As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

Union manager John Hackworth has plenty of pressure on his shoulders this season.

This week, I've gotten two emails from the Union pushing tickets for this Saturday's home game against D.C. United (4 p.m. - The Comcast Network). One was about honoring mom for Mother's Day by bringing her to the game, and the other offered a sharp discount offer on the pricier tickets at PPL Park.

Those emails -- and the empty seats that caused them -- are what should have Union manager John Hackworth looking over his shoulder, and what I think could force a change at the top as early as next week, if the fans who do show up on Saturday leave PPL Park disappointed yet again.

There's no doubt Hackworth is feeling the heat.

“We’re going to have to get out of this hole we dug, one step at a time,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com after the 2-1 loss to Seattle last weekend.. “But I know there’s only so much time to have that opportunity.”

I'm never one to call for a coach's firing prematurely. When I said in the preseason that this year was Hackworth's chance to put up or shut up, I assumed that meant he'd get the entire season to figure it out. And he still might. Changing coaches in the middle of the season won't lead to anything more than maybe a short-lived kick in the butt.

This is me, on the record, saying that while I think Hackworth is not the answer, I don't think a midseason firing is either.

But things have been so underwhelming, and so disappointing, that Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz (under pressure from investors weary of a long summer at the turnstiles) may have to pull the trigger much, much sooner, just to appeal to frustrated fans who are tired of spending their money to watch a team that can't score. Even as soon as Sunday or Monday if things don't go well on Saturday.

The Union not only need a win against a decent but beatable D.C. United team, but they need to entertain. They need to show some growth. They need to show some initiative. They need to show some chemistry. They showed a little bit of that in Seattle last weekend, but in the end, it was the same old story: shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The team's near-bottom-of-the-table standing isn't what will push the change. Nor will it be because vocal Union fans on the Internet calling for his head (some have been calling for it since the day he was hired).

It'll be the hard-to-ignore swaths of blue seats sitting empty on Saturday.

If you're at PPL Park, take a look toward the corners, especially the two corners close to the Delaware River. On Saturday, section 133 will be relatively full because D.C. United will bring a large contingent. But sections 101 and 102, as well as 113 and 121 are usually the last ones sold.

While paid attendance has been decent so far this season (according to this site, the team is averaging 94 percent capacity at 17,415), the warm summer months are coming. Kids are almost done with school, tailgating weather is improving, and the Union -- like every MLS team -- are hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the World Cup next month.

Sakiewicz and Co. obviously hoped that the on-field results would fill PPL to capacity through those warm summer months. But if things don't turn around soon, he might have to show Hackworth the door just so he can stand up and say that he really is in it to win it.

Sure, there are other ways for the team to appeal to frustrated fans. The front office could make a splashy move in the summer transfer window (Jozy Altidore to the white courtesy phone...). Hell, they could just unveil another new jersey or offer 10 percent off at the Union Store.

Just kidding.

Firing Hackworth won't solve the Union's problems. Along those lines, it's about time for the players to stand up and take some responsibility for the dumpster fire this season is quickly becoming. Many of them have not performed anywhere near their potential (not you, Zac MacMath ... you're excused).

But at this point, if things don't turn around, Hackworth may be the sacrificial lamb intended to appease frustrated fans.

The Union have six games before the World Cup break.

John Hackworth might be watching some of them on TV.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Hellickson good to go; Franco sits again

Phillies (15-28) vs. Rockies (30-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' nightmarish skid continued Tuesday as they dropped a second straight game to a Rockies rookie starting pitcher.

They've been outscored 16-3 in the first two games of this four-game series against a Colorado club that has the best record in the NL and more road wins (17) than the Phillies have total wins.

Let's take a look at Game 3:

1. Hellickson good to go
The Phillies got a scare last Friday night when Jeremy Hellickson hurt his lower back during his seventh-inning at-bat, but they avoided disaster when it was diagnosed as mere stiffness as opposed to something more serious like a strained oblique.

Hellickson said that night and again the next morning that he felt fine and wouldn't miss a start. The Phillies are thankful for that given the inefficiencies of their rotation, which has just 16 quality starts in 43 games, third-fewest in the majors.

Hellickson (5-1, 3.44) was locked in last weekend against a weak Pirates lineup but this is much more of a challenge. Don't expect him to set down 16 of 17 batters the way he did in Pittsburgh.

The Phillies are 8-1 when Hellickson pitches this season and 7-27 when anyone else does. The only loss in a Hellickson start came against the Cubs on May 2, the first of a three-start skid in which Hellickson allowed 12 runs in 13⅔ innings. Of those 12 runs, 11 scored via home runs. He allowed seven homers in those three starts after giving up just two in his first five.

