4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

4 Days Away: Questions and Answers for Union Die-Hards, and Newbies Alike

Clearly, I am a soccer fan.

I played the sport (I still pretend to, on occasion), coached and refereed for a few youth teams and watched enough games on TV to have odd cravings for Singha Lager and Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer – popular sideline advertisers in English stadiums.

I love soccer and I want other people to love it, too. But there is one thing I’ll never understand about many soccer fans who want to have their Singha and eat it too.

The same people who complain about a lack of mainstream soccer love – “it’s not on SportsCenter,” “the Inquirer had a 3-inch Union story,” “the game is on a channel I don’t get” – turn their noses up at “newbies” who ask questions about the game or say “field” instead of “pitch.”

You can’t have it both ways. You either want more people to appreciate the game, or you want it to be your cliquey little niche. I prefer the former, which is one of the reasons my three-plus years at PPL Park have been so enjoyable.

Sure, there are plenty of “soccer snobs”  hanging around on the banks of the Delaware. Folks who like to rattle off the current standings in the Dutch Eredivisie, brag about how they’ve “been here from the start” or tell you how you “don’t really understand the game” because you didn’t wake up at 4:45 a.m. to watch the Urawa Reds battle Yokohama in the J-League.

For those people – and soccer-heads who like to analyze formations and pick apart the SuperDraft (that includes me) – there are plenty of Union-specific blogs out there. Here at The Level, we’ll try to continue where @Rev215 left off before his Gareth Bale tattoo got infected (or he had a kid, not sure which). Plenty of smart, nuanced debate about the Union for the die-hards, as well as some light-hearted stuff for those of you who just like to tailgate outside PPL, have a beer (or two) and enjoy a sunny summer afternoon.

So with first kick just a few days away (forecast isn’t looking bad, by the way), here’s a few questions you might overhear on Saturday when the Union host Sporting Kansas City (4 p.m., 6 ABC) – whether it’s a seemingly uneducated ask from a “newbie” or a well-thought-out prediction from a scarf-carrying Son of Ben. We’ve even provided a few stock answers/statements you’re free to use, with or without attribution to The Level.


What happened to Freddy Adu?

John Hackworth happened, that’s what. Hack has made it clear he was not and is not on board with Adu’s game, and the former child prodigy will never suit up for the Union again. But he’s still collecting a BIG paycheck. The team claims to be searching for a way to dump Adu, but it’s much easier said than done.

So the Union are holding him hostage?

Actually, it’s more the other way around. Adu is guaranteed at least $400,000 this year, and, just as any of us would do, he’s not willing to simply ignore than fact and move on. Both sides have been relatively quiet, but Adu seems to be standing pat and waiting for the right opportunity. Given his inflated sense of his own abilities, he might be content to sit tight until Real Madrid comes calling.

Can we talk about something else?

Absolutely. That will be the last Adu reference here on The Level until he is dealt or steps on a field in another shirt. That’s a promise.

Will the 2013 Union be more like the 2012 side that struggled to score goals and win games, or the 2011 team that surprised us all with a playoff run?

If I had to guess, it will be somewhere in between. We’ll have a more in-depth look at this year’s prospects –  as well as a few predictions – later in the week, but it would be fair to expect much more from this team than we saw in 2012. Hackworth has had time to make the team his, and we’re well past “they’re still young” as an acceptable excuse. Anything short of a playoff berth would be a disappointment.

I want to buy that sweet new third jersey (which hasn’t been unveiled yet). Who will score the goals this year so I know what name and number to get?

Hackworth has indicated he will likely play three attacking players up front. At first glance, it seems you’d be safe going with the No. 11 of fan-favorite Sebastien Le Toux, No. 6 of newcomer Conor Casey or No. 9 of last year’s goal-scoring leader Jack McInerney. As was proven during training camp in Florida – where the first team struggled to score – it might take time for those three players to jell. We’ll have more on predicted formations and stat leaders later in the week, but for now, you might want to go with a blank jersey. Just ask anyone wearing a Carlos Ruiz or Jordan Harvey shirt at PPL.


