By Mico Carpiniello (Reporter ‘25)
Hi, everyone, and welcome to the FOCUS Philly Sports Review. I’ll be reviewing each of the major Philadelphia sports teams this month, covering all the highs and lows. Enjoy!
**These reports were last updated on Monday, November 1 at 8:00 AM. As such, certain speculations and pieces of information covered in this article are dated.**
The Philadelphia Union is looking to head into the playoffs hot, with only one game remaining in the regular season. The Union sits in second place in a tight Eastern Conference, with a tough New York City FC remaining on their schedule. The Union clinched a playoff berth on Saturday after other Eastern Conference results went their way. They could have clinched on Wednesday against a struggling Toronto team, but the U could only muster a 2–2 draw. The Union then leapfrogged Nashville into second place after a dominant performance against Cincinnati on Halloween. Now it’s all about seeding, and as long as the Union can take care of business against NYCFC, they’ll finish in second place.
Here’s the rest of the playoff picture: The New England Revolution, in first place, has already clinched the Supporters Shield (the trophy given to the team with the best regular-season record). The Revs have also broken the Major League Soccer record for most points in a single season with their stellar performance under coach Bruce Arena. New England will be rewarded with a first-round bye, while the teams placing second through seventh will play first-round ties. As the standings are currently, the second seed, the Union, would face the seventh-seeded New York Red Bulls, third-seeded Nashville would play the sixth-seeded Atlanta United, and the fourth-seeded NYCFC would play the fifth-seeded Orlando City.
Daniel Gazdag, Philadelphia’s $1.8-million signing, has slowly been improving his craft and recently broke into the starting lineup. Jim Curtin has utilized a 4–4–2 with a diamond midfield for most of last season and this season, but the Hungarian attacking midfielder had trouble combining with fellow attacking midfielder Jamiro Monteiro in this system. (For those unfamiliar with soccer formations, they are read back to front, or defense to offense, meaning a 4-4-2 would have four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. Other popular formations include 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. For those wanting a textbook-esque dive into the history of soccer tactics, I’d recommend Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics, by Jonathon David.) In the last three matches, however, Curtin shifted to a 4-3-2-1, also known as the “Christmas tree” because of its shape, which was popularized by Carlo Ancellotti when he coached AC Milan. In this formation, the Union slotted Gazdag and Monteiro into the two attacking midfield roles, with José Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya, and Leon Flach filling out the rest of the midfield. Gazdag has still been underwhelming considering his hefty price tag, but shows some signs of improvement, especially when he netted a brace (two goals) against Minnesota, including a pretty combination with Monteiro. Nevertheless, the Union expects more out of Gazdag. He is signed to a two-year contract with an option for a third and fourth year, and he needs to be a big contributor in the seasons to come.
The Philadelphia Eagles have had a rough start to the season, currently 3–5 and second in a weak NFC East division. A week-one win against the Falcons inflated the team’s confidence, but a home loss to the 49ers brought them back to earth. The Birds were blown out by a strong Cowboys side in week three, and then couldn’t handle the offensive firepower of the Chiefs, despite Kansas City’s weak start to the season. Going into week five, Philly needed a win and got one in Charlotte as they beat the free-falling Panthers. The Eagles took advantage of Tampa’s injury-marred defense in week six but the defense couldn’t stop Tom Brady and Co. from stomping to another victory. Following yet another loss, the Eagles traveled to Vegas where they couldn’t compete with the overperforming Raiders. But the Eagles did a U-turn in week eight, blowing the winless Lions out of the water, 44–6. The Birds relied heavily on the run game, despite the absence of starting RB Miles Sanders, which led them to a much-needed W against Detroit.
Jalen Hurts has faced harsh criticism and borne a majority of the blame for the Eagles’ slow start, and many no longer see him as the long-term solution at the quarterback position. He’s been a good rusher, with at least 30 rushing yards in each game this season plus four rushing touchdowns. A dual-threat QB appears essential for the long term as quarterbacks begin to use their legs more and more. Passing, more than anything, is THE fundamental aspect of the QB position, and Hurts has struggled immensely in this category. He ranks 22nd in yards per passing attempt and 16th in passing touchdowns. These numbers aren’t abysmal—just not promising. Hurts hasn’t shown promise of sustainable, long-term throwing skills. To be fair, Hurts doesn’t have any elite options at receiver, and the Birds’ run game hasn’t helped him much, but Hurts will need to pick it up if he expects to become the Eagles’ franchise quarterback.
The Eagles have made a couple of moves before the trade deadline. Tight End Zach Ertz was given a heartfelt goodbye when he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals for rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and a 2022 fifth-round pick. Ertz played for the Eagles for nine seasons, including the spectacular Super Bowl triumph in 2018. It’s not a big loss for the Eagles, though, as Dallas Goedert will likely be able to fill in, and Ertz didn’t play a big part in the offense the past couple of seasons anyway. The Eagles also traded quarterback Joe Flacco to the Jets, who need reinforcement at QB after Zach Wilson suffered a knee injury last week. The Eagles received a conditional sixth-rounder that could improve to a fifth-round pick based on Flacco’s playing time.
There’s been lots of news from around the NFL as we near the halfway point of the season. Most surprisingly, the Chiefs, who won a Super Bowl two seasons ago and lost in the Super Bowl last year, have had a weak start to the season. Their defense has been abysmal, and Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense have turned over the ball far more times than we’re used to seeing. At a fragile 3–4, the Chiefs aren’t even close to a playoff spot, and the Raiders and Chargers have both been much more competitive this season. The 1–6 Dolphins have also had a poor start; their leaky defense and their poor offense have been on full display. The Washington Football Team has also been underwhelming, as have the Seahawks, though you can point to Russel Wilson’s finger injury as the main cause of their woes. On the other hand, many teams have astonished fans with their hot starts. The Cowboys seemed to have fixed their defensive problems with former Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and the league leader in interceptions, Trevon Diggs. The 7-1 Cardinals have been nearly impossible to stop with Kyler Murray leading their deadly offense. Newly acquired Mathew Stafford has greatly improved the LA Rams aerial attack while their defense is as stellar as ever, and the 5-2 Raiders have also been strong.
