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Teams (Gonzaga, S.Carolina) making their first appearances in the Final Four

The Flyers are off to yet another bad start this season. Eric Fisher examines how concerned we should be about their poor start again this season. Eric also looks at Wayne Simmonds, one of the Flyers’ few bright spots.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column on a variety of topics, but this week Eric sticks to the NFL Draft, serving up opinions on the Eagles’ draft philosophy, Michael Sam getting selected and that annoying “I’m the Man” song.

Jeremy Maclin catches eight passes for 154 yards and a touchdown, performing better than returning former teammate DeSean Jackson, but the Eagles literally have to fight to the finish to hold off the visiting Redskins, 37-34, to improve to 3-0.

Archive for the ‘Union’ Category

Pessimism rules

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 28 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Fisher column logo2I was walking to my car when a voice called out, “Hey, Fisher, is that you?”

I cringed at the sound of the voice. Even before I turned around, I knew who it was: Joe Pessimist.

Sometimes Joe Pessimist lives inside my head, along with the recently MIA Joe Optimist, just as he does for many Philadelphia sports fans. Sometimes he sneaks up on me, as he did on this day.

Joe Pessimist: Did you get my phone messages?

Fisher: Yes. You’ve called every day for the past two weeks.

Joe Pessimist: So, do you think you can set up another debate with Joe Optimist? You know, just like the debate we had in 2012.

Fisher: Look, Joe, it’s not going to happen.

Joe Pessimist: Why not? The last debate was fun. And you even got a good column out of it.

Fisher: I did. Thank you. But Joe Optimist doesn’t want to do it – at least not right now.

Joe Pessimist (chortling): I don’t blame him. I wiped the mat with him in 2012, and the Philly teams were a lot better off back then than they are today.

Fisher: I concede that you won the debate, but it wasn’t as lopsided as you make it sound.

Joe Pessimist: Not as lopsided as I make it sound? It was like the Warriors vs. the Sixers. Or practically anyone against the Phillies.

Fisher: As usual, you’re putting an extremely negative spin on everything.

Joe Pessimist: I’m not spinning anything. I’m just being realistic. Go ahead. Tell me something I should be positive about.

Fisher: Nerlens Noel scored a career-high 30 points Friday night. He’s improved a lot since the All-Star break.

Joe Pessimist: All that does is make Noel a more valuable commodity when Sam Hinkie decides to trade him away to move up in the draft or acquire some more second-round draft picks. Isn’t that what you wrote in your Sixers Notebook?

Fisher: Um, yes. And thanks for reading. Didn’t you find some positives in the Eagles offseason?

Joe Pessimist: No.

Fisher: You don’t like the DeMarco Murray signing?

Joe Pessimist: Let’s see how good Murray is without the Cowboys offensive line in front of him.

Fisher: The Eagles’ offensive line is pretty good.

Joe Pessimist: Was pretty good. They’re not anymore. Herremans is gone, and Mathis is going to be gone before the season. Once Jason Peters gets injured – again – the offensive line is going to be, at best, mediocre.

Fisher: Murray led the NFL in rushing. That wasn’t all due to the offensive line.

Joe Pessimist: You’re right. Some of it was due to defenses having to defend Dez Bryant downfield and having a quarterback who can throw the ball deep, which the Eagles don’t have.

Fisher: I admit the Eagles don’t have a deep threat at receiver, but they’ll address that through the …

Joe Pessimist: Through the draft? They’re not going to find a receiver who can play right away and spread the field.

Fisher: I also think you’re underestimating Sam Bradford.

Joe Pessimist: I wasn’t referring to Bradford. I was talking about Sanchez.

Fisher: Sanchez is the backup.

Joe Pessimist: He’ll be the starter after Bradford tears his ACL again.

Fisher: Did you get your medical degree since last time I saw you? I tore my ACL 21 years ago and never tore it again.

Joe Pessimist: How did you tear your ACL?

Fisher: Playing football.

Joe Pessimist: And you never tore it again?

Fisher: Nope.

Joe Pessimist: Well, that already puts you ahead of Bradford. He did tear his ACL again. … Hold on a minute. Did you ever play football after having surgery to fix your ACL?

Fisher: No, not tackle football.

Joe Pessimist: Well, Bradford’s not going to be playing two-hand touch next season.

Fisher: Did you like any of Chip Kelly’s offseason moves?

Joe Pessimist: I like that he makes the offseason interesting. But I don’t think he has any idea of what he’s doing.

Fisher: Why not?

Joe Pessimist: Because the Eagles weren’t even pursuing Murray until Frank Gore backed out of his deal. Kelly is flying by the seat of his pants. Eventually, he’ll crash and burn. And then he’ll go back to college and the Eagles will have to start all over again.

Fisher: Temple is in the NIT semifinals. You’ve got to give them credit for a tremendous turnaround from last season.

Joe Pessimist: I’m supposed to be excited that they’re going to win the losers’ tournament? The NIT is for teams that weren’t good enough to be among the 68 invited to the real tournament. Give me a break.

Fisher: You can’t find anything positive to say?

Joe Pessimist: At least the Owls aren’t chokers, like Villanova. Is that positive enough for you?

Fisher: Not really.

Joe Pessimist: Please don’t tell me you picked Villanova to reach the NCAA title game.

Fisher: No, but I had them in the Final Four in one pool and out in the East Regional final in another pool.

Joe Pessimist: What a sucker. I had them out in the second round. Until Villanova makes it to the Sweet 16 again, I’m not picking them to win more than one tournament game.

Fisher: I’m guessing you’re not optimistic about the Flyers.

Joe Pessimist: With expensive contracts for unproductive players like Lecavalier and Umberger, the Flyers aren’t going anywhere.