What about Zac MacMath?

It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. If you want to take the popular side of the argument at PPL, you can talk about how great the young goalkeeper is. If you’re feeling feisty, show a little more skepticism (like I often do on this subject). MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season. With the departure of team captain and center back Carlos Valdes, he might get that chance early in the season as the defense finds its chemistry.

Why can’t anyone hit a good corner kick on this team?

I don’t really have an answer for that one. Sorry.

How ’bout a beer?

Options abound, but I’ll politely suggest that you skip the lines at Chickies & Petes. Enter through the southeast Supporters Gate and get a double-sized beer at the Snake & Shield, or walk toward the team store and hit up the Boddingtons cart just across the concourse. If you’re looking to use up all your Weight Watchers points for the week, find one of the Philly Favorites stands for my favorite PPL item: Philly Fries. A large boat of French fries smothered in steak, cheese and onions. Much more bang for your buck than a bready cheesesteak.

So you’re an overweight soccer fan, then?

[Hangs head in shame … orders a salad.]

* * *

So if you’re one of the die-hards and find yourself with an extra ticket, invite that neighbor who mocked your Sons of Ben scarf last weekend. And if someone mispronounces Hoppenot, be a nice guy and help him out.

And if you’re a soccer hater (not including those who will comment on this post – you’re a lost cause), stop by PPL this season. Even if it turns out you hate it, there are far worse ways to spend a summer afternoon.

Plus they have Boddingtons on tap.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117. Stop by and say hi at the top of section 138.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

In the fourth of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 can be seen by clicking the links. Today, we begin with Matt Read.

Matt Read
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 11 G, 15 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Read is a two-time 20-goal scorer but is coming off his second straight disappointing season. Simply put, he’s not that player anymore. But he’s not as bad as you would think if you were to search his name on Twitter. He can play on both special teams, which is valuable. He’s not a terrible ninth forward or fourth liner. Read is signed for two more seasons, but the Flyers desperately need goal scoring and I think Hextall finds a taker for Read this summer.

Verdict: GO

Hall: You wonder if a role change will help Read rediscover himself (see story). Maybe a change of scenery does the trick. Or, perhaps Read is simply the player we’ve seen over the past two seasons. He’s a third –or-fourth-liner in the NHL, and that’s OK. But he’s making $14.5 million over four seasons with the Flyers through 2017-18, which doesn’t help. Read will be back but fighting his tail off for playing time. Ultimately, though, Ron Hextall will start looking at all avenues to part ways with Read — it’s just a matter of when.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: No Flyer’s game has fallen off more over the past few seasons than Read’s.  After a 22-goal campaign in 2013-14, the 29-year-old forward has scored just 19 goals in the past two seasons combined. That’s a span of 159 games. He struggled so much this past season that he was a healthy scratch at one point. This just screams of a situation where a change of scenery could benefit both parties. The question is how that gets done. Will someone take a chance on Read via trade? Or is a buyout with a projected cap hit at $875,000 next season before going up to $1.375 million in 2017-18 an option? Time will tell. But Read’s time in Philadelphia seems to be up.

Verdict: GO

Brayden Schenn
2015-16 stats: 80 GP, 26 G, 33 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Schenn became a go-to guy this past season for the Flyers, which is exactly what you wanted to see from him in his fifth NHL season. He found a consistency in his game that has been lacking and showed he can play at wing. He scored a career-high 59 points and 26 goals and you have to think he’s still not done growing. He’ll be here for a while.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Schenn, a pending restricted free agent coming off a career season, is hoping for a long-term deal with the Flyers. Ron Hextall and company, of course, want him back. Schenn will be re-signed. As Hextall said, the Flyers will “get it done.” (see story)
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: No way Ron Hextall and the Flyers give up on a 24-year-old winger (yeah, Schenn’s found a home on the wing) who’s coming off a career-high 26-goal season and showed profound chemistry with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line. That’s especially true with the way the Flyers crave goal-scoring. No question Schenn will be back with a not-so-little raise.