The Sixers began the season with a 117–97 win over the Zion-less Pelicans, followed by a 109-114 loss to the star-studded Brooklyn Nets. It’s worth noting, though, that the Nets were without Kyrie Irving, who is ineligible to play because he has not been vaccinated. The Sixers also had the lead all game, only to collapse in the final five minutes, giving up a 16–1 run to the Nets to seal their own fate. The Nets are 2–3 and have struggled so far this season, so with all of these factors considered, this should have been another win for the Sixers. Philly then traveled to the winless Oklahoma City Thunder, where they secured another victory against a weak opponent. In their fourth game of the season, the Sixers put on a poor showing against the Knicks, who beat them 112–99. In yet another easy matchup, the Sixers got a win against the Pistons. The Sixers followed this up with their most convincing performance of the season, a 122–94 win over the Hawks. This was a definitive win over a strong team. The Sixers limited Trae Young to 13 points, held the lead almost the whole game, and, most importantly, got a little revenge for their loss to Atlanta in the playoffs last year. To sum it up, the Sixers have already had some ups and downs, and it still isn’t clear where they’ll be in June.
It’s impossible to talk about the Sixers and not talk about Ben Simmons. The start of the season has foreshadowed how the Sixers might look without their Australian star, and they do seem like less of a title contender without him. After a standoff where it looked as though Simmons wouldn’t return to Philly and refused to meet with his teammates, he eventually gave in and returned to the city of brotherly love, likely to avoid major fines. Soon after he returned to practice with the team, he was thrown out of practice by coach Doc Rivers and suspended one game. Simmons is currently refusing to play under the terms that he isn’t mentally ready. At this point it isn’t as much of a question of Simmons’ playing ability, but whether or not his relationship with the team and the city is repairable. Trade rumors continue to surround him, although the team and players involved seem to change with the breeze. Every sportswriter has come up with some sort of blockbuster exchange that would move Simmons out of the city, replacing him with a player with the offensive firepower he lacked. However, there is a case to be made for Simmons staying in the city. It would take a lot to repair the damage he’s done, but he brings defensive skill the Sixers would almost certainly be giving up if they chose to trade him away. If Simmons can repair his relationship with the team, and finally fix his shooting, the Sixers will be a much better team.
The Phillies recently wrapped up their season, missing out on the playoffs for the tenth straight year. They finished above the .500 mark, but couldn’t beat out the 88-win Braves to secure first place in the NL East. Moving into the offseason, the Phillies hope to move on from their disappointing season with some roster changes. The Phils have struggled to break out of their mediocrity in recent years and are looking to take the next step towards becoming a pennant contender. Questions around the outfield and shortstop position, as well as a need for depth at pitcher, will be the main objectives of the offseason as the Phils look to come back stronger in the spring.
On the positive, end-of-season awards are approaching and the Phillies are looking to snag a few. Bryce Harper’s outstanding season puts him as the favorite for National League MVP. He was also named a finalist for the Hank Aaron Award, the award for the best offensive player in the league. He previously won the award in 2015. Additionally, pitcher Zach Wheeler is eyeing the Cy Young Award, given to the best pitcher in the NL and the AL. Last, JT Realmuto and Zach Wheeler were announced as Gold Glove finalists, the award given to the best defensive player at each position in each league. Most MLB awards won’t be announced until after the World Series ends, but Commissioner Rob Manfred already recognized Angels’ pitcher Shohei Ohtani with the Historic Achievement Award. This honor is given to those who have profoundly impacted the sport, either with a single spectacular season or a long career of outstanding play. Created in 1998 by Commissioner Bud Selig, Ohtani is only the 16th recipient of the award. “Sho-time” is also in the running for AL MVP.
While the Phillies’ season is over, for the Astros and Braves, the season is just reaching a climax as they battle for a World Series title. The Astros were favored at the beginning of the series, but Atlanta took game 1 by a score of 6–2. However, Houston roared back with a 7–2 home win to level the series at 1 win apiece. The Braves then took games 3 and 4 with 2–0 and 3–2 wins, respectively. It seemed as though the Series was in Atlanta’s hands, but Houston snatched one back with a 9–5 win to put themselves back in contention. At 3–2, the championship title could still go either way, and a thrilling Game 7 may decide the winner.
The Flyers have started the season well at 4–2–1. They have nine points (i.e., two for each win, one for each overtime/shootout loss, zero for each regular time loss) and currently sit at fifth in the Metropolitan Division, although they are a game behind most teams. They opened the season with a loss to the Canucks, in which they scored two in the third period to level the game at four, before losing in a shootout. The Flyers then stormed back with a 6–1 win over the Seattle Kraken. They stayed hot with a 6–3 win over the Bruins, who were without star Sydney Crosby. A strong Panthers team then dealt the Flyers their second loss of the season, scoring two in the third period to win 4–2. Philly then beat the Oilers 5–3 and got their early-season revenge on the Canucks with a 2–1 win. The Calgary Flames would have none of that, though, and shut the Flyers out 4–0. The Flyers ended their trip to Western Canada on a sour note and will return to the Wells Fargo on November 2 to face the Arizona Coyotes. With many games left to play, it’s much too early to call the Flyers a sure playoff contender, but the wildcard seems in their reach based on their early play.