Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

The Union, winless in league play since a 1-0 road win against Chivas USA on April 21st, host Sporting Kansas City this evening at PPL Park (7PM, The Comcast Network). The U need three points in the worst way. As Matt P. pointed out last week, despite falling at home to D.C. United in their last match, the Union were a much more confident team than they had been.

Interim coach John Hackworth trotted out a 4-3-3 which carried the game for long stretches against United. Gone were the hopeful long balls into space. Gone was the maddening frequency with which the Union bypassed the midfield. Granted, the lone goal they conceded was on a set piece - a bugaboo they've struggled with for far too long now - but overall the performance was much crisper and better organized than we'd seen in quite some time.

Yes, it was a loss. Yes, they still sit in ninth place in the ten team MLS Eastern Conference. But, and this is a big but, they played really well. Finishing in the final third is still a major issue. Perhaps Lionard Pajoy, who missed the D.C. game while serving a suspension, will thrive in Hackworth's system.

For me, the most positive development from last week was Hackworth's decision to pair Amobi Okugo alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union back line. Okugo brings a deft passing touch out of the back. Having played so much as a holding midfielder he is sound defensively, is aggressive going into challenges, and perhaps most importantly is composed on the ball. His skill on the ball, paired with Valdes' rugged play, is a nice combination.

Another positive was the manner in which Hackworth used his bench. With the game level at 0-0 with just under 30 minutes left he introduced rookie Antoine Hoppenot into the game. Hoppenot was a revelation. He played with incredible confidence - never hesitating to take someone on 1 v. 1. He consistently ran at people and drove to the end line.

Similarly, after going down a goal Hackworth inserted the recently acquired Jorge Perlaza into the game. Perlaza's greatest attribute is his pace. Bringing him in late in the game, after the United back line had expended so much energy chasing the Union around, was great to see. Hackworth actually played to Perlaza's strength - letting him try to stretch the United defense. It sounds elementary, but too often Peter Nowak's substitutions left you scratching your head.

The challenge this evening is just as difficult as it was against first place D.C. Sporting K.C. comes to town in second place in the conference. Should he choose, SKC head coach Peter Vermes has the ability to send out one of the most offensively talented lineups in the league. Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury and Soony Saad (who I fell in love with when he played at Michigan) are all incredibly gifted in the final third.

In the run up to the game Hackworth has talked about just how devastating SKC is in transition. With that in mind the Union will need to be incredibly organized and disciplined in getting back and behind the ball. That task will be more difficult without the services of Sheanon Williams, who is out with a toe sprain.

Perhaps the Union will benefit from the fact that SKC played midweek - traveling out to Seattle where they played to a 1-1 draw against the Sounders. Maybe the short turnaround and the cross-country flight will leave SKC a little heavy-legged. The Union can obviously use all the help they can get.

Granted, SKC is a terrific team. However, considering the totality of the circumstances (the way the Union performed last week, the short turnaround and cross-country flight for SKC and an inspired home crowd) I think the Union have a realistic shot to end this winless streak.

Union win it 2-1.

Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

Instant Replay: Villanova topples Creighton, clinches Big East title outright

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall scored a team-high 19 points -- including five dunks -- and Kris Jenkins added 15, as No. 2 Villanova pulled away late to beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, and clinch the 2017 Big East Conference regular-season title outright.

Paschall, starting during Darryll Reynolds’ injury absence, shot 8 for 12 from the field and added six rebounds.

Creighton’s last lead was 45-43 six minutes into the second half, but a Paschall slam and Jenkins’ first three after five misses sparked a 16-4 run that gave the Wildcats a 59-49 lead with 8½ minutes left. Creighton got no closer than seven the rest of the way.

Paschall’s career high is a 31-point game for Fordham against NYIT on Nov. 14, 2014.

Villanova again struggled from three-point range but had tremendous success attacking the basket, especially in the second half of the final game at the Pavilion for two years.

The Wildcats shot just 17 percent from three (3 for 18) but 69 percent from two (24 for 35) and repeatedly got to the foul line in the second half, when they were 14 for 18.

Jenkins again struggled from three (1 for 7) yet still finished with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists.

Josh Hart shot 7 for 11 for 16 points and added seven rebounds and three assists.

Villanova opened a streaky first half by taking a 7-0 lead, but Creighton hit four straight threes in less than two minutes and led by three. Villanova then went on a 17-2 run and led by as many as 10 points before Creighton finished the half on a 13-3 run to tie the game at 33.

There were seven lead changes in the first seven minutes of the second half, but Villanova finally pulled away and outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes.

Mikal Bridges added 11 points and eight rebounds for Villanova, while Jalen Brunson had nine points and three assists.

Freshman Dante DiVincenzo came off the bench to contribute nine points and four rebounds for Villanova.

What it means
Villanova improved to 27-3 overall and 14-3 in the Big East, clinching the conference title outright. Entering play Saturday, only Villanova or Butler was in position to win the conference title, with Villanova holding a magic number of one.

Villanova, which lost to Butler on Wednesday, has now won 12 straight games immediately following losses (15 if you carry over to the next year).

The Wildcats last lost consecutive games at the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they fell to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals and to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Creighton fell to 22-7 overall and 9-7 in the Big East. The Bluejays are 4-6 since an 18-1 start.

Stat of the day
Marcus Foster had 25 points and eight assists, becoming the first player with 25 points and five assists against Villanova since Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds (and five steals) in a 93-72 win over Villanova on Feb. 28, 2011, at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Turning point 
Villanova led by one at 48-47 when Jenkins finally buried a three for a four-point lead.

Moving out
This was Villanova’s last game at the Pavilion for about 20 months. Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year while renovations are made to the Pavilion.

Villanova is 293-62 all-time at the Pavilion, which opened in 1985. That includes a 131-12 mark since the start of the 2004-2005 season.

By the numbers
Khyri Thomas scored 17 points for the Bluejays … Creighton was 7 for 14 from three in the first half but 4 for 13 in the second half … Villanova has won six straight against Creighton since a 101-80 loss in February 2014 when Doug McDermott scored 39 … Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fifth straight game with a rib injury.  

What's next
Villanova has a week off before facing Georgetown at the Verizon Center in Washington at noon Saturday. Georgetown is 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the Big East.