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 He's not playing as a withdrawn forward or as a midfielder - he's playing a position he's accustomed to; up top and central in a 4-3-3.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

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

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Manute Bol's 7-foot, 17-year-old son dominates in HS season debut

Bol Bol, the 17-year-old son of the late Manute Bol, is a top high school basketball prospect with offers from schools like Arizona, Kansas and Creighton. This highlight tape should give you an idea why.
 
Bol, whose father played in the NBA for parts of 12 seasons, including 215 games for the Sixers, now attends the famed Mater Dei High School in California and played in his first game of the season this past weekend. Listed as the No. 16 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class by Scout, Bol started his season off with a big 21-point, 10-rebound effort.
 
Take a look at the highlight tape from the 6-foot-11 Bol and expect to see him carry on his father’s legacy on the court at a major NCAA college basketball program soon.