Fisher: With Steve Mason and their young defenseman developing, you don’t think they can return to the playoffs next season?

Joe Pessimist: Are you channeling Ed Snider? They’re not going to be contenders next season. They don’t have the talent and they’re going to be starting over with a new coach.

Fisher: Which brings us to the Phillies.

Joe Pessimist: Hah! Even Joe Optimist isn’t predicting a winning season for that pathetic team. They waited too long to trade Cliff Lee, and now they’re not going to get anything for him. The same thing probably will happen to Hamels.

Fisher: I guess you don’t have anything positive to say about the Union, either.

Joe Pessimist: They haven’t won a game yet, have they? They’re a perfect fit with our other sports franchises.

Fisher: Joe, I’ve got to go. Our conversations always leave me feeling depressed.

Joe Pessimist: Glad I could help. And if you see that coward, Joe Optimist, let him know I’m ready to debate again.

Fisher: Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Joe Optimist until the start of football season, but if he surfaces during the NFL, NBA or NHL drafts, I’ll let you know.

Union preview: Seeking end to playoff drought

Posted by Eric Fisher On March - 5 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

After major roster overhauls the past two seasons, the Union were, by comparison, quiet this offseason.

They didn’t sit back and do nothing. But they added just a few key players, building around their core rather than replacing it.

The strength of the Union is at midfield. That’s why the Union added pieces up front and on the back line, but left the midfield intact.

But will the midfield be good enough to lift the Union to their first playoff berth since 2011? Another way to phrase the question is: will the front and back lines be good enough to take advantage of the midfielders’ skills?

After so many changes last season, including Jim Curtin replacing John Hackworth as manager after the Union won just three of their first 16 games, the roster remained relatively stable.

The Union, who host Colorado on Saturday (4 p.m.) in their season opener, know they can’t afford another awful start. A promising development is that they won the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic Championship in Florida. By contrast, they were winless during the five-game preseason last year and experienced difficulty scoring goals.

Let’s examine the Union’s strengths and weaknesses as they pursue a playoff berth – and maybe even the first postseason victory in franchise history.

MIDFIELD

The Union brought in Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana last season. It may have taken a year, but that trio may start to pay major dividends this season.

Edu spent a portion of last season at center back. Maidana, who led the Union in assists (11) last season, spent time at forward in an attempt to spark the Union’s offense, which was particularly anemic early in the season.

This season, this talented trio is expected to start at midfield. If Edu, Nogueira and Maidana can control the midfield, making it the strength of the team, the Union will have a solid foundation upon which to build success.

FORWARDS

Sebastien Le Toux, the Union’s leading scorer (12 goals) last season, returns, but the Union would like to take some of the scoring burden off the 31-year-old veteran. There are two players being counted upon heavily to help with the scoring: Fernando Aristeguieta and Andrew Wenger.

Aristeguieta is a 22-year-old Venezuelan with a scoring touch. But Aristeguieta is going to need room to display his finishing touch, and that’s where Wenger can help. Not only can Wenger feed Aristeguieta the ball, but he’s going to need to draw defenders to create space.

Wenger, the first player picked in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, scored six goals last season after being acquired from Montreal in a swap for striker Jack McInerney in early April. He needs to produce more consistently, surpassing his four assists from last season as well, to help the Union’s forward line become a dangerous unit.

If Wenger can’t get the job done, C.J. Sapong, acquired from Sporting KC during the offseason, is waiting in the wings.

DEFENSE

Perhaps the most suspect area for the Union is the back line. Amobi Okago, who bounced back and forth between midfield and the back line, and veteran Carlos Valdes were both moved during the offseason. Austin Berry, a former MLS rookie of the year, was recently loaned to a South Korean team.

These transactions doesn’t mean there was complete turnover on the back line. The consistent Raymon Gaddis and Sheanon Williams return. Williams looked like a potential star in 2013, but his game didn’t progress last season. In fact, it may have regressed.

Ethan White, acquired before last season in exchange for veteran Jeff Parke, never seemed completely comfortable last season. The Union are counting on White to be more consistent this season.

The big addition to the back line is 6-foot-5 Steven Vitoria. His size should help the Union contend with large opposing forwards and win contested head balls. But it remains to be seen how well he will mesh with the back line.

If the defense doesn’t hold up, it could turn out to be the Union’s weak link.

GOALIE

Many questioned why the Union brought in Rais Mbolhi midway through last season. They already had starter Zac MacMath and Andre Blake, the top pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. The questions intensified as Mbolhi fumbled away one game and didn’t look like an upgrade over MacMath.

Mbolhi, who excelled for Algeria during the World Cup, needs to be sharp this season because he’s the starter. If the defense struggles through some rough times, it will be crucial that Mbolhi play well. If he doesn’t, Blake must be prepared to fill the void.

OUTLOOK

With fewer moving parts than last season, the Union have the opportunity to be much better than last season, when they finished 10-12-12 and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

All three starting midfielders should benefit from a full season together. This is also the second season with the Union for White, Wenger and Mbolhi.

The hope is that the group improves with experience. The concern is that the problems from last season, when the Union seemed to repeatedly squander points late in the season, will continue.

The presence of Curtin from the start of preseason shouldn’t be underestimated. He has an opportunity to instill his system and coaching style from the start of the season rather than try to fix things that were broken, as he did when he replaced Hackworth last season.

If the offense kicks it up a notch, it will take some of the pressure off the back line and Mbolhi. The defense worries me enough that I could see the Union missing the playoffs for a fifth straight season, but I’m going to predict the playoff drought ends with a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

If the Union don’t make the playoffs, next season will feature many more roster changes than this past offseason.

 

Jenkins' 3-pointer wins national title