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5 Union players who need to ball out for a playoff upset in Toronto

5 Union players who need to ball out for a playoff upset in Toronto

Fair or not, the Union’s 2016 season will end up being classified by one game.

If they beat Toronto FC in the first round of the playoffs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), it will be considered a success.

If they lose, it will be nothing more than an average season — slightly above average for those who think getting to the postseason for the second time in club history was the ultimate goal; slightly below average for those paying more attention to the fact they finished the regular season on a seven-game winless streak to barely grab the final spot.

Can the slumping team go on the road and beat Toronto in an elimination game? Probably not. But it’s certainly possible. And while every player in the lineup needs to play well for the Union to pull off the upset, there are five in particular that will likely be the difference between an early exit or a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals:

  1. Andre Blake: You might know him as Superman, or the best damn goalie in all of MLS. The guy has come up with some incredible saves this season, some of which have helped the Union earn points, others which came in a losing effort. There’s a distinct chance the Union are still bounced even if Blake does make a monster save or two. But if he doesn’t and just has an average game, it’s almost a certainty the Union’s offseason will begin on Thursday.
  2. C.J. Sapong: It’s no coincidence that the Union rose to the top of the table early in the season when Sapong was scoring goals and getting U.S. national team buzz. And it’s no coincidence they sunk to sixth place as Sapong hit a massive goal-scoring drought. It’s now been 10 games since Sapong scored in a 4-0 win over New England, and the Union are 2-6-2 in that stretch. Now would be a good time for the striker to snap out of his slump.
  3. Ken Tribbett: Oh, Ken. The center back out of Drexel has had some rough moments in his first MLS season, none more memorable than when he was burned for three first-half goals vs. Toronto on Aug. 20 and yanked from the game at halftime. But Tribbett had a solid outing in Philly’s last game vs. Toronto — a 1-1 draw on Sept. 24 — and will be called upon to start again with platoon-mate Josh Yaro dealing with an MCL sprain. Can he stop Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore? Not on his own. The key will be getting help from the rest of the backline and avoiding critical mistakes.
  4. Alejandro Bedoya: On top of Giovinco and Altidore, Toronto FC also boast one of the country’s top players in Michael Bradley. The Union cannot match that kind of star power. The closest they can come is with Bedoya, who knows Bradley and Altidore well from the U.S. national team. Adjusting to MLS is never easy for players who arrive in the middle of season, and that’s certainly been the case for Bedoya. But if the newcomer is able to control the midfield and go to-to-toe with Bradley, the Union will have a much better chance of surviving. 
  5. Tranquillo Barnetta: Will this be the final MLS game for Barnetta, who announced he’ll be leaving after the season to finish his career in his native Switzerland? That alone should be the perfect motivation for the Union to win. More than that though, nobody on this team has the ability to make something out of nothing and score a special goal than Barnetta. Can he do that in Toronto to keep his MLS career alive for at least another week? We’ll find out soon enough.

NFL Referees Association: Pete Morelli criticisms are click bait

NFL Referees Association: Pete Morelli criticisms are click bait

The NFL Referees Association responded to criticisms of Pete Morelli and his officiating crew, and in doing so, suggested Eagles fans and impartial members of the media have no idea what they are talking about.

Morelli has come under fire over the seemingly lopsided officiating during the Eagles' 28-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 6. The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards in the contest, while the Panthers drew only one flag for one yard, despite the appearance of committing many of the same infractions.

Since that game, a change.org petition moving to ban Morelli from working Eagles games in the future is approaching its goal of 75,000 signatures. Research also shows Morelli's crew has been calling penalties against the Eagles in disproportionate numbers for awhile now. In the last four games with Morelli, the Eagles were flagged 40 times for 396 yards, compared to just eight penalties for 74 yards against opponents.

Almost everybody seemed to be in agreement that the officiating was at the very least poor in the Eagles-Panthers game, if not biased. Everybody, that is, except NFLRA executive director Scott Green, who released a statement on Thursday.

Via ProFootballTalk:

“Claims like these demonstrate a fundamental lack of knowledge about NFL officiating,” Green said. “NFL officials are graded on every call made in every game. Missing a single one can hurt his or her ranking and may be the difference between working in the postseason or not. These recent attempts to sensationalize statistics and create click-bait headlines lack important context. Without the proper perspective, the information being pushed is completely misguided. The passion of NFL fans and teams are a big part of what makes the game so great. However, it’s no excuse for the irresponsible and baseless claims we’ve seen lately. NFL officials are committed to upholding the integrity of the game and do so every week.”

Lack of knowledge. Completely misguided. Irresponsible and baseless. You would expect the NFLRA to come to the defense of Morelli -- it's literally their job -- but insulting the consumers' intelligence along the way probably isn't the best way to go about it.

Is there anything sinister about Morelli's and his crew's officiating? Maybe not, but it doesn't take somebody who's gone through the NFL's (presumably) rigorous Officiating Development Program to watch two nearly identical plays called differently for two different teams within three hours of each other. Innocent mistakes or not, that's what appeared to happen on multiple occasions throughout the Eagles-Panthers game.

Instead of releasing overly defensive statements, perhaps the NFLRA should show video evidence why the calls against the Eagles were correct, and the eerily similar non-calls that went in the Panthers' favor were not. Because this responding to criticism with more criticism isn't changing any minds.

A surprising Eagle keeps getting drug tested

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Jake Elliott IG

A surprising Eagle keeps getting drug tested

Jake Elliott has been a revelation for the Philadelphia Eagles after Caleb Sturgis went down with an injury early in the season.

But has he been too good...

The rook has made 12 of his 14 attempts for the Birds this season.

If you're looking for a good laugh today, go check out this reddit thread that starts with a photo from Elliott's Instagram story in which he points out he got flagged for his third drug test in two weeks!

The comment section is as good as a Jake Elliott 61 yarder.

"Well, he does bleed green...," abenyishay says..

"Is kickers doping really a thing?" ChaosFinalForm wonders, as do we.

What do you think? Just the way the random drug draw fell the last few weeks, or does the NFL think Jake Elliott is into something?