Verdict: STAY

Nick Schultz
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 1 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $2.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Schultz is basically the Jason Smith to this Flyers team. He’s respected in the locker room, a guy the team looks to lead and blocks a ton of shots. There’s always room for a guy like Schultz on a roster and it’s good to have him around with the young guns on their way. Ideally, his role decreases next season, but nonetheless, he should stick around.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Dave Hakstol and the Flyers’ locker room routinely extolled Schultz last season for his presence on and off the ice. He’s under contract and will be here for one more year, a season in which he can continue leading by example. And, who knows, maybe a contending team in need of an experienced blueliner will pursue the Flyers at the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Schultz is what he is at this stage of his career. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman who blocks a ton of shots. He’s also a leader in the locker room, and that can’t be undervalued. With just a year left on his contract, Schultz isn’t in the Flyers’ long-term plans. Think of Schultz as a veteran placeholder until a prospect is ready to join the big club. In the meantime, he can fill his veteran leader role on the blue line for the upcoming season and then the Flyers can reassess the defensive situation after the season.

Verdict: STAY

Wayne Simmonds
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 32 G, 28 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Simmonds is the Flyers’ first 30-goal scorer since Scott Hartnell in 2011. The Flyers need goals. Simmonds scores goals. This is easy. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Simmonds, the emotional heartbeat of the Flyers, is locked up and fresh off a career-best 32-goal campaign. He’s getting better and going nowhere.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Power forwards who create havoc in front of the net and continue to increase their production year after year don’t grow on trees. Therefore, the Flyers wouldn’t even think of getting rid of Simmonds, who scored a career-high 32 goals and tied another career-high with 60 points. Plus, it’s probably not a good idea to mess with the chemistry Simmonds, Schenn and Giroux had on the top line at the end of the season.

Verdict: STAY

Mark Streit
2015-16 stats: 62 GP, 6 G, 17 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $5.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Streit is two years shy of turning 40, but he’s still an above-average puck mover. He didn’t seem to have the same step in his game after returning from his pubic plate dislocation and lost his job as the Flyers’ power-play quarterback to Shayne Gostisbehere, but he still has value. He’s on the last year of his deal. He’s a candidate to be moved to free up a spot for one of the defensive prospects. Plus, I think they could get something of value for him.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Streit said he takes a lot of pride in training and preparing for the NHL grind at 38 years old. He wants to keep playing until his body says no. The Flyers have an ideal trade chip here in Streit. In 2016-17, he’ll be on the final year of his contract, making him an attractive second-half rental for a win-now team. I think he stays but the Flyers find a suitor and complete a deal before the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: To me, Streit is the most difficult player on the entire roster to answer this question about. On one hand, the Flyers probably would like to move his salary and free up a spot for a younger player or prospect. But, to me, that just seems like it will be easier to do closer to the trade deadline when teams get desperate and will bite on a defenseman who’ll be 39 this coming December but can still produce and can help out tremendously on the power play. I just feel it will be too difficult for the Flyers to move Streit in the offseason. If they do, they’ll have to add something or someone to entice another team into taking him. The chances of having to do that at the trade deadline are much less. For that reason, Streit stays for now.. Plus, it can’t hurt having Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim play a half-season in the AHL until then.

Verdict: STAY (for now)

Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

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Watch: The Phillies pulled off the old double steal

The Philadelphia Phillies are attempting to salvage something this afternoon in Detroit this as they take on the Tigers. The Fightins got on the board early and hold a 2-0 lead midway through the second.

After a Peter Bourjos single scored Ryan Howard, Odubel Herrera came up to bat and didn't even have to move to get another run in.

The Phillies pulled off a double steal with Bourjos taking second which allowed Andres Blanco to come home easily.

With the Phils showing such little pop at the plate this season, a little hustle and ingenuity is needed.

Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

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Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

The Phillies once again couldn't find much offense and fell to the Tigers in Detroit last night by a final of 3-1.

But at least the pitching showed something.

There was a fun moment between Jeremy Hellickson and Miguel Cabrera after Hellickson threw quite a nice pitch that fooled Miggy.

Here's how Jim Salisbury described the fun battle:

Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.

And here's the thumbs up: