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.

Phillies will take a peek at Tim Tebow, mostly out of curiosity

Phillies will take a peek at Tim Tebow, mostly out of curiosity

CHICAGO — The Phillies will send a scout to watch Tim Tebow’s baseball showcase next Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Now, before you start clearing a space in your closet for a red-pinstriped Tebow jersey — you know, right next to the midnight green Tebow jersey — keep this in mind: the Phillies, and every other team that stops by Tebow’s workout, are merely practicing due diligence by taking a look at an accomplished athlete who long ago showed some baseball aptitude. Tebow’s chances of ever playing in a major-league game are extremely thin.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national championship quarterback from the University of Florida has not played baseball since 2005, his junior year in high school. He has been training as a baseball player for several months in Arizona. Next week’s showcase was arranged by Tebow’s representatives. Southern California is loaded with amateur baseball talent so many scouts live there. It makes sense that most teams would have a set of eyes on hand for curiosity if nothing else.

Tebow, who turned 29 earlier this month, was a left-handed hitting outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. That was a good move as he enjoyed a storied run at Florida. But Tebow has not been able to stick in the NFL.

Tebow played for the Denver Broncos in 2010 and 2011 and the New York Jets in 2012. He attended training camp with the Eagles in 2015, but failed to make the team. He spent last year working as a broadcaster for ESPN.

Obviously, Tebow’s competitive juices still run hot. His athletic résumé alone will attract scouts to his baseball showcase, which, by the way, will be closed to the public.

Prosecutor says he doesn't believe Jerry Sandusky accuser's claim

ap-jerry-sandusky.jpg
AP

Prosecutor says he doesn't believe Jerry Sandusky accuser's claim

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- A former Pennsylvania prosecutor testified Tuesday he does not believe a man who reached a settlement with Penn State over a molestation claim is the same person seen by a witness being abused by Jerry Sandusky in a university football team shower.

Joe McGettigan, a former prosecutor who is now a lawyer in private practice, took the stand as the final witness during three days of testimony in Sandusky's bid for dismissal of charges or a new trial.

McGettigan said his opinion about the man who claims to be the person described as Victim 2 in court records is based on changes in the man's story, that he appears too old to be the boy in the shower and that he did not provide certain details to investigators until after the man who witnessed the attack had given his own story in open court.

Sandusky's grounds for appeal include a claim that McGettigan lied when he said during closing argument that Victim 2 was known "to God but not to us."

McGettigan said he did not believe the man's claim to be Victim 2 at the time of Sandusky's 2012 trial.

"I did not then and I do not now," McGettigan said.

Graduate assistant Mike McQueary has testified he saw Sandusky abusing a boy inside a team shower late on a Friday night in early 2001, and reported the matter to then-head coach Joe Paterno and other top administrators.

Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of abuse of 10 boys after eight of them testified against him -- but not Victim 2.

McGettigan said the man who settled with Penn State was born in 1987, so he would have been about 14 at the time, but McQueary described Victim 2 as being about 10. McGettigan said the man was unable to properly describe the location of the attack and drew a map of a locker room that was not accurate.

The man denied to police in September 2011 that any abuse occurred and gave the same statement to an investigator working for Sandusky's lawyers. But after McQueary testified in a related preliminary hearing, he hired a lawyer and changed his story, claiming to have been sexually abused. Neither the man nor Penn State has disclosed the precise nature of his claim against the university or said how much he was paid to settle it.

McGettigan said Sandusky, who attended all three days of the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing, "could at any time have told any number of persons" the identity of Victim 2. "He declined to say so."

Another former state prosecutor, Jonelle Eshbach, testified that her office set up a sting after a March 2011 story in The Patriot-News of Harrisburg disclosed details of the grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky's arrest about seven months later.

She and her supervisor, Frank Fina, placed a fake notice within the prosecution agency's file about someone who had been subpoenaed and then watched to see if it would produce a story that would indicate a leak within the attorney general's office. She said no one took the bait.

