As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

As empty seats multiply at PPL Park, Saturday could be judgment day for Union manager Hackworth

Union manager John Hackworth has plenty of pressure on his shoulders this season.

This week, I've gotten two emails from the Union pushing tickets for this Saturday's home game against D.C. United (4 p.m. - The Comcast Network). One was about honoring mom for Mother's Day by bringing her to the game, and the other offered a sharp discount offer on the pricier tickets at PPL Park.

Those emails -- and the empty seats that caused them -- are what should have Union manager John Hackworth looking over his shoulder, and what I think could force a change at the top as early as next week, if the fans who do show up on Saturday leave PPL Park disappointed yet again.

There's no doubt Hackworth is feeling the heat.

“We’re going to have to get out of this hole we dug, one step at a time,” Hackworth told MLSsoccer.com after the 2-1 loss to Seattle last weekend.. “But I know there’s only so much time to have that opportunity.”

I'm never one to call for a coach's firing prematurely. When I said in the preseason that this year was Hackworth's chance to put up or shut up, I assumed that meant he'd get the entire season to figure it out. And he still might. Changing coaches in the middle of the season won't lead to anything more than maybe a short-lived kick in the butt.

This is me, on the record, saying that while I think Hackworth is not the answer, I don't think a midseason firing is either.

But things have been so underwhelming, and so disappointing, that Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz (under pressure from investors weary of a long summer at the turnstiles) may have to pull the trigger much, much sooner, just to appeal to frustrated fans who are tired of spending their money to watch a team that can't score. Even as soon as Sunday or Monday if things don't go well on Saturday.

The Union not only need a win against a decent but beatable D.C. United team, but they need to entertain. They need to show some growth. They need to show some initiative. They need to show some chemistry. They showed a little bit of that in Seattle last weekend, but in the end, it was the same old story: shoulda, coulda, woulda.

The team's near-bottom-of-the-table standing isn't what will push the change. Nor will it be because vocal Union fans on the Internet calling for his head (some have been calling for it since the day he was hired).

It'll be the hard-to-ignore swaths of blue seats sitting empty on Saturday.

If you're at PPL Park, take a look toward the corners, especially the two corners close to the Delaware River. On Saturday, section 133 will be relatively full because D.C. United will bring a large contingent. But sections 101 and 102, as well as 113 and 121 are usually the last ones sold.

While paid attendance has been decent so far this season (according to this site, the team is averaging 94 percent capacity at 17,415), the warm summer months are coming. Kids are almost done with school, tailgating weather is improving, and the Union -- like every MLS team -- are hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the World Cup next month.

Sakiewicz and Co. obviously hoped that the on-field results would fill PPL to capacity through those warm summer months. But if things don't turn around soon, he might have to show Hackworth the door just so he can stand up and say that he really is in it to win it.

Sure, there are other ways for the team to appeal to frustrated fans. The front office could make a splashy move in the summer transfer window (Jozy Altidore to the white courtesy phone...). Hell, they could just unveil another new jersey or offer 10 percent off at the Union Store.

Just kidding.

Firing Hackworth won't solve the Union's problems. Along those lines, it's about time for the players to stand up and take some responsibility for the dumpster fire this season is quickly becoming. Many of them have not performed anywhere near their potential (not you, Zac MacMath ... you're excused).

But at this point, if things don't turn around, Hackworth may be the sacrificial lamb intended to appease frustrated fans.

The Union have six games before the World Cup break.

John Hackworth might be watching some of them on TV.

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

MLB Notes: Nationals acquire All-Star closer Mark Melancon from Pirates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Washington Nationals have acquired All-Star closer Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington sent reliever Felipe Rivero and pitching prospect Taylor Hearn to the Pirates for Melancon, who supplants Jonathan Papelbon as Washington's closer.

Melancon, a 31-year-old right-hander, has 30 saves and a 1.51 ERA this season. He is making $9.65 million and is eligible for free agency after the World Series.

Papelbon is 2-4 with a 4.41 ERA and has allowed eight runs and seven hits in his past three outing. Manager Dusty Baker wouldn't say earlier Saturday whether Papelbon still was his closer. Baker pulled Papelbon from a game Thursday in the ninth inning.

