Matchday 5: Rested Union Seek First Win of Season

Matchday 5: Rested Union Seek First Win of Season

After a week off the Union return to action at home against the Columbus Crew (3:30PM/NBC Sports Network). Winless on the season, the Union picked up its first points of the campaign two weeks ago with a scoreless draw against Vancouver. 
The Union, not the most creative team to begin with, will be without its most creative player for the next 6-8 weeks. Roger Torres, who when given the opportunity to play is the closest thing the Union has to a string puller, sprained the MCL in his left knee during a reserve league match
His absence creates an opportunity for Freddy Adu to assume the primary playmaking duties. Adu, who has not played for the Union since the season opener in Portland, is fit and rested after featuring for the US U-23's during their failed Olympic qualifying campaign. Anyone who watched Adu play for the U-23's saw a dangerous, confident, attacking player. You would not use any of those words to describe Adu's play with the Union. He'll need to carry that form from his US kit to the blue and gold of the Union.
True, Adu featured at right wing for the U-23's, providing service into the area and taking players on 1 v. 1. It's anyone's guess at to where and how Peter Nowak will deploy him. I don't know if Freddy is best served playing centrally, but I do know Nowak needs to figure out the center of his formation.
I've said it before, but Gabriel Gomez and Brian Carroll are redundant (at least they've been deployed in a manner that's redundant). They both play in front of Danny Califf and Carlos Valdes as holding/defensive midfielders. Fundamentally, I do not have a problem playing a back four along with two holding midfielders. It's a defensive posture, which makes sense considering Zak MacMath is an inexperienced goalkeeper.
What I do have a problem with is that the Union wants to play a style whereby they maintain possession and knock the ball around the park all day. How they think they can do that when six of their ten field players are defensive-minded is beyond me. Do they want to be a defensive team or a free-flowing offensive team? Their personnel does not lend itself to the latter, so why not recognize your strength and embrace a defensive counter-attacking style?
What, you may be asking, about this Columbus side they'll face today? The Crew are 2-2 and sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference table. They come to town an injured bunch. Presumed starting center back Julius James has not played a game this year. He underwent surgery last week after suffering a collapsed lung. Presumed starting goalkeeper William Hesmer also has not played in a game this season. Hesmer underwent microfracture surgery on his right hip and will be out approximately six months.
Who will be in uniform for Columbus today? Chad Marshall, who was anchored the Crew back line for what seems like forever, will again be in the middle of the Crew's back four. Marshall will make his 201st appearance in a Crew uniform, just 15 appearances shy of tying Mike Clark's all-time club record.
Offensively, the Crew are led by forward Olman Vargas and midfielder Milovan Mirosevic. Former Rutgers player Dilly Duka came on off the bench last week during the Crew's 4-1 loss to New York and may have earned himself some additional playing time today. Eddie Gaven, who like Marshall has been in MLS forever, also mans the midfield for the Crew. 
What do the Union need to do to pick up its first win of the season? As mentioned, they need to pick a style and stick with it. Holding Vancouver to zero shots last time out was a promising sign that they may have opted to assume a grind it out defensive style. If they persist on trying to dominate possession they'll likely continue to struggle.
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Valdes, Califf, Gabriel Farfan, Adu, Garbiel Gomez, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel, Lionard Pajoy, Danny Mwanga
Final Score Prediction: Not a win, but the Union grind out a 1-1 draw.
Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson, US Presswire

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

Eagles storylines heading into 2017 NFL Scouting Combine

The NFL world will take over Indianapolis again this week for the annual scouting combine. 

This year, the combine is taking place a little later than normal. Instead of late February, this year the combine is happening in early March, very close to free agency. 

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are scheduled to speak to reporters on Wednesday afternoon (Roseman at 2:30, Pederson at 2:45) while player interviews with the media begin on Thursday. Player workouts will begin on Friday and run through Monday. 

Flip, flip, hooray?
At some point this week, a very important coin flip will happen in Indy. The Eagles will end up with either the 14th or 15th pick in April's draft based on the outcome. The Colts will get the other. 

This year the Eagles don't own their own first-round pick. The Browns have it at No. 12 thanks to the trade up to get Carson Wentz last year. The Eagles, instead, own the Vikings' first-rounder thanks to the Sam Bradford trade. The Vikings and Colts finished with identical records and strength of schedules, so a coin flip will decide who gets the higher pick -- in this case, the Eagles are the Vikings. 