The Rockies present a lot of challenges and one of them is that they've been the second-best team in the majors this season against changeups, which is Hellickson's go-to pitch. Only the Marlins (.312) have a higher batting average vs. changeups than the Rockies (.286).

(For reference, the Phillies are 28th in baseball against changeups with a .201 batting average.)

Then again, not all changeups are the same, and Hellickson did limit the Marlins to one run on seven hits over six innings when he faced them April 27.

Current Rockies are just 10 for 56 (.179) off Hellickson. Ian Desmond has the only homer (2 for 5, HR, double).

2. Blackmon the Destroyer
Charlie Blackmon, good lord.

The guy has seven home runs in his last five games at Citizens Bank Park. Over that span — Aug. 12, 2016 through last night — Blackmon has more homers at CBP than any Phillie.

Think about how ridiculous that is. Aaron Altherr and Ryan Howard are next with six homers in 15 and 17 games, respectively. Then comes Freddy Galvis with five in 26 games.

3. Fading fast
At 15-28, the Phillies are on pace to finish 57-105. They've dropped 19 of 23 and now have the second-worst record in the majors, ahead of only the 16-31 Padres.

The offense has been completely devoid of life lately. It's not like these guys are going out and playing with zero energy, but when you don't hit it's always going to seem like that.

Since May 12, the Phillies are 2-9. They've hit .225/.273/.345 as a team for the second-worst OBP and OPS, ahead of only the Mariners.

They've been middle of the pack with runners in scoring position over that span, but they have just 89 plate appearances with RISP, which is seventh-fewest in baseball.

A lot of this can be attributed to the top of the order. Cesar Hernandez is 9 for 54 (.167) with no extra-base hits over his last 14 games. And that vaunted 1-2 in the Phillies' order — a duo which hit close to .350 in April — is down to .282.

4. Scouting Chatwood
The Phillies face 27-year-old right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-6, 5.09).

He was the Rockies' best starting pitcher last season when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 158 innings. He walked 70 and those control issues have continued this season — 27 walks in 53 innings.

He's been especially wild lately, walking 19 in 21⅔ innings this month. 

Chatwood averages 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and 88-90 with his slider and changeup. He also throws a high-70s curveball.

He faced the Phillies twice last year and went 0-2, allowing 10 runs (eight earned) in nine innings. Interestingly, though, no active Phillie has an extra-base hit against him.

Hopefully, the Phils will be able to make Chatwood work tonight and take advantage of their opportunities with men on base. They stranded the bases loaded three times last night.

5. Franco sits again
Maikel Franco and Cameron Rupp are sitting again. Pete Mackanin wants the extremely inconsistent, wild-swinging Franco to sit back and watch for a few days to regroup. He also wants to see some more of Andrew Knapp after a rough defensive week from Cameron Rupp.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, LF
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Andres Blanco, 3B
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Michael Saunders, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Bringing fun back: Counting down the 10 best Eagles touchdown celebrations

Up until Tuesday afternoon, many fans assumed NFL stood for No Fun League. And with often-excessive fines for celebrations such as this and that, it's easy to see why.

In a letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell, though, the NFL finally wants its players to have "more room to have fun."

Yes, there will still be no twerking -- sorry, Antonio Brown -- as the league will still flag "offensive demonstrations," but we might actually get back to the good old days. And of course, I wish we could enjoy the creativity of guys like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on a weekly basis.

But the Eagles have had plenty of fun on the field in years past and we're all hoping to see more from Carson Wentz, Jordan Matthews and the rest of the new wide receiving corps in months to come. Until then, let's count down the (entirely objective) 10 best Eagles dances and celebrations of all-time:

10. Shady's got moves...
WATCH
LeSean McCoy danced plenty and although he didn't change it up very often, the guy had his signature celebration.

9. ...And Donovan too?


Well, let's not give Donovan McNabb too much credit here. His moonwalk pales in comparison to Michael Jackson and I'm still unsure of who he was imitating with his air guitar in Dallas. Hey, at least he tried...

8. Rip it down, Terrell Owens (October 24, 2004)
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Alright, can we stop bringing pain to Browns fans?

T.O. absolutely torched Cleveland in this one when the teams faced off in 2004, catching four balls for 109 yards and two touchdowns. And to cap it off, he brought Browns fans down just a bit more, ripping off their sign that read "T. Akes O. Ne To Know One."

Clever? Yes. Smart to mock one of the best wide receivers of the generation? Probably not.

7. Freddie Mitchell: The People's Champ


This one didn't happen in the end zone, but Aaron Rodgers, I think Fred-Ex wants his celebration back.

