Breaking down the play that kept Union in playoff hunt -- no, not the Kleberson goal

Breaking down the play that kept Union in playoff hunt -- no, not the Kleberson goal

Lost in the Kleberson-induced euphoria of last week's win over Toronto FC was a play less than 10 minutes earlier. A play that could be the defining moment of the Union's season, should they find a spot in the playoffs.

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With nine Union players pushed forward for a Sebastien Le Toux corner kick in the 87th minute of a 0-0 game, the ball was quickly cleared to midfield by Toronto. Union fullback Ray Gaddis tried to control the ball and head it to a teammate, but a tough first touch, and no Union players within 30 yards, left him all alone trying to defend a 3-man Toronto rush.

Gaddis' first touch is what ultimately caused the problem, but the second-year player -- who struggled with defensive positioning earlier this season -- immediately backed up and surveyed his options.

If you watch it again, Gaddis no sooner begins backpedaling when he perfectly reads the eyes of Alvaro Rey, realizing Rey is going to slide an early pass forward to Robert Earnshaw. If Gaddis stays with Rey for one more stride, there's no way he keeps up with Earnshaw seconds later.

Ray Gaddis reads the pass perfectly from Alvaro Rey.

Before Rey delivers the pass, Gaddis is already turned around and sprinting full speed to get alongside Earnshaw -- Toronto's leading scorer.

From there, Gaddis not only uses his blazing speed to stay with Earnshaw, he also perfectly positions himself on Earnshaw's inside shoulder. This forces Earnshaw just a little bit wider, but it also discourages him from trying to slide the ball back to Rey. As Earnshaw approaches the penalty area, Gaddis even slows down, begging Earnshaw to go wider and be selfish. When you're the only defender back, you have to pick your poison, and in this case, Gaddis (rightfully) decides he's better off turning it into a 1-on-1 than allowing Rey to rejoin the play.

Gaddis prevents a pass back and forces Earnshaw wide.

Once inside the area, Gaddis is careful not to dive in for the ball, and he also takes away half the goal for Earnshaw to shoot at. This allows goalie Zac MacMath to take a step toward Earnshaw, and forces the Toronto forward to hesitate for an instant. It is then that Gaddis picks his spot and pokes the ball away.

Gaddis finishes the play perfectly, poking the ball away.

To top it all off, Gaddis even keeps the ball in play and regains possession instead of kicking it out of play. Which leads almost immediately to a Union free kick at the other end.

Gaddis will have another big challenge Saturday night, despite D.C. United's horrendous record. The Union will be without starting right back Sheanon Williams (yellow card accumulation) and his most likely replacement, Fabinho (red card vs. Toronto). So don't be surprised to see seldom-used players like Chris Albright or Matt Kassel playing center back (with Amobi Okogu on the right), or even someone like Le Toux or Michael Lahoud starting at right back.

The Union absolutely, positively, no questions asked, need a win against lowly D.C. (7 p.m. - Comcast Network). If that happens, and the Union do make the playoffs, remember Ray Gaddis' heroics last Saturday night.

PREDICTION SURE TO BE WRONG

The Union have struggled to score in open play lately. And even usually stubborn manager John Hackworth (the longest-tenured coach in Philly sports) might have to put Kleberson in the starting lineup to avoid an absolutely all-out fan mutiny. Whether that leads to more attacking play, we shall see.

Ironically, I think Saturday's game will come down to something the Union haven't seen all season: a penalty kick. Games at RFK are often wild and out of control, and I have a feeling the Union will draw their FIRST PENALTY of the entire season, then tack on another one late to secure the win.

UNION 2, D.C. UNITED 0

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Howard, Phils can spoil Mets' season

Phillies (70-89) vs. Mets (85-74)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

Just three games remain in the Phillies' season. After a 24-17 start, the season went predictably downhill. However, the Phils have a chance to play spoiler to a big-time rival with the New York Mets in town. Alec Asher is on the hill for the Phillies while Robert Gsellman faces the Phillies for a third times this year.

Here are five things to watch on Friday night.

1. End of the road for the Big Ticket
There are just three games left in Ryan Howard's tenure with the Phillies.

It's been a long ride for Howard. There'll be plenty on Howard this weekend (and there's a pregame ceremony for him on Sunday), but here are some of his stats from his 13 years in Philadelphia.

Howard has hit 381 home runs and has 1,192 RBI with the Phils. He has 10 seasons of at least 20 home runs and has a run of six straight seasons from 2006 to 2011, his first six full seasons, with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. He twice walked more than 100 times in a season and he racked up 276 doubles.

The long-time first baseman has hit 47 home runs against the Mets, his second highest total against any team (52 vs. Atlanta). In 174 games, Howard has 157 hits and 73 walks against the Mets.

Howard goes into the weekend with 197 home runs at Citizens Bank Park. Overall, he's racked up 1,465 total bases at CBP. He has, however, struck out 880 times in 769 games there as well.

2. Playing spoilers
While the Phillies are firmly outside of the playoff race, the New York Mets are in the driver's seat for a wild card spot. The Phillies could have something to say about that.

The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals both won on Thursday while the Mets were off. That leaves the Mets one game ahead of the Giants for the first wild card spot and two games up on the Cardinals for a playoff spot. 