Rivero, a 25-year-old lefty, is 0-3 with a 4.53 ERA this season. Hearn is a 21-year-old lefty who was the Nationals' fifth-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft.

GIANTS: Pence back after 48-game absence
SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants right fielder Hunter Pence was activated Saturday and in the starting lineup against the Nationals after missing 48 games with a strained right hamstring that required surgery.

San Francisco hopes Pence will bring some much-needed life to a club that had lost 11 of 13 since the All-Star break.

Newly acquired infielder Eduardo Nunez made his first start since joining the team in a trade from Minnesota on Thursday and having his first at-bat Friday. Nunez was playing shortstop Saturday because Brandon Crawford, who lined into a bases-loaded triple play during Friday's 4-1 loss, had a sore left hand from a swing early in the game.

Center fielder Denard Span also was out of the lineup because of a tender quadriceps from a collision at home plate Friday.

The Giants designated for assignment infielder Ramiro Pena to clear roster room for Pence's return.  

MARINERS: Karns to DL, Martin recalled
CHICAGO -- The Seattle Mariners have placed right-hander Nathan Karns on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back strain a day after he was roughed up in a relief appearance.

Right-hander Cody Martin was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma before Saturday's game against the Cubs.

Chicago scored five runs in two innings off Karns in Friday's 12-1 romp. He gave up three hits, walked three and allowed a home run to David Ross.

Karns began the season as a starter, but was moved to the bullpen in June. He has a 5.15 ERA.

Martin has appeared in two games and thrown four innings for Seattle this season, allowing one run and five hits.

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

Brian Dawkins excited for scout role with Eagles, hopes it leads to something 'bigger'

This is how much of a kinship Brian Dawkins has with the game of football.

And it won’t surprise anybody.

“I was in Orlando with my family and we’re passing by a football field, me and my brother in law, to go to the gym,” Dawkins said. “There’s nobody in the stadium. But as I passed by, there’s a certain comfort I have when I see football fields.”

That connection, that bond, to the game he loves and the team he loves has ultimately brought Dawkins back to Philadelphia, where from 1996 through 2008 he firmly established himself as one of the greatest Eagles of all-time.

The Eagles announced Saturday morning that eight years after he was allowed to leave for Denver as a free agent, Dawkins has rejoined the franchise to work in the scouting department (see story).

Dawkins’ initially joins the Eagles' scouting team as part of the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship, a new program aimed at introducing former players to the world of player personnel and the duties of an NFL scout.

As of now, Dawkins is committed to working with the Eagles through the draft in April.

But both Dawkins and Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said this relationship could evolve into a permanent one. And a very important one.

“I’m very excited about this opportunity, I really am,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and it just so happened we were able to talk about it and get something done with it.”

Dawkins retired after the 2011 season, his third year in Denver. He worked for ESPN from the fall of 2012 through this past football season. He said ESPN did not renew his contract after last year, which opened up the door for him to explore a return to the NFL.

“I enjoyed my time there, I really did,” he said. “But it was one of those things where everything fell into place for me to have more freedom to do other things, and this was that opportunity and it presented itself and I jumped on it and we’re rolling with a fluid situation.

“This is something that I’ve been thinking for a while. I didn’t know it would come to fruition this fast, but here it is. And sometimes, you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone to really see what you can achieve. And so this is something that I’m really looking forward to, to see if this will move to something even bigger.”

Dawkins is with the Eagles at training camp this week, but he will be based for the time being in Denver, where he’s lived since signing with the Broncos and where his daughter is still in high school.

Roseman, very interestingly, revealed on Saturday morning that he has used Dawkins as an informal player personnel consultant, both when he was general manager through 2014 and again since being re-instated in a similar role with a new title by owner Jeff Lurie after Chip Kelly’s firing.

“I’ve (been) always trying to get him here because he’s got such a bright future, he’s got such a great football mind and a great presence and leadership ability, which translates to the front office,” Roseman said Saturday.

“I always think about (Hall of Fame tight end and Ravens general manager) Ozzie Newsome and how he made that transition, and then talking to (Dawkins) during the coaching search, as we were going into the offseason about the team.

“And then he did more evaluations this year for the draft and (we) continued to try to find the right role for him that he felt comfortable with and when this came along it was a perfect transition for him, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him in the building and helping us as we move forward here.”

