And Then They Could Finish: Union Continue Trending Up With 4-0 Victory, CB Addition, US Open Cup Quest

And Then They Could Finish: Union Continue Trending Up With 4-0 Victory, CB Addition, US Open Cup Quest

It's
been a long time since a Monday rolled around and we could look back on
a win in league play for the Philadelphia Union—two months, in fact.
That string of Lose, Lose, or Draw matches and a whole host of other
things resulted in the team's first boss being handed his walking
papers. What's transpired since has given fans further reason to believe
Peter Nowak was holding the team down this season, though it's still
early for any real judgements. 

No matter what came before, the results in John
Hackworth's two matches as manager of the same players have been
exceedingly impressive. After a hard-luck loss to first-place DC United
in a game they largely owned, the Union returned to PPL Park on Saturday
night and absolutely devastated second-place Sporting KC. 

Highlights with some interesting storylines and entertaining video from the 4-0 Union win below. Yep… 4-0 win. 
Hackworth, Thy Name Is Lineup ConsistencyOne
of the most frustrating things about being a Union fan during Peter
Nowak's reign was the lack of any consistency or predictability in his
game-day lineups. I can't imagine how that must have felt for the
players. Since taking over, one thing Hackworth has sought is regularity
in the personnel to the degree possible, as well as their formations.
This week, he made only two changes to the starting XI, neither being to
tinker. Lionard Pajoy rejoined the starters after serving a suspension
in Hackworth's debut, and Raymon Gaddis took the right back position
vacated by Sheanon Williams due to a broken toe. The Union again based
their formation in the 4-3-3. 

Jack Mac's Redemption SongEarlier in the
week, Daily News Union beat Kerith Gabriel published a story on how Jack
McInerney was buried in Nowak's puzzling depth charts.
The 19-year-old rarely found his name on the game-day sheet and became
increasingly disgruntled at his lack of any semblance of a consistent
role on the team. As soon as Hackworth took over, not only was Jack Mac
dressing, he was starting. With the team deployed in a 4-3-3, he started
the match against DC United up top along with Josue Martinez and Freddy
Adu. The combination provided plenty of fireworks in opportunities, but
frustratingly lacked finish. Still, it seemed more a matter of poor
luck than lacking ability, as they were dangerously close. 

On Saturday night, the goals came. And fast. 
Before
some fans had even found their seats, the Union were up 1-0 on a Jack
Mac goal. Clearly in attack mode from the tap, the Union scored in the
second minute after Raymon Gaddis served in a rainbow into the box that
was pushed across the goal mouth, just out of range for Pajoy to convert
on. The Colombian striker craftily yet simply stopped it and skidded it
backward, where Jack Mac came in to blast it home. PPL erupted with
surprise and jubilation at the sight of the net exploding from a shot
blasted comically hard, considering the cluttered box and the distance
from which it was taken. 

Jack Mac made another deposit in the 43rd minute,
giving the Union a far more probable shot at the elusive W just before
the teams broke for the half. Again, the goal came with multiple touches
from very close, a garbage goal if you will. Freddy Adu unleashed a
brilliant ball on a free kick, it pinballed around in front of KC keeper
Jimmy Nielsen before Carlos Valdes charged forward to break it loose,
and McInerney again sopped up the gravy with a biscuit. 

All that talk about a lack of finish last week and
before that, and neither of the game's two first goals required much
final touch. 

Attack of Antoine the Supersub
Adu was subbed out relatively early in the second half, with
Antoine Hoppenot coming on. Hoppenot shined in his opportunity last
week, so I can understand the desire to see it again. I will admit,
though, that I didn't fully understand Hackworth's strategy until I saw
it unfold. Up two goals, the second half subs might have been used to
bring on more defense and a modified formation. SKC's attack is good
enough to overcome a two-goal deficit in hurry. But after last week,
there'd be no complaints heard when Hoppenot came on. My lack of fully
comprehending the move constitutes the tip of the iceberg as to why I'm
watching from the stands and not the sidelines. Hackworth knew that KC
would need to press, bringing their backline up and making the middle of
the field susceptible to long, low-risk services. Already in the lead,
the Union could afford to take unsuccessful shots down the field. A
successful attempt might ice the game. 

They continued to connect on their long passes, with
Hoppenot playing the role of the deep threat. In the 68th minute,
Valdes snuffed out a long KC pass attempt and dished it up to Michael
Farfan, who casually played it back and ran to receive a return feed.
Marfan then sailed a long, beautiful ball to Hoppenot, whose first touch
cleanly corralled the pass. Hoppenot showed a ton of confidence,
chipping the ball rather than firing it on frame. He missed high, but
not by too much. On replay, he probably would have been better served by
just drilling one, but he may have just been getting his range down…

Another Union stretch ball in the 80th minute came
off the boot of Okugo, who sent a pass straight down the middle of the
field to a streaking Hoppenot. KC defender Aurelien Collin got back, but
appeared gassed as the rookie blew past him. Collin then just grabbed
Hoppenot by the shoulder and pulled him to the ground, drawing a penalty
kick but escaping a red card. The move by Hoppenot was a thing of
beauty and confidence. 

Pajoy took the PK, a stutter-stepped delay shot that
got Nielsen to bite hard to his right, only to see the ball go the
opposite way. Damn it felt good to see a goal scorer dance along to the
DOOP song as the Union went up by three goals. 

And the scoring wasn't done yet. In the 89th minute,
another long feed up the middle came from Michael Farfan, and once
again, Hoppenot was there to haul it in—all alone on goal. With cheek
leftover from his first attempt, he chipped another shot, but this one
deflated at just the right moment, falling into the goal behind
Nielsen. 

After narrowly missing on his first attempt and
getting hauled down on his second, it was great to see Hoppenot convert.
So close to a brace, if not more… as a sub. He's gonna hear some great
noise the next time he comes on at home. 

Zac and the BackZac
MacMath had another fine night in net, blanking KC's potent offense. He
was helped by strong play from the four in front of him, particularly
Valdes. Don't take my word for it though

While the Okugo experiment has been a success so
far, he'll likely return to the midfield mix once newly acquired
centerback Baky Soumare is fit for match play
. Either way, along with another nice job by Gaddis on the outside, this
time filling in for Sheanon Williams, the back line is starting to look
versatile and even a little deep. 

In Closing…There remain several barriers
to the MLS's growth despite its increasing success. Among the most
frustrating is the quality of the refereeing. Just dreadful some nights
with the man in yellow commanding far too much attention. 

Video Highlights

Up NextOn Tuesday night, the Union return
to US Open Cup play, hosting their affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders
club. That's a lot of soccer in a short amount of time, but Hackworth
has talked up the importance of the tournament, and it's unlikely he'll
want to take his foot off the gas right now, so we should see a strong
effort. The Union then head to Houston on Saturday night at 8:30 to see
if they can't put together back-to-back wins. 

It's not too early to get completely reinvigorated
if you lost hope for this season. It was understandable, and they look
like a whole new team right now.

MLB Notes: White Sox scratch Chris Sale after 'clubhouse incident'

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USA Today Images

MLB Notes: White Sox scratch Chris Sale after 'clubhouse incident'

CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale has been scratched from his start against the Detroit Tigers after he was involved in what the team says was a "non-physical clubhouse incident."

The White Sox declined to describe the incident, but said it's "currently under further investigation by the club" and that Sale was sent home from the park.

The move was announced less than a half hour before Saturday's game. Sale was going to attempt to become the first 15-game winner in the majors.

The White Sox planned to use multiple relievers in his place. The start of the game was delayed by rain.

With the White Sox fading from playoff contention, Sale's name has been mentioned as a possible trade target for contending teams.

The left-hander is 14-3 with a 3.18 ERA.

TWINS: Suzuki leaves game after taking foul ball off mask
BOSTON -- Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki left Saturday night's game against the Boston Red Sox in the second inning after getting hit in the mask with a foul ball.

Suzuki appeared to have a cut on his chin as he walked to the dugout with a team trainer.

Boston's Dustin Pedroia was at the plate and fouled one off the catcher.

Suzuki was replaced by Juan Centeno.

PADRES: Cuban prospect signs deal with $7 million signing bonus
WASHINGTON -- Top Cuban prospect Jorge Ona and the San Diego Padres have agreed to a minor league contract with a $7 million signing bonus.

The 19-year-old outfielder receives $4.9 million within 30 days of the deal's approval by the commissioner's office and $2.1 million on Jan. 15. The deal is pending a physical.

Ona was ranked as the No. 8 international prospect of the 2016 class by MLB.com and the fourth-best available Cuban player earlier this year by Baseball America.

General manager A.J. Preller said during a conference call Friday that the contract is for 2017. He hopes Ona will play in the fall instructional league and then report for spring training and start his pro career next season.

Instant Replay: Pirates 7, Phillies 4

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Associated Press

Instant Replay: Pirates 7, Phillies 4

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco and David Freese hit two-run singles during a five-run fifth inning to rally the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 7-4 victory over the Phillies on Saturday at PNC Park.

Polanco’s hit put the Pirates ahead 4-3 and chased starter Aaron Nola. Freese’s hit off Severino Gonzalez pushed the lead to three runs and Francisco Cervelli capped the inning with a sacrifice fly as Pittsburgh won for the fourth time in six games.

Nola (5-9) allowed six runs in four-plus innings to take the loss. Center fielder Odubel Herrera went 3 for 4 with a triple as the Phillies outhit the Pirates, 12-7.

Catcher Cameron Rupp left the game in the third inning after being struck in the left ear flap of his helmet by a pitch from Pirates rookie right-hander Tyler Glasnow (see story). Rupp was found to have no concussion symptoms.

Starting pitching report
The bad Nola returned after pitching six scoreless innings in his previous outing Monday against the Miami Marlins. Prior to shutting down the Marlins, Nola allowed a combined 30 runs in five starts while failing to get past the fourth inning four times.

On Saturday, Nola gave up six hits, walked two and struck out five. He needed 80 pitches to get 12 outs.

Nola’s clunker came after Phillies starters allowed no more than one run or five hits in four of the previous five games. On Friday night in the opener of the three-game series in Pittsburgh, rookie right-hander Zach Elfin pitched a three-hitter for his first career shutout in the Phillies’ 4-0 victory over the Pirates.

At the plate
Herrera is 6 for 9 in the first two games of the series after going 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games. He tripled in the sixth inning and scored the game’s last run on a single by Andres Blanco.

Cesar Hernandez hit a pair of RBI singles and was one of four Phillies with two hits along with Blanco, Tommy Joseph and Carlos Ruiz, the last of whom took over behind the plate for Rupp. Joseph also hit an RBI single.

The Phillies held a 12-8 edge in hits.

Up next
The Phillies finish their three-game series with the Pirates at 1:35 p.m. Sunday then open a three-game series against the Marlins on Monday night at Miami.

The projected starters for the next four days:

Sunday afternoon --- RHP Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.15) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.44)

Monday night --- RHP Jeremy Hellickson (7-7, 3.84) vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen (5-4, 4.99)

Tuesday night --- RHP Jerad Eickhoff (6-11, 3.98) vs. RHP Tom Koehler (7-8, 4.42)

Wednesday afternoon --- RHP Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) vs. LHP Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58)

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

Former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn signs 2-year deal with Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have signed former Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn to a two-year contract.

The 26-year-old defenseman had four goals and 12 assists in 72 games with the Flyers and Los Angeles Kings last season. Schenn and Vinny Lecavalier were traded by the Flyers to the Kings last January in exchange for Jordan Weal and a third-round draft pick in last month's entry draft.

In his career, Schenn has 28 goals and 100 assists in 566 games with the Kings, Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs. In three-plus seasons with the Flyers, Schenn scored 12 goals and added 30 assists.

Schenn was the first-round draft pick - fifth selection overall - by the Maple Leafs in 2008.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka called Schenn "a good, young defenseman" who will be "a solid addition" to the Arizona blue line.

- CSNPhilly.com contributed to this story.