Matchday 14: Union Look To Make It Two In A Row

Matchday 14: Union Look To Make It Two In A Row

The Union return to Houston for the first time since being eliminated from the MLS playoffs by the Dynamo last season (8:30PM/The Comcast Network). Interim head coach John Hackworth has rejuvenated a long struggling Union offense. The blue and gold have scored 9 goals over the last two games (a 4-0 win of Sporting KC and a 5-2 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders in US Open Cup play).

They'll need to continue their recent run of good form if they hope to hand Houston its first home loss of the season. This will be the Union's first trip to the brand new BBVA Compass Stadium, where the field dimensions are the same as they were at Robertson Stadium, which is to say narrow. Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear made certain that his team would continue playing on a 70 x 115 pitch, which is an advantage for a team as dangerous as Houston with Brad Davis whipping left-footed crosses into the box.

It's been only three games since Hackworth took over, but there's an unmistakeable sense that a huge weight has been lifted of the shoulders of the players. They're playing freely. They seem more committed to each other. Players seem to have clearly defined roles. And, most importantly, they've started putting the ball into the back of the net.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the coaching change has been Jack McInereny. The former first round pick has started all three games under Hackworth and has responded with three goals over the last two games. He's not playing as a withdrawn forward or as a midfielder - he's playing a position he's accustomed to; up top and central in a 4-3-3. McInereny is not going to blow you away with his pace, or overpower you with his size, but he has a nose for goal and a sense for how to slip behind opposing back lines. Hackworth recognized this and has finally put him in a position to succeed.

Another area of improvement under Hackworth has been the consistent play of the midfield. The threesome of Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud and Michael Farfan have been terrific. It will be interesting to see if Hackworth replaces Lahoud with Gabriel Gomez, who is returning from knee tendonitis. Gomez actually played and scored a cheeky goal against Harrisburg midweek. If I had to guess I'd say that Lahoud will retain his starting spot and Gomez will likely come off of the bench.

However, with Ray Gaddis out serving a suspension and Sheanon Williams listed as doubtful there may be a hole to fill at right back. Chris Albright is listed as probable and could get the start. Another option would be to play Michael Farfan at right back and start Gomez in his place. Whatever they do I am firmly in the play anyone other than Porfirio Lopez camp.

No matter who is along the back line they'll have to deal with Dynamo forward Will Bruin, who is fourth in MLS with 9 goals. There's no real mystery to what the Dynamo want to do offensively. They want Brad Davis to serve balls into the box from the run of play, from corner kicks and from free kicks. He'll aim for the heads of Bruin, Brian Ching, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron. It's simple, but it's incredibly effective. We saw during the playoffs last season how difficult it can be to stop.

In reviewing the game notes I was surprised to read that the Union are undefeated all-time against Houston (2-0-2). They'll need to continue playing the free-flowing style they've shown of late if they hope to stay undefeated against the Dynamo. I think the Union will be satisfied if they earn a point on the road tonight.

I see the Union earning a road point with a 2-2 draw.

Photo Credit: philadelphiaunion.com

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career – at least his Villanova career – with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best on Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points – 9 ½ below his average.

“He’s getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. “He’s down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he’s down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he’s battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That’s more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

“We know he’s talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he’s battling and the way he’s not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that’s the best part.”

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5 ½ rebounds per game. The others were D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that’s where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

“Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows,” coach Jay Wright said. “We know. When he’s in the game, we are executing at a high level. We’re just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you’ve got to be able to (play defense) first and he’s been doing that all year.

“(He’s) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you’ll probably see next year, but you’ve got to get the basics down first, which he’s done an incredible job of this year. It’s like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they’re not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is, because they don’t get to see it all the time.”

It’s not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

“It was a process,” Paschall said. “The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that’s defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

“The guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a brotherhood here and we’re all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It’s just a matter of focusing on my job.”

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he’s 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he’s come and in done what’s expected,” Jalen Brunson said.

“He’s done a great job for us and we’re extremely confident in him. It’s hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he’s done a good job.”

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

“Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game,” he said. “They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As thin as Villanova is – Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt – Paschall has been a life-saver.

It’s hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

“We see him getting better every day with his decision making,” Hart said of Paschall. “Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

“One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he’s doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.”

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

“I got to briefly shake his hand,” Pivetta said Sunday morning. “He knew I was like a stalker. He said, ‘Oh, right, you’re the guy from British Columbia.’ “

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.