Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

Baffling Formation Dooms Union in First Playoff Game

The agita started when the teams filed out of the tunnel and onto the field. I scanned the jersey numbers to see which eleven players Peter Nowak had selected to start the first playoff game in franchise history. The #6 stuck out like a sore thumb.

Before allowing the panic to set in I checked to make sure Brian Carroll was out there. He was. If Carroll hadn’t suffered an injury in the lead up to the game, then why was Miglioranzi out there? Next, my thoughts turned to Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes. Perhaps one of them was unable to go, and pressed for a starting center back Nowak plugged in Miglioranzi. Nope, both starting center backs were out there.

Ok, so why in the world was Miglioranzi, who played fewer regular season minutes than Carlos Ruiz (who left the team in JULY!), starting this game? I only became more incredulous when I saw how Nowak decided to deploy him.

The Union came out in a five man back line. With Miglioranzi stationed between Califf and Valdes. In a playoff game. At home.

Wait, what?

The Union came out, at home, in an aggregate goal two-leg playoff series, with six of their ten field players decidedly defensive-minded (Sheanon Williams, Califf, Miglioranzi, Valdes, Gabriel Farfan, and Brian Carroll).

The bizarre decision to plug Miglioranzi into the starting lineup backfired almost immediately. Six minutes in, Brad Davis whipped a free kick into the box, which was headed home by Andre Hainault. The man Hainault beat to win that header? You guessed it, Stefani Miglioranzi.

So much for that five man backline paying defensive dividends.

To some degree I understand what Nowak was hoping for when he dreamed up the lineup. The formation enabled Williams and Gabe Farfan to run the flanks. At times the formation morphed into a 3-5-2, with Williams and Gabe Farfan joining Carroll, Michael Farfan, and Justin Mapp in the midfield.

What I don’t understand is why he used Miglioranzi as a de facto third center back. Why not slide Carroll back there and use Amobi Okugo as the holding midfielder? Or, why not just stick with the 4-4-2 you’ve employed the entire season?

To be fair, the Union did not play all that poorly. They created chances, scored a gorgeous goal (Le Toux slotting home a beautiful floated chip from Michael Farfan), but in the end, unlike Houston, they were unable to finish their chances.

Substitutes Roger Torres and Freddy Adu injected some much-needed attacking verve. I’d look for one of those to start during the second leg on Thursday night.

All things considered, the Union have an opportunity to win this thing. They are only down single goal. Here’s hoping Nowak has scrapped the Miglioranzi experiment.

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Video highlights:

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

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Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.