Either way, the Eagles should have a really good chance to draft a difference-maker. They've had luck before higher than 20 and the recent history at 14/15 bodes well (see story)

In total, the Eagles will have eight draft picks -- the Vikings' first-rounder, their own picks in Rounds 2 through 7 and a fourth-round compensatory pick from the Browns. That pick from the Browns was part of the return from the trade up to No. 2 last year. It would have been a fifth-rounder if the Browns didn't get a compensatory pick, but they got two. The Eagles take the higher one at No. 139 overall. 

Coach talk
On Wednesday, we'll hear from Pederson for the first time since just after the final game of the 2016 season. Pederson didn't have a year-end press conference and didn't speak at the Senior Bowl in Alabama in January. 

There are plenty of questions for Pederson, starting with his coaching staff. Since the season ended, the Eagles fired receivers coach Greg Lewis and hired Mike Groh, who held the same position with the Rams in 2016 and with the Bears from 2013-15. In Mobile, Roseman said any decisions with the coaching staff were all Pederson's, so this will be a chance to find out why the switch was made. 

Another question for Pederson is about quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. The Eagles blocked the Jets from interviewing DeFilippo for their offensive coordinator position. While a report surfaced that this decision was Jeff Lurie's, Roseman repeated the line about Pederson making coaching decisions. 

Finally, Pederson is entering his second year as the Eagles' head coach. Last year, he was trying to put together a coaching staff and install his scheme, but this year that's already done. Has he taken a more active role in personnel and to what extent? 

Roseman in his element
The Eagles don't have a ton of guys who will become unrestricted free agents on March 9, but the biggest name of the bunch is clearly Bennie Logan. The Eagles will have a chance to meet with Logan's agent, Todd France, face to face during the week. They saw France last year too, as he represents Fletcher Cox. 

This situation is a little different, though. Cox wasn't scheduled to become a free agent last year, while Logan is this year. Logan is the Eagles' most significant pending free agent. 

While Roseman can use this week to try to work on deals for his own players, he can also float some trades. Guys like Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and even Jason Kelce could be discussed. 

Weird timing
This year, the NFL schedule has the combine finishing just as the legal tampering window (March 7) is set to begin. So basically, the league is putting front office members and agents in the same city days before free agency kicks off and expects them to not talk about players from other teams. Yeah, OK. In any case, it'll be interesting to see what the new schedule changes in terms of to-be free agent talks.  

Cornering the market
Ahh, yes, the real reason everyone is heading to Indy: the actual players on the field. This year, the prized position in the draft looks like cornerback, which should be good news for the Eagles. You might have noticed they're lacking in that area. 

How deep is the draft for corners and rushers? Well, a former NFL GM tweeted this: 

There are as many as eight cornerbacks who could possibly go in the first round and over a dozen who might go in the first two rounds. Some incredible talent. It's just up to the Eagles to find the right one. 

It might make sense for the Birds take a different position at 14 or 15 and then come back in the second round to draft a corner. After all, with how deep the position is, they're bound to get great value in the second, right? Roseman's answer about this scenario was interesting. He pointed to last year's draft, which was supposed to be very deep at defensive tackle. Roseman thought they could get a second- or third-rounder in the fourth or fifth. 

"And what happened was they all went," Roseman said during Senior Bowl week. "And we had looked at it before and in years where there's positions of strength, when you think you can get guys later, what typically happens is there's a run on those guys and [teams] want to get their own guys. So you just have to be careful that you're not sitting there going, 'This is a great draft at position X and we'll be sitting there in the sixth round and we'll get a great guy.' That's why just sticking to your board and not getting cute and just making sure you just get the best player for the Philadelphia Eagles."

Helping Carson 
It's not a great year for receivers in the draft, but it's not a bad year either. The top two appear to be Mike Williams and Corey Davis, but there are plenty of good players who will be available throughout the draft. And like at corner, the Eagles need plenty of help. 

Receivers will speak to reporters on Friday and will be on the field working out on Saturday. You'd better believe the Eagles will be watching closely. 

Just a year ago
While the Eagles this year will be focusing on building around Wentz, last year they were just worried about getting him. For a team that still had the 13th pick while in Indy last year, the Eagles sure spent a lot of time with a quarterback who was going to be a very high pick. 