Although the wide receiver is best known for his catch on 4th and 26 against the Packers, Mitchell once called himself "The People's Champ" and after snagging a long bomb from McNabb against the Cowboys, he showed off his own championship belt.

6. Mike Bartrum doing his thing (September 26, 2004)
Before Jon Dorenbos, there was Mike Bartrum. The guy was a stud -- he played seven seasons with the Birds and not only could he long snap, but he could also catch passes as a tight end.

We don't have a video of this one, however, according to Larry O'Rourke of the Allentown Morning Call, Bartrum caught a touchdown in Detroit in 2004 and was then flagged 15 yards after what O'Rourke termed a "jubilant long snap."

Apparently, this was an elaborate plan by Bartrum's two young sons and the long-snapper told the media afterwards, "No more celebrating.... I don't think coach Reid was too happy. He didn't really say anything. Just that he wasn't happy."

I wonder how Doug Pederson would react if Dorenbos breaks out an end-zone magic trick this season.

5. Fred Barnett's Backflop (December 2, 1990)
WATCH
Now, I don't think Barnett's celebration was the highlight of this play. I mean, wow, Randall Cunningham was absolutely amazing on this one.

With the Eagles backed up inside their own five-yard line, the quarterback somehow ducked under a Bills defender and then hucked a pass 70 yards down the field. Let's pray Carson has some Randall in him somewhere because the guy was a wizard in green and white.

But let's get to Fred Barnett. He runs into the end zone untouched for the score, stumbles to the back, and then proceeds to do some kind of backflop while shooting the ball into the stands. I'm not entirely sure what was going on with this one, yet Cunningham's work pushes his teammate up this list.

4. Vai Sikahema boxes with the goalpost (November 22, 1992)


The current NBC10 anchor didn't last long on the field with the Eagles, but maybe he could have had a career as a professional boxer. Vai showed his skills off after returning an 87-yard punt vs. the Giants as the Birds blew out their division rivals 40-20 in the Meadowlands.

It wasn't much and I wouldn't necessarily recommend stepping into the ring against Floyd Mayweather anytime soon, but who knows? The multi-talented Sikahema might not fare all that badly (yes, he would).

3. Koy Detmer gives the Patriots the "Whuppin' Stick"(December 19, 1999)
Yes, you read right. We're actually discussing the same Koy Detmer that once backed up Eagles backup Doug Pederson and spent most of his time in Philadelphia as the holder for David Akers.

With the game in hand and the Birds' season going down the drain, Detmer stepped in as the third-stringer against the Pats in 1999, tossing three touchdown passes in a 24-9 victory. Afterwards, he told reporters that his hilarious touchdown dance was known as the "whuppin' stick."

It's not like he hadn't done the dance before — Detmer "whipped it" the year prior against Green Bay — but as he stepped toward the sidelines, he flipped his arm back and forth in a raunchy fashion that I still think might get flagged under today's rules. Andy Reid later said of the celebration, "[Detmer's] a beauty, but he's definitely not a dancer."

2. DeSean's "Nestea Plunge" (December 12, 2010)
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You remember the old commercial where the construction working dying of thirst does a backflop onto a carpet and somehow lands in a pool of water? Well, that were before my time and still doesn't make much sense to me.

But they became relevant again once more in December 2010 when DeSean broke loose for a 91-yard game-breaking score in Dallas. With no one around him, Jackson got to the goal line, turned around with no one covering him and took the plunge right for paydirt.

In the moment, it was awesome just to watch D-Jax mock the Cowboys, yet that was a huge play in a crucial game for the Eagles that season. The Birds took a 27-20 lead that they would never relinquish, and the win wound up being just enough to give them the 2010 NFC East crown.

1. T.O. mocks Ray Lewis to his face (October 31, 2004)
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I don't think anyone would ever dare try to replicate soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ray Lewis' infamous "Squirrel Dance" — except maybe T.O. Owens never feared an opponent, so would it surprise anyone that he'd rip off the 6-foot-1, 240-pound linebacker's own intro dance with Lewis just a couple of paces away? Not a bit.

With the Birds leading Baltimore 9-3 midway through the 4th quarter of their 2004 matchup, Owens eluded a trio of Ravens defenders to slip into the end zone and give the Eagles some breathing room. And just as he had planned, T.O. scooped up a piece of grass and got right into the motions. Although this one was not original, it definitely took some guts and certainly earns its spot at the top of this list.

Not-so Honorable Mention: Brent Celek is Captain Morgan
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There is not much to be said here. Brent, let's stick to blocking and maybe the occasional spike. Or at least watch a few ads and practice some more before trying again.