Fina, the third person to testify Tuesday, said his doubts about the man's claim to be Victim 2 were based in part on early questions about when the McQueary incident occurred. At first, it was publicly reported to be 2002, which the man confirmed. Later it was determined to have been 2001.

"There was a possibility that (he) had conformed his testimony to Mr. McQueary's recollection of the date," Fina said.

Sandusky previously lost direct appeals to the state's Supreme and Superior courts. The current process, presided over by the trial judge, is under the Post-Conviction Relief Act and therefore limited to newly discovered evidence, constitutional violations and ineffective lawyering.

The judge did not say when he would rule but indicated there may be additional proceedings.

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Wendell Smallwood 'really excited, ready to go' for NFL debut Saturday

Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood will finally make his NFL debut on Saturday. After missing out on the team’s first two preseason games with a quad injury, Smallwood can’t wait for his first action.

“I’m really excited, ready to go,” Smallwood said Tuesday. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a game.”

Smallwood held out some hope that he would play against the Steelers, but said he never cleared the final hurdle.

“The trainers and coaches didn’t feel like I had my last burst,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was up to full speed, I was about 85 percent running. I didn’t feel like I had that last gear … this week, I’m back to full speed.”

As he discussed last week, Smallwood has maintained his focus and tried to learn from watching his teammates while on the sidelines. Given his desire to impress as a rookie and the fact that he’s never missed a game before in his football career, that’s obviously been a challenge. Running backs coach Duce Staley and veterans like Darren Sproles understand that and have paid close attention to Smallwood’s development.

“Darren talks to me all the time about it, he asks me every day how I’m doing and what I need to do,” Smallwood said. “I think just having him and the other running backs in my corner is definitely a positive.”

One facet that Smallwood has been constantly working on is his pass-blocking knowledge. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich on Tuesday stressed the importance of all his backs being strong in pass protection, and said he was encouraged by Smallwood’s progress in that phase of the game.

“Even though he was a great runner in college, you could see glimpses of him in the passing game, you could see him in protection, that he was a willing blocker,” Reich said. “And he had the aptitude when you talked to him in the interviews and when you watch film with him, you can see that he gets it and he processes it, and that’s a very important part of it. So his continued progress to get on the field is going to have to come in the passing game, as well.”

Smallwood is pleased with his understanding of the Eagles’ pass-blocking schemes, but he knows he always has to be on his toes, just in case a question flies his way.

“I think I’ve been progressing very well with [pass blocking,]” Smallwood said. “Just learning techniques and learning the system, all the calls the line has, and I think I’ve picked it up. Duce throws random questions at me and I’m right on time with them, so I think I’m doing very well in that area.”

On Saturday, he’ll be dealing with more than questions; Smallwood will have to pick up linebackers and safeties trying to hit his quarterback. He’s looking forward to it.

DL Martin (knee) day to day
Defensive lineman Mike Martin is another Eagle who has been frustrated by a lingering leg injury.

Like Smallwood, Martin has yet to play in the preseason. Since twisting his knee several weeks ago in training camp, Martin has mostly been on the sidelines. Now he’s back to practice, though Martin said he’s “just easing back into it, not trying to throw myself in there hard right off the bat.”

It seems unlikely that Martin will play against the Colts. While he classified his situation as “a day-by-day thing right now,” it’s hard to imagine him going from “easing back into it” to the heat of an NFL game.

While he’s been out, Martin, a third-round draft pick by the Titans in 2012, has aimed to learn as much as he can.

“Anytime you miss time and can’t be out there, it sucks, but I’ve been in my book and haven’t missed much on the mental side of it,” he said. “Every day I’m just trying to pick up where I left off.”

Once he returns, Martin can’t wait to play in Jim Schwartz’s defense and create chaos for opposing offenses along with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and his other talented teammates on the defensive line.

“[This defense] is just an attack style, which is really great for me,” Martin said. “That’s the type of player I am and it fits me perfectly.”