If the Mets win two of three this weekend, they clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game on Wednesday. With one win, they guarantee that they cannot be eliminated this weekend. Their magic number is two to clinch a playoff berth, so a combination of wins and Cardinals' losses can get them into the postseason. 

The Phillies can throw a wrench into the Mets' gameplan with a strong showing this weekend. While they've lost six of seven, the Phillies will likely get up for games with playoff implications. Furthermore, the Mets have the incentive to clinch as soon as possible as to avoid needing Noah Syndergaard to pitch on Sunday, so they can hold him for the National League wild card game on Wednesday.

3. Asher closes out impressive month 
Asher has made four starts since coming up earlier this month and has been much more impressive than his late season stint in 2015. 

After going 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA last year, he's 2-0 with a 1.66 ERA. However, despite picking up a win last weekend against the Mets, he struggled late and left room for improvement. 

Asher began his start Saturday vs. the Mets with a perfect game through three innings. He worked around three baserunners in the fourth inning, but came unglued after a couple errors in the fifth inning. While poor defense is not his fault, it would have been a good sign if he could have picked up his defense. Instead, he barely made it through the inning after four unearned runs.

Normally, a team would look for length out of their starter when handed such a large lead, so Asher only making it through five is disappointing. He still hasn't allowed more than two earned runs and has induced plenty of weak contact with his two-seam fastball.

The Mets will be the first (and only) team he faces twice this season.

4. Third time the charm vs. Gsellman?
Gsellman will be making his seventh career MLB start on Friday and it will be his third against the Phillies.

In two starts against the Phils, Gsellman is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA over 13 innings. He has 13 strikeouts against them while allowing 10 hits and three walks. 

All four runs he allowed to the Phillies came in his first start. He had held the Phils to one run over six innings but departed after loading the bases with none out. The Mets' bullpen promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score.

On Sunday, Gsellman dominated, shutting out the Phils for seven innings. He allowed just five baserunners and struck out eight in the 17-0 win. 

The 23-year-old rookie has a 2.56 ERA through seven appearances in the majors. He started the season in Double A, but he will likely get a playoff start if the Mets gets to the Division Series.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have just two extra base hits in 50 plate appearances against Gsellman. They are hitting .222/.271/.267 against him. 

• Eight Phils have hits off Gsellman. Freddy Galvis is 2 for 5 with a double and Jimmy Paredes is 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. 

• Michael Conforto hit a home run off Asher last season. No Mets hitter has more than one hit against him, in part because none of them have faced him more than three times.

• The Phillies have 601 runs on the season, the fewest in baseball by 39 runs. The Mets have the fifth worst total with 659 runs.

• Jeanmar Gomez is 0-3 with a 19.13 ERA in September. He's allowed 18 runs (17 earned) in eight innings.

An Attack on Carson Wentz is an Attack on All of Us

An Attack on Carson Wentz is an Attack on All of Us

Carson Wentz. He’s a phenom. He’s a star. He’s the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for for all this time. Wentz has led the Eagles to a 3-0 start, showing poise well beyond his years, and establishing himself, without a doubt, as the best quarterback in Eagles history, or at least the best since Jeff Garcia. Who else would it be? McNabb? Please. How many times was he undefeated at the bye? 

Wentz, especially after crushing the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, is unquestionably the real deal -- and I have only two questions: Should I order my flight to Houston for the Super Bowl now, or wait until the rates come down? And should the parade go up Broad Street towards City Hall, or down, towards the Sports Complex? 

Carson Wentz has already been named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, which is clearly only a small steppingstone to Rookie of the Year, MVP, having his number retired, and ultimately the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I mean, did you see some of those throws last Sunday? 

But even with all the excitement, some are skeptical. After Week 1, we heard “it’s just one game, and besides -- it’s Cleveland!” After week 2? “the Browns and Bears suck -- wake me up when he beats a good team. After week 3? “He hasn’t even played a division game yet!” Worst of all was CBS’ Bart Scott, who called Wentz "fool’s gold." 

Please. What you have to understand is that people like Scott aren’t just mouthing off on a pregame show or sharing a meaningless NFL opinion. They are launching a vicious attack on Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles organization, every Philadelphia fan, and the city of Philadelphia itself. We should all be horribly insulted, and demanding action. 

It’s bad enough when the national guys bring up snowballs and Santa Claus. But let’s be real: Bad-mouthing Carson Wentz must not be tolerated, ever. I call for a boycott of all CBS-owned properties (other than WIP), until Bart Scott apologizes or is fired. 

Sure, I know a lot of people are more upset about the national anthem stuff. But make no mistake: Questioning Carson Wentz is way worse. 

Other Philly sports takes: 

- Of course, I’d be even happier with the Eagles’ start if the long snapper hadn’t unfairly lost a televised talent show to a little girl. 

- For those of you who asked: Now that Buddy has passed, I’ll be writing in Carson Wentz for president. 

- Assuming Jim Schwartz leaves the Eagles for a head coaching job, who should replace him as defensive coordinator? It’ll be a tough choice between Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan.  

- The only downside to the Eagles’ 3-0 start? Josh Innes isn’t around for it. Poor guy. 

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