Between the Lines: For McInerney and Casey, chemistry class in session

Between the Lines: For McInerney and Casey, chemistry class in session

I've been playing soccer since I was a little kid, and watching it on
TV for more than a decade at this point. But aside from one U.S.
National Team game in 2009 at the Linc, I didn't start watching soccer
(not counting high school or college soccer) in person until the Union's
first home game -- also at the Linc -- in 2010.

After just a few
games, I quickly learned how much there is to actually watch when you
can see outside the boundaries of the TV screen.

So,
on occasion here at The Level, I'll try to showcase something that the
average fan might not have noticed "Between the Lines."

I've been
pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I've gotten from my posts,
not only from die-hard Union fans, but even more-so from
self-proclaimed "novices" who have gotten into the Union and really
would love to know more about what they're watching (see: Campitelli,
Enrico).

Take a look at the Union's first goal from Sunday's win over D.C. United. Just watch it through once, I'll wait.

So, you might have noticed a few things: An absolutely stone-cold,
precise finish from Jack McInerney, for sure. Maybe the nice through
pass from Conor Casey. If you were really paying attention, you might
have seen the atrocious turnover by Dejan Jakovic that started
everything.

But go back and watch it again. This time, focus on
McInerney from the beginning of the clip (No. 9, starting at the bottom
of the frame).

He jogs slowly toward the center circle, and even
applies a bit of token pressure on Jakovic at midfield. But as Jakovic
hits the soon-to-be-failed pass, you'll see McInerney curl upfield
BEFORE Brian Carroll even slides to intercept the pass. By the time
Carroll hits Casey with a short pass, McInerney is already running,
nearly at full-speed.

Casey gets the pass from Carroll and doesn't
even look up before sliding the ball in front of McInerney. The D.C.
player at the top of the screen -- Brandon McDonald -- doesn't realize
what's happening until it's too late. His slow reaction keeps McInerney
onside, and the current Major League Soccer scoring leader does the
rest.

Granted, McInerney still had a lot to do to finish the play,
and he did it without even looking like he broke a sweat. With his left
foot. But the story of that play -- and the Union's second goal by Casey, where Danny Cruz delivered a perfect pass -- was the chemistry up front for the Union.

If
you've followed the Union since their inception, you haven't seen that
kind of chemistry, maybe ever, save for a few glimpses from Sebastien Le
Toux and a few teammates in 2010 and 2011. In fact, one of the few
really "pretty" goals that I can remember off the top of my head -- by
"pretty" I mean a goal with a perfect setup from a teammate and a great
finish -- was Le Toux's second goal in that home opener at the Linc in
2010, off an unreal cross-field pass from current Union TV analyst
Alejandro Moreno (skip ahead to 1:30).

Why do the Union seem to have at least the beginnings of some
chemistry up front? Of course McInerney is coming into his own -- and
may find himself wearing the red, white and blue this summer -- and
Casey is an experienced player in this league. But for the first time in
a while, the Union have some sort of consistency up front.

In
this case, "consistency" is a relative term. Casey and McInerney have
now been paired together up front for THREE MATCHES IN A ROW! You'll
have to pardon the all-caps, but former Union manager Peter Nowak
would've used McInerney's inclusion in the MLS Team of the Week to bench
him this Saturday night in New England. Nowak made changes in his
lineup just to prove he knew more about soccer than the average fan.

So,
while Union manager John Hackworth still makes a few lineup decisions
and substitutions that baffle me (more Kleberson, less Lauhoud), he
seems to see what the rest of us are watching: that McInerney and Casey
are developing that unspoken communication that makes soccer fun to
watch. For goal-starved Union fans, that can't be a bad thing.

So,
the next time you watch a game on TV (the Union face New England
Saturday at 7:30 on The Comcast Network) or watch from the stands (the
team is home three times in May: the 4th, 15th and 18th), take your eye
off the ball for a few minutes and focus on a player seemingly on the
periphery. You just might notice something worth talking about.

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

Another struggling pitcher gets well against the Phillies' feeble hitters

BOX SCORE

MIAMI -- For struggling pitchers, facing the Phillies has become like a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
 
Another rival pitcher searching for a cure got it Monday night when the Phillies suffered their 23rd loss in the last 29 games. This time it was Miami Marlins right-hander Edinson Volquez. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed just three hits in leading his club to a 4-1 win over the Phillies, who fell to 6-20 in May (see Instant Replay).

