51

Completions this season by Carson Wentz and Eli Manning

Bill O’Brien deserves some credit, but his success at Penn State has been overstated. The Nittany Lions will be better off with a head coach fully committed to the program and university.

Nick Foles threw two interceptions and the first-team offense sputtered during a 34-28 loss to the Bears in the Eagles’ preseason opener. But backup QB Mark Sanchez looked good and rookie Josh Huff returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.

Young players such as second-year defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (pictured) and 19-year-old rookies Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny could be crucial to whether the Flyers improve this season. But the future has definitely arrived.

Archive for the ‘Union’ Category

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.

 

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.

R.I.P. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan