Check the Tape: Union have plenty of work to do, but it's not 2012 all over again

Check the Tape: Union have plenty of work to do, but it's not 2012 all over again

Plenty of media outlets and Union blogs will offer
their take on games this season immediately after the final whistle.

With that in mind – as well as a job that leaves
me working nights and a 15-month-old baby at home who makes it hard
to do anything not on his schedule – we’re trying something
a little different.

Set the DVR, make a few mental notes from my seat
in Section 138 (too cold this week for any real note-taking) and let
things simmer for a few days – good or bad. Then tackle the replay
from the first minute to added time, and try not to ramble too much.
Might be a running diary like this (sorry, I’m not that creative),
and it might not. We’ll see how it goes.

We also might touch on the TV broadcasts a little
bit. How games reach fans on TV has always interested me, and hopefully
might not be totally boring to you.

And we’re off.

PREGAME: The game was on 6ABC, with usual play-by-play voice
J.P. Dellacamera and new color analyst Alejandro Moreno, who played
for the Union in their first season.

LINEUP: I was WAY off in my pregame post, partially because
Hackworth veered from his expected 4-3-3 for a 4-2-1-2-1. I was very
surprised by it at first, but I really like the formation for this team
(if not the players in it). With Okugo, Lahoud and Carroll on the roster,
you have three holding midfielders, so it makes no sense to play a 4-3-3
where you may not really used one at all. Le Toux has worked well as
a solo striker, but I would still like to see Conor Casey on from the
start, and either pair him with Le Toux up top or let Le Toux play just
off Casey.

1’: The new third jerseys looked great when they were released,
and they look even better in action. The white shorts are great. In
other uniform news, I thought I liked the new two-tone Sporting shirts,
but they look really weird on the field, especially for those wearing
long sleeves.

4’: Gabe Farfan with two golden chances off a good ball from
Michael Farfan. First one right into KC goalie Nielsen, rebound shot
way over the bar. It was a promising start for Gabe Farfan, who was
a very surprising starter up high.

6’: At this point, things are off to a good start. Some decent
possession on the other side of midfield, and two plays where Jack McInerney
would’ve been way offside last year but Le Toux stayed on well.

8’: Le Toux gets a long floating ball from Carroll and can
only muster a lobbed shot way over the bar. He was 1-on-1 with Matt
Besler, and should’ve done better to bring it down. All in all though,
the Union have done more in the first eight minutes in the attacking
half than in entire games last year.

10’: Le Toux tries to cut it back in the box for Daniel but
it’s a nothing pass kicked out for a corner. He sometimes needs to
be more unselfish and have a shot.

11’: Gaddis comes all the way from left to right to cover
for Sheanon Williams, who was way up in the KC 18 on the last attack.
I love the way Williams attacks on the wings, but with the shaky nature
of this defense (more on that later), he and Gaddis need to err on the
side of caution more often.

14’: Le Toux and Gabe Farfan working well together in opening
minutes. Nice balls into space and predicting each other’s movements.
I never liked Gabe as a left back (not sure I like Gaddis, either),
but I could learn to like him playing up higher.

16’: Sloppy pass from Carroll to Michael Farfan, but Carroll
is bailed out by a stupid foul. This will not go down as one of Carroll’s
best games. He seemed out of

17: UNION
GOAL. The move starts with a really bad pass from Gaddis for
Daniel, which is easily intercepted by Chance Myers, but quickly given
away on an even worse turnover. With one quick touch, Daniel sends a
perfect floating ball to the penalty spot, which Le Toux
cradles with his right foot before poking it past Nielsen.

The first touch was amazing, but he got away with a less-than-precise
finish. Still, a just reward for the Union’s strong start.

18’: Le Toux really needs a signature goal celebration. Also,
I predicted something right! (Not that I went out on much of a limb).

20’: Moreno has already provided more solid analysis and
insight than Bob Rigby did all of last season. He doesn’t overtalk
and seems to work well with Dellacamera. Although a screaming
goat
would have been an upgrade over Rigby.

22’: Carroll gets pushed off the ball with ease and it leads
to a half-chance for KC. Like I said, not his best game.

23’: A brilliant outside-of-the-foot ball from Michael Farfan
to Williams sets up a GOLDEN chance for Le Toux just inside the 18.
Looked like he was aiming to curl it far post but flat-out scuffed the
shot and missed the net entirely. The moment that really changed the
game, in my opinon.

24’: Le Toux was solid, but a minute after the missed chance
he fails to put anything on an attempted cross and it is easily cleared
away. Union really possessing the ball well, though.

26’: Gaddis streaks down the middle and draws a promising
free kick on a foul by Aurelien Collin. The kid has unbelievable speed,
and could really develop into a nice left back if given the chance.
But his lack of size means he needs to play smarter in the back, especially
on set pieces and scramble situations.

27’: Michael Farfan puts a free kick on frame (BREAKING NEWS!)
and forces a nice save from Nielsen.

28’: I DESPISE short corners. Just so you know.

31’: It was about this time that we all realized just how
cold it was in the River End. Also when we started to wonder exactly
who the back-breaking end-of-half goal against was going to come from.

32’: Benny Feilhaber commits a foul and then screams at the
ref with a “Who? Me?!?” look. For you soccer newbies, this is what
we call “being Benny Feilhaber.”

36’: Nice job by Gaddis to run at Colin again. He seemed
to know Colin had one yellow card and forced him into another dangerous
tackle. Colin makes a nice play to stop him, but that’s great awareness
from a young player.

37’: Great corner kick from Le Toux and a semi-free header
by Okugo that he can’t get on frame. Solid corner by Le Toux, who
often misses his mark on those.

39’: Moreno (rightfully) harping on Le Toux’s inability
to ease pressure by holding up the ball. He needs to get better at that,
especially if he going to play up top alone.

41’: SPORTING GOAL. Carroll’s biggest mistake of the match
leads to a goal. Okugo misreads a bouncing ball on the wing 40 yards
out and it falls to Convey. At this point, my brother, standing beside
me, says “He should’ve fouled him there.” Carroll can see a teammate
out of position in front of him and needs to go for the ball and take
a “professional” foul, even if it means a yellow card. Instead,
Carroll meekly stabs at the ball and Convey beats him easily before
floating a cross into the box.

Claudio Bieler nods it down nicely to Feilhaber, whose
shot is saved well by Macmath. But Parke and Gaddis are inexplicably
retreating BEHIND their goalie to guard the line, so when the rebound
rolls out to Graham Zusi, there is no one there and he roofs it to tie
the game
. Plenty of blame to go around on this one.
Macmath gets the least, as the shot was ripped and would’ve been hard
to push to catch or push to one side. Carroll needs to do better, and
Gabe Farfan and Michael Lahoud need to do more than watch from the edge
of the 18. A terrible goal to give up when you’ve dominated the half.

HALFTIME: The scoreline is not what the Union deserve for this
possession and passing game, which has been better than at any point
in 2012. Also, I’m super pumped that the creepy Bimbo teddy bear ads
are back this year (sarcasm font). And Peter Pappas is part of the halftime
show on 6ABC. I got his autograph on a Philadelphia Kixx ball after
a game at the Spectrum when I was a kid. That ball would be worth a
pretty penny today. An actual penny.

46’: SO MANY empty seats at the start of the second half
… a PPL Park tradition. For a new stadium, the number and layout of
the bathrooms is embarrassing, especially when men vastly outnumber
women. Not sure I’ve ever seen a second-half kickoff live.

54’: Feilhaber runs over Michael Farfan and gets called for
a foul. Running people over and pretending he did nothing wrong is what
Feilhaber does best.

60’: Sporting really controlling the ball now. Everything
has been different since the Zusi goal. Despite that, the Union have
had one or two forays into the attacking third. Last year when momentum
changed this way, the Union folded up and never pushed forward.

66’: Williams tangles with substitute C.J. Sapong and get
called for a foul. From my seat on Saturday I thought it was a foul
on Sapong if anything. From here it should’ve been a no-call. Both
guys were using their arms.

66’: SPORTING GOAL. Zusi’s free kick is well-placed, but
the Union are just watching. Gaddis
lets Oriol Rosell run free for the header
, so he gets
Blame #1. But Macmath MUST be more assertive there. You know where Zusi
is going to put it, so come to the ball and be aggressive. The goalie
is always going to get the benefit of the doubt in a penalty box pileup,
but Macmath consistently seems unwilling to make the first move. Just
bad all around from the Union, who apparently don’t practice set piece
defending.

70’: McInerney comes in for Gabe Farfan. I thought Farfan
was serviceable enough to deserve another chance in the attack. I’ve
never been the biggest McInerney fan, and would’ve rather seen Hoppenot
or Casey come in here.

75’: Williams trying to beat two men by himself. That tells
you all you need to know about the second half. No poise at all. For
Hackworth’s sake, you hope it’s not tired legs. Let’s also not
forget that Sporting K.C. is one of the top three or four teams in the
league, as well.

79’: Le Toux with a great ball to McInerney, who directs
a great header on goal, but Nielsen is positioned well to make the save.

80’: Roger Torres comes in for Lahoud. I have never liked
Lahoud but thought he played OK in this game. Not sure he needs to be
out there with Carroll and Okugo though.

83’: SPORTING GOAL. Again, this was easy to see a mile away.
Zusi is everywhere on this play, floats a great ball to Myers, who cuts
it back to Bieler, who seemed shocked to be so alone inside the 18. The experienced
forward makes no mistake and slots it home past Macmath.

Why are the Union never linked to designated players like Bieler? (The
$1 million question).

84’: Casey comes in and throws his body into Collin, drawing
a cheer from the Sons of Ben, who were waiting for anything to cheer
about.

89’: Gaddis lucky to not see a red card after a wild tackle
on Peterson Joseph.

90’: Let’s hope the Union are taking notes. This is how
an experienced winning team closes out a game. Sporting putting on a
second-half clinic.

FINAL: SPORTING K.C. 3, UNION 1.

I won’t get too caught up in one game. And there
were plenty of reasons to think this won’t be 2012 revisited. The
offense was MUCH better and there were chances created. There was even
a chance well-finished for a goal.

The problem is the defense was sloppy on all three
goals, while Macmath shares the blame for at least one of them (the
second). I like Gaddis, but he might be a better option as the left
back, especially if Bakary Soumare can play in the middle alongside
Parke.

I won’t fall into the “more of the same” argument. This was not like a 2012 loss, even if it felt like it at
times. There is more talent here and more cohesion, especially in the
midfield. That’s not to say roster moves aren’t needed and lineup
changes shouldn’t come. But let’s wait a few games before we write
off 2013 as a continuation of 2012.

Follow Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

Instant Replay: Phillies 2, Rockies 1 (11 innings)

BOX SCORE

Tommy Joseph hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning Thursday to score Michael Saunders and snap the Phillies' five-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Rockies.

The win is their first victory in a game not started by Jeremy Hellickson since May 1. It also prevented the Phillies from being swept by Colorado.

At 16-29, the Phillies have the second-worst record in the majors. The Rockies, 32-17, have the second-best record in the majors.

Starting pitching report
Vince Velasquez pitched well, allowing one run over five innings to a stacked Rockies lineup, but he again had a short outing because of a high pitch count.

Velasquez put nine men on base and struck out seven. He threw 94 pitches, 70 for strikes.

After Velasquez's last start in Pittsburgh, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said the right-hander's secondary pitches simply need to improve, that he needs to be able to show more than just a mid-90s fastball.

On Thursday, Velasquez threw 72 fastballs, 14 curveballs, four sliders and four changeups. The Rockies swung through only two of those 22 off-speed pitches and went 4 for 6 when putting them in play.

Mackanin left Velasquez in to hit for himself with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the fifth and Velasquez popped out on a sacrifice attempt. Many fans have already questioned the decision, but let's keep in mind Velasquez has handled the bat well. He's 6 for 17 (.353) on the season and tied for the major-league lead in hits among pitchers. He had an infield single in his first at-bat.

Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson continued the theme of mediocre starting pitchers stymying the Phillies. Anderson allowed just one run on six hits over seven innings with seven strikeouts.

In the series, Rockies starting pitchers allowed three runs in 27 innings. They had a 1.00 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning. And these four starters — Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Tyler Chatwood and Anderson — entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA.

Bullpen report
Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit, Hector Neris, Luis Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez each pitched one scoreless inning. It's understandably been overlooked during the Phillies' skid, but the bullpen is finally in a groove. Over their last seven games, Phillies relievers have allowed just two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings for a 0.79 ERA.

Neris threw 10 pitches, all of them strikes. He's allowed one run in 9 2/3 innings since his meltdown at Dodger Stadium.

At the plate
Before the walk-off hit, Joseph stayed hot with a home run off the ivy wall in dead-center to start the bottom of the seventh.

Joseph is hitting .329 in May with six doubles, six homers, 15 RBIs and a .657 slugging percentage. The only first basemen in the majors with a higher slugging percentage this month are Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour and Paul Goldschmidt.

Joseph has now played 148 games with 498 plate appearances in the majors — slightly less than a full season. He's hit .255 with an .804 OPS, 28 home runs and 23 doubles. Those numbers are just above the league average for first basemen over that span.

Batting third, Odubel Herrera went 0 for 5 with five strikeouts. He's the first player in the majors this season to do that and the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in September 2008. Herrera is hitting .226 with a .275 OBP. 

Maikel Franco returned to the lineup after a two-game benching and went 1 for 5, singling up the middle in his first at-bat and flailing at a low-and-away, two-strike breaking ball to strike out with two on and one out in the eighth inning. He then struck out on three pitches to lead off the 11th.

Cameron Rupp walked three times, raising his on-base percentage from .330 to .345.

Up next
The Phillies start a three-game series at home against the Cincinnati Reds, who they haven't seen since the opening week of the season.

Friday, 7:05 p.m. — Aaron Nola (2-1, 3.52) vs. Bronson Arroyo (3-4, 6.75)

Saturday, 4:05 p.m. — Jerad Eickhoff (0-5, 4.70) vs. Scott Feldman (3-4, 3.99)

Sunday, 1:35 p.m. — Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.36) vs. Amir Garrett (3-3, 6.00)

NFL Notes: Former Giant Victor Cruz inks 1-year deal with Bears

NFL Notes: Former Giant Victor Cruz inks 1-year deal with Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears added some salsa, signing former New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz to a one-year contract Thursday.

The Bears were looking for help after Alshon Jeffery signed with Philadelphia.

A feared receiver with the Giants, he helped them win the Super Bowl before being slowed by injuries. He was released after seven seasons in February.

Cruz has 303 catches for 4,549 yards and 25 touchdowns, many of which he celebrated with a salsa dance. A knee injury and a calf problem caused him to miss most of the 2014 season and all of 2015. Last year, he had 39 catches and one touchdown reception.

Giants: Odell Beckham and Olivier Vernon miss OTAs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York ended their first week of voluntary organized team activities missing two of their biggest stars -- wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and defensive end Olivier Vernon.

The workout Thursday was fourth of the week, and Beckham missed them all. The team did not say whether Vernon missed all four, but the veteran who signed an $85 million contract in the offseason last year wasn't there Thursday, the only day workouts were open to the media.

The only other player missing was third-year defensive end Owa Odighizuwa, who hinted since the end of last season that he may take time away from football.

While coach Ben McAdoo said he wanted all his players at the workouts, he said he would coach the ones there.

NFL: International players to join practice squads
NEW YORK -- Four NFL teams will carry an additional overseas player on their practice squads during the 2017 season. Three players are from Britain and one from Germany.

The announcement by the NFL on Thursday is part of a new International Player Pathway program.

The international players are: tight end Alex Gray with Atlanta, defensive end Efe Obada with Carolina, defensive end Alex Jenkins with New Orleans and linebacker Eric Nzeocha with Tampa Bay.

The players have been training alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida the past three months.

Gray is a former rugby player; Jenkins and Nzeocha were recent college players. Obada was originally signed by Dallas in 2015. Each team will get an exemption for an 11th practice player, who is ineligible to be activated during the season.

Bills: Linebacker Hodges signs, cornerback Gaines released
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Bills have signed linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started 12 games for San Francisco last season.

Team officials also said Thursday that cornerback Charles Gaines had been released.

Hodges is going into his fifth season after being drafted in 2013 by the Minnesota Vikings. He played two-plus seasons with Minnesota before joining the 49ers. He had 83 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble last year.

Gaines did not play last season but started four games for Cleveland in 2015.

Jaguars: Jags to host Bucs for joint practices before preseason game
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two joint training camp practices before their preseason game in August.

The teams will practice Monday and Tuesday before playing Thursday night, Aug. 17. The Jaguars also will have two joint practices at New England a week earlier, before their preseason opener.

New coach Doug Marrone and top executive Tom Coughlin want the Jaguars to be more physical. Holding joint practices in consecutive weeks will make that clear to the players.

Marrone says he's a fan of joint practices "as long as you can make sure that it is competitive and not combative."

The Jaguars and Bucs also practiced together in Jacksonville before their preseason game last year.