Dawkins was a first-team all-pro four times and a Pro Bowler seven times with the Eagles. He made two more Pro Bowls with the Broncos.

It's interesting that the Eagles’ safeties the last time they won a playoff game – 2008 – are now back with the team.

Quintin Mikell, who spent the 2003 through 2010 seasons with the Eagles and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, was a coaching intern last year and currently serves as director of player engagement.

Dawkins said evaluating players comes naturally to him.

“I love it,” he said. “When you get up there in age playing the game, you see young guys come in and you’re hoping they can help the team win that year, so you start to evaluate, even back then.

“So now that I’m out of the game I just take those things that I learned then and apply them now. Evaluating guys and seeing if they can help this team going forward.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in this role, Dawkins looked up at the NovaCare Complex 50 feet away and spoke in that hyper-intense Dawk whisper we all know so well.

“To bring this place back to someplace when we played, when I played here,” he said. “The energy was completely different. There were expectations every year with what we were going to do, and I’m pretty sure the players would tell you the exact same thing. They want to get this thing back there as well.

“This is a place I feel comfortable. Not just this organization, but the football field, watching tape, having those conversations, I feel comfortable doing those things.”

But Dawkins said he ultimately doesn’t want to limit himself to scouting.

“I’m trying to grasp the whole gamut of football operations, how a team is run,” he said. “So I’m learning about the scouting part of it, but sometimes it’s either you have an eye or you don’t, and I’ve been blessed to have an eye to be able to see talent, so if I can help in that respect I’d love to that, but I also want to learn everything I can about running a football team.”

Roseman and Dawkins both hinted at a major role for Dawkins in the organization moving forward.

Could he one day be the general manager? A team vice president?

Don’t bet against it.

“He’s going to start with scouting and work with Joe (Douglas, vice president of player personnel) and his guys because he’s done that and he’s written evaluations for us,” Roseman said.

“But we don’t want to limit him to that. His ability to communicate to the players … everything that we’re doing that’s different than when he was a player from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a sports science standpoint, his observations on the team as a whole.

“We’re really going to drop him into a bunch of areas that he’s interested in, but it starts with the scouting department.”

Beyond his individual accomplishments, Dawk played for the Eagles during the most successful period in modern franchise history.

The Eagles have won 19 playoff games, and Dawkins was on the field for 10 of them.

More than half.

“He’s been part of championship-caliber teams, so he understands about what that looks like and the energy and enthusiasm that that has, and he’s been in a defense simiar to this, so he knows the responsibilities,” Roseman said.

“He’s also looking at it from a guy who played the position. When he’s watching DBs … when you sit with him and watch him watch safety play, he’s looking for different things than maybe we are maybe as a scouting staff or guys who maybe never played the position.

“He’s able to come into the meetings and impart what he saw, and that helps all of us as we’re evlauating guys and that’s the biggest part of it for all of us. To be able to pick his brain.”

Where will this ultimately lead? Dawkins just smiles and says he has big plans. Bigger than just working in scouring.

“Bigger is bigger,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “Bigger is bigger. I don’t know what bigger is. I just know bigger is not where I’m standing right now.

“So whatever bigger is, that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard back in the lineup, batting cleanup

After scoring just once on Friday night, the Phillies are sticking with nearly the same lineup on Saturday.

Ryan Howard moves into the cleanup spot, replacing Tommy Joseph at first base. Other than Howard, the lineup stays the same with Cesar Hernandez leading off.

Howard pinch hit in the ninth inning on Friday and hit a double, giving him a little momentum into Saturday. He last started on May 26 vs. the Marlins. He's looked more like his normal self in July, batting .257 with a .543 slugging percentage in 35 at-bats for the month. The veteran has raised his average from a paltry .151 to start the month to a slightly less worse .167. 

He has three home runs in July and two career home runs off Julio Teheran, the Braves' starter steeped in trade rumors (see Game Notes)

Aaron Altherr makes his third start in as many days since coming off the disabled list. He went 0 for 4 on Friday after a three-hit season debut on Thursday. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco take their same spots in the lineup, batting second and third, respectively. 

Here is tonight's lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P