simpson and practically every Union striker that preceded him.

Defenders have also come and gone with regularity.  Remember Sheanon Williams, Amobi Okago, Ethan White and high draft picks Josh Yaro (2nd overall in 2016) and Keegan Rosenberry (3rd overall in 2016)? They’re all gone, with the Union declining to pick up Yaro’s contract this offseason and Rosenberry being shipped off to Colorado.

The Union have doubled down on change this season by shifting from a 4-3-3 alignment to a 4-4-2. But will more change once again lead to a similar result?

Let’s take a look at the 2019 Union.

GOALIE

This isn’t a position of change. Andre Blake returns as one of the top goalie in Major League Soccer.

DEFENSE

Center back Aaron Trusty was a revelation during his rookie season, playing every minute of every game. But Rosenberry did the same thing as a rookie in 20016, so let’s not anoint Trusty as the anchor for the Union’s defense for the next decade. Rosenberry’s right back spot will likely be manned by Olivier Mbaizo. At left back, the Union could start Matt Real or Wagner. The talented Mark McKenzie could line up at the other center back.

One issue on the back line is youth and inexperience. Wagner is 22, Mbaizo is 21, Trusty and McKenzie are 20, and Real is 19. Jack Elliott, a 6-foot-6 center back from London, would be the “old man” of the group at 23. Ray Gaddis, 29, is still around, but he’s better-suited as a backup at this stage of his career. The same is true of Fabinho, 33.

MIDFIELD

In contrast to the defenders, the midfield seems downright ancient. Fabian, a 29-year-old from Mexico, joins 31-year-old captain Alejandro Bedoya and 33-year-old Haris Medunjanin in the midfield. The youngster of the starting group is 21-year-old Derrick Jones, a talented player who is still searching for consistency as he continues to develop. Brenden Aaronson, Ilsinho, Warren Creavalle and Anthony Fontana provide depth and ability in a deep and talented midfield.

The Union’s midfield looks solid, but it’s not as if Fabian can be looked upon as an addition to what was here before. The addition of Fabian offsets the loss of Borek Dockal, who led MLS in assists (18) and added five goals in his only season with the Union. If Fabian can match Dockal’s production, the Union should be pleased.

FORWARD

Cory Burke and Faca Picault tied for the Union lead in goals last season with 10, but it’s certainly possible that one of them, probably Ficault, will be replaced in the starting lineup by Santos. David Accam will receive another chance to get significant playing time.

MANAGER

Tanner gave Jim Curtin a contract extension – for one year. If the Union don’t make the playoffs, it’s unlikely that Curtin will be back for another season. In fact, they may need to pick up the franchise’s first postseason victory to save his job.

OUTLOOK

The midfield looks like the Union’s strength, although the loss of Dockal should not be underestimated. The Union are counting on Fabian to be a star. They had better be right.

The defense is young and inexperienced. Blake may have to bail them out with some big saves. If the midfield and the forwards can keep the ball in the offensive zone, it will take some pressure off of the young defense. Even better, if the strikers can become a serious threat to score, it will take the pressure off the defense.

Unfortunately, I’m not buying the Union as a transformed team. We’ve been down this road too many times with the Union. Until they win a playoff game, I’m not going to predict they will win one. My guess is that the Union make the playoffs, only to lose to a higher seed in the first round.

Curtin will become the fall guy for the franchise’s lack of success, an occupation he’s already assumed in the eyes of some fans.

Tanner will then bring in a new manager to run the team – and will expect different results with a new face in 2020. Some things never change.

 

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.

 

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