Volquez had gone 16 starts between wins.
 
"Every loss stings, I don’t care who's pitching," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're just in a rut. We've got to battle our way out of it. We have to show up tomorrow and get after it. We've got to get more than three or four hits in the game."
 
The Phillies had just four hits in the game. It was the fifth time in the last nine games that they've had four or fewer hits. Only one of the hits was for extra bases and one of the singles was an infield hit.
 
"Once again, we need more offense," Mackanin said.
 
Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson completed a difficult month of May by allowing six hits, including a two-run homer, and four runs over six innings.
 
Hellickson surrendered a two-run homer to Derek Dietrich with two outs in the sixth and that was basically the ball game. Dietrich hit a high changeup. Back in April, that pitch would have been at the knees. But Hellickson has misplaced the pitch command that he needs to succeed.
 
Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. In May, however, he went 1-3 with a 7.04 ERA in six starts. He was tagged for 35 hits, including nine homers, in 30 2/3 innings.
 
"Command in general," said Hellickson, describing his problem this month. "The biggest thing is not getting strike one, falling behind too much. I'm not getting the quick easy outs I was getting early in the season. I'm trying to get ahead, just missing."
 
Volquez signed a two-year, $22 million deal with the Marlins over the winter, but it wasn't until this game that he delivered his first win. He entered the game 0-7 with a 4.82 ERA in nine starts.
 
The win was Volquez's first since Aug. 25, 2016, when he was a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Volquez isn't the first struggling pitcher to shine against the Phils recently. Eight days earlier, Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl took a 6.69 ERA into a start against the Phils and pitched five shutout innings. In the series against Colorado, the Phillies were dominated by a pair of rookies. In the only game they won (in a late rally), they were held to one run over six innings by Tyler Anderson, who had entered that game with an ERA of 6.00. On Friday night, Cincinnati Reds right-hander Tim Adleman pitched eight shutout innings against the Phils and gave up just one hit in the best start of his life. He had come into that game with an ERA of 6.19.
 
So Volquez had to be heartened when he saw the Phillies on the schedule.
 
They are the get-well team for pitchers in need of a pick-me-up.
 
It's actually kind of sad.
 
With Odubel Herrera locked in the throes of the worst slump of his life and on the bench and Maikel Franco mired in a 2 for 21 slump and hitting .209, Mackanin is trying to push things a little. He gave Aaron Altherr the green light to steal with one out and runners on the corners in a one-run game in the sixth inning. Altherr was out at second on a close play and Tommy Joseph struck out to leave the runner at third.
 
The Marlins salted the game away in the bottom of the inning on Dietrich's homer.
 
"With our offense, I have to take chances," Mackanin said. "I can't sit around and wait for three hits in a row. We haven't been doing that."
 
The Phils have the worst record in the majors at 17-32.
 
They have lost eight of their last 10 and scored just 15 runs in the losses.
 
"It sucks," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "There's really no other way to put it. It's frustrating. But the only people that are going to help us are ourselves. Nobody's going to go out there and play for us, swing the bats, pitch, play defense. That's on us and we have to do a better job all around.
 
"We all want to be successful and get the job done. We just haven't been hitting the ball. There's no other way to put it. But the good thing about baseball is we play every day so we turn the page and come back tomorrow and try to get it done."

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

Stanley Cup Final: Penguins come alive late in third to steal Game 1 vs. Predators

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins rarely tested the hottest goaltender in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against Nashville.

They beat Pekka Rinne anyway.

Rookie Jake Guentzel fired the puck past Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Matt Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in Final history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37 minutes at one point without a shot.

"I think at the end of the day we're up 1-0," Bonino said. "We had a good first, we had a terrible second and we were terrible in the third. I don't think it's Xs and Os. We've got to work harder, compete a little harder, but we got some timely goals."

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions, trying to become the first repeat winner since Detroit in 1998.

All the guys from "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

"The impact of that moment and then the chain of events that happened after that with the penalty kills I think changed the course of the game," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said.

The decision gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge. Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead, they rallied and took over the game.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second and Nashville kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history -- and the first such period by any team in a Final game since the NHL began tracking shots on goal in 1958.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

"We didn't do a great job of (shooting), but we made them count," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "But it was a good finish there to get that one from Jake."