Really, last year in Indy is where picking Wentz started to become a reality. The Eagles spent a ton of time interviewing Wentz and everyone was involved, including Roseman, advisor Tom Donahoe, Jeff Lurie and a renowned sports psychologist. Wentz, for his part, blew them away. 

As the Eagles were falling in love with Wentz, Roseman was working on a way to make it happen. The first step was moving up from 13. The Eagles eventually traded with the Dolphins from 13 to 8. Those trade talks started in the hotel in Indy, where the Eagles were two doors down from the Dolphins. That, plus Roseman's relationship with Dolphins GM Mike Tannenbaum helped get the deal done. It was the first in a two-step process to secure Wentz as the next franchise quarterback.  

Roseman is more active than most NFL GMs when it comes to making player trades, so don't be surprised if he's back to work this week. 

Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

Now a Phillie, Chris Coghlan has come full circle in his inspirational baseball journey

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Almost seven years later, Chris Coghlan still gets his Irish up when he thinks about the game.
 
It was May 29, 2010.
 
The night Roy Halladay pitched his perfect game against the Florida Marlins in Miami.
 
Phillies fans remember it well. In the 11th start of his first season with the club, Halladay sliced through the Marlins' lineup on 115 pitches in two hours and 13 minutes. He struck out 11. It was thrilling.
 
But not for Coghlan.
 
He had a slightly different perspective. He was the Marlins' leadoff batter that night and in six pitches became Halladay's first strikeout victim.
 
The moment still burns.
 
"Big strike zone that night," Coghlan said, his eyes widening. "Go back and look at it. I was leading off, 3-2, ball off the plate, strike three. I still get chapped about it. Go look at it. It could have been totally different."
 
Coghlan was 24 and in his second season in the majors the night Halladay threw his perfect game. He had been the National League Rookie of the Year the previous season.
 
All these years later, Coghlan's baseball journey -- and it would be completely appropriate to call it an inspiring baseball journey -- has taken him to the Phillies. The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder signed a minor-league contract with the club in January and has a good chance to win a spot on the roster as one of Pete Mackanin's go-to utility guys.
 
There's something just a little bit fitting about Coghlan becoming a Phillie. The team has lurked in the margins of his life for years, first as a kid pouring himself into the game and then as a frequent opponent in the NL East.
 
As a teen polishing his skills at second base, he took countless ground balls on the same field that Larry Bowa, Scott Rolen and Jimmy Rollins did. And he hit in the same batting cages that Mike Schmidt, Jim Thome and Chase Utley took their hacks in.
 
The full-circle feel of it all hit Coghlan as he and his wife, Corrie, arrived in Clearwater and drove past the Phillies' Carpenter Complex training facility at the start of spring training.
 
"Dang," he said to Corrie, looking over at the emerald green ball fields. "I remember playing high school games there."

. . .

Coghlan is a graduate of East Lake High School, just up the road from Clearwater. For years he trained tirelessly at The Winning Inning, a baseball academy that moved into Jack Russell Stadium, the Phillies' longtime spring training home, after the club moved to its new spring stadium, now called Spectrum Field, in 2004.
 
"I started going to Jack Russell Stadium when I was 14," Coghlan said.
 
As a young teen, Coghlan loved to hit.
 
The batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium were his refuge, his grief counselor.
 
Coghlan was 15 when he lost his dad, Tim, in a car accident in June 2001. It was a devastating time for his mother, Heather, who still lives near Clearwater, and his brother and two sisters.
 
"When my dad died, I would hit," he said. "That's really how I got better. I wasn't really that good of a player. I got cut my freshman year in high school. I wasn't a good hitter.
 
"I didn't want to go home because I was so depressed and everyone was crying. So I spent hours at Winning Inning. I was there till 10 o'clock at night. I was there all the time.
 
"I tell people all the time, yes, there's talent, but what's unique about our game is it's a skill-oriented game. You don't have to be a physical specimen to play it. If you hone your skills you can get really good."
 
Coghlan is proof of that.
 
The hitting skills that eventually helped make him a star in high school and at the University of Mississippi, a Cape Cod League batting champion, a first-round draft pick of the Marlins, an NL Rookie of the Year and ultimately a World Champion with the Chicago Cubs last year were born out of a broken heart.
 
"It was life-changing," he said of the loss of his father. "I was 15. You're already confused in life anyway and then add that on, your best friend.
 
"But I look at it as a blessing. I've learned and grown so much from all the experiences I've had. They've helped shape and mold me to the point where now I'm content to where I am as a person -- I know how much I suffered and was crying out -- and if I can just help a little, if I can help one person, it's all worth it."
 
Coghlan is always willing to speak with and try to help the grieving.
 
Especially those who've endured a loss like he did.
 
"I have a heart for the fatherless," he said. "It's very dear to me."

. . .

If Chris Coghlan the person has been shaped by experience, so has Chris Coghlan the player.
 
"I've played nine seasons, had nine managers, been to the NLCS, the World Series and won a World Series in the hardest place to win," he said. "I've sucked, I've been good, I've been in-between. I've been a regular, a platoon guy and I've come off the bench.
 
"And I'm grateful for all the knowledge I've picked up in those experiences."
 
He is eager to pass on some of that knowledge to his new mostly young Phillies teammates.
 
"The bottom line why I signed here was that I saw an opportunity to play and I saw the opportunity to build something bigger than myself," said Coghlan, who was pursued by several teams this winter. "I was in Chicago when we lost 89 games in 2014 and I was there when we won 97 and 103 and became the first team to win a World Series in 108 years. We went from not being good to being really good. We grew together and built relationships.
 
"This team is in a transition period of trying to groom guys, but they also need older guys to bridge the gap and I thought it would be a great opportunity. Lord willing, if things go well, what happened in Chicago can someday happen here. I got to grow with those young guys and we won the World Series. I just want to come in here, establish myself, be a great teammate, lead by example and maybe I can stick around long term and see this thing through."

. . .

Oh, by the way, that stuff Coghlan said about still being chapped about the generous strike zone that Halladay got on the night he pitched his perfect game seven years ago -- that was just the competitor in him coming out.
 
It never goes away.
 
Or at least when it does, it's time to find a new line of work.
 
Truth be told, Coghlan has great respect for the Phillies' past, especially the clubs that racked up five straight NL East titles from 2007 to 2011. He played with the Marlins from 2009 to 2013 and -- hat tip to those old batting cages at Jack Russell Stadium -- posted good numbers in his career against the Phillies, hitting .303 with a .849 OPS.
 
"Those teams were awesome, and I loved hitting against them because it was the best of the best," he said. "You had Halladay, (Cliff) Lee, (Cole) Hamels. You had (Brad) Lidge closing it out.
 
"Chooch (Ruiz), (Jayson) Werth, (Jimmy) Rollins, (Ryan) Howard. Those guys were great and then Utley was my favorite player coming up. Second baseman. Left-handed hitter. Great swing. I loved his intensity.
 
"I loved playing against those guys. And we played them tough. That happens with a young team -- you get up for the big boys but don't always carry that focus through to the other teams."
 
Coghlan and his Marlins teammates were totally up for Halladay on that memorable night of May 29, 2010. They were focused, ready for the big boys. But there was no beating the Phillies ace that night.
 
No runs. No hits. No errors.
 
It still burns Coghlan.
 
"Oh, everybody loves it except for the guys it's happening against," Coghlan said. "I had some buddies at the game and afterward they were like, 'Bro, that was awesome. I can't believe I saw that. I'm saving this ticket.' And I'm like, 'You're in the family room, bro, and you're ticking me off. We just got embarrassed. You can find your own ride home. I'm not giving you a ride.'"
 
Standing in the Phillies' spring clubhouse, just a few hundred yards from where he played some high school games, Coghlan began to laugh as he talked about his buddies' reaction to witnessing Halladay's perfect game.
 
And then he completely softened and tipped his cap to Halladay.
 
"I joke about the zone that night," Coghlan said. "But I would never diminish anything that man did. To pitch a perfect game, everything has to go perfect and it did for him that night.
 
"I saw him throw his last pitch in Miami before he hung it up in 2013. He had that one inning. He came out throwing 80 miles an hour and it was sad. He was a legend.
 
"So I have a lot of respect for this organization and its history."
 
It seems only fitting that Chris Coghlan is now part of it. In a way, he's come full circle.