Check the Tape: Union have plenty of work to do, but it's not 2012 all over again

Check the Tape: Union have plenty of work to do, but it's not 2012 all over again

Plenty of media outlets and Union blogs will offer
their take on games this season immediately after the final whistle.

With that in mind – as well as a job that leaves
me working nights and a 15-month-old baby at home who makes it hard
to do anything not on his schedule – we’re trying something
a little different.

Set the DVR, make a few mental notes from my seat
in Section 138 (too cold this week for any real note-taking) and let
things simmer for a few days – good or bad. Then tackle the replay
from the first minute to added time, and try not to ramble too much.
Might be a running diary like this (sorry, I’m not that creative),
and it might not. We’ll see how it goes.

We also might touch on the TV broadcasts a little
bit. How games reach fans on TV has always interested me, and hopefully
might not be totally boring to you.

And we’re off.

PREGAME: The game was on 6ABC, with usual play-by-play voice
J.P. Dellacamera and new color analyst Alejandro Moreno, who played
for the Union in their first season.

LINEUP: I was WAY off in my pregame post, partially because
Hackworth veered from his expected 4-3-3 for a 4-2-1-2-1. I was very
surprised by it at first, but I really like the formation for this team
(if not the players in it). With Okugo, Lahoud and Carroll on the roster,
you have three holding midfielders, so it makes no sense to play a 4-3-3
where you may not really used one at all. Le Toux has worked well as
a solo striker, but I would still like to see Conor Casey on from the
start, and either pair him with Le Toux up top or let Le Toux play just
off Casey.

1’: The new third jerseys looked great when they were released,
and they look even better in action. The white shorts are great. In
other uniform news, I thought I liked the new two-tone Sporting shirts,
but they look really weird on the field, especially for those wearing
long sleeves.

4’: Gabe Farfan with two golden chances off a good ball from
Michael Farfan. First one right into KC goalie Nielsen, rebound shot
way over the bar. It was a promising start for Gabe Farfan, who was
a very surprising starter up high.

6’: At this point, things are off to a good start. Some decent
possession on the other side of midfield, and two plays where Jack McInerney
would’ve been way offside last year but Le Toux stayed on well.

8’: Le Toux gets a long floating ball from Carroll and can
only muster a lobbed shot way over the bar. He was 1-on-1 with Matt
Besler, and should’ve done better to bring it down. All in all though,
the Union have done more in the first eight minutes in the attacking
half than in entire games last year.

10’: Le Toux tries to cut it back in the box for Daniel but
it’s a nothing pass kicked out for a corner. He sometimes needs to
be more unselfish and have a shot.

11’: Gaddis comes all the way from left to right to cover
for Sheanon Williams, who was way up in the KC 18 on the last attack.
I love the way Williams attacks on the wings, but with the shaky nature
of this defense (more on that later), he and Gaddis need to err on the
side of caution more often.

14’: Le Toux and Gabe Farfan working well together in opening
minutes. Nice balls into space and predicting each other’s movements.
I never liked Gabe as a left back (not sure I like Gaddis, either),
but I could learn to like him playing up higher.

16’: Sloppy pass from Carroll to Michael Farfan, but Carroll
is bailed out by a stupid foul. This will not go down as one of Carroll’s
best games. He seemed out of

17: UNION
GOAL. The move starts with a really bad pass from Gaddis for
Daniel, which is easily intercepted by Chance Myers, but quickly given
away on an even worse turnover. With one quick touch, Daniel sends a
perfect floating ball to the penalty spot, which Le Toux
cradles with his right foot before poking it past Nielsen.

The first touch was amazing, but he got away with a less-than-precise
finish. Still, a just reward for the Union’s strong start.

18’: Le Toux really needs a signature goal celebration. Also,
I predicted something right! (Not that I went out on much of a limb).

20’: Moreno has already provided more solid analysis and
insight than Bob Rigby did all of last season. He doesn’t overtalk
and seems to work well with Dellacamera. Although a screaming
goat
would have been an upgrade over Rigby.

22’: Carroll gets pushed off the ball with ease and it leads
to a half-chance for KC. Like I said, not his best game.

23’: A brilliant outside-of-the-foot ball from Michael Farfan
to Williams sets up a GOLDEN chance for Le Toux just inside the 18.
Looked like he was aiming to curl it far post but flat-out scuffed the
shot and missed the net entirely. The moment that really changed the
game, in my opinon.

24’: Le Toux was solid, but a minute after the missed chance
he fails to put anything on an attempted cross and it is easily cleared
away. Union really possessing the ball well, though.

26’: Gaddis streaks down the middle and draws a promising
free kick on a foul by Aurelien Collin. The kid has unbelievable speed,
and could really develop into a nice left back if given the chance.
But his lack of size means he needs to play smarter in the back, especially
on set pieces and scramble situations.

27’: Michael Farfan puts a free kick on frame (BREAKING NEWS!)
and forces a nice save from Nielsen.

28’: I DESPISE short corners. Just so you know.

31’: It was about this time that we all realized just how
cold it was in the River End. Also when we started to wonder exactly
who the back-breaking end-of-half goal against was going to come from.

32’: Benny Feilhaber commits a foul and then screams at the
ref with a “Who? Me?!?” look. For you soccer newbies, this is what
we call “being Benny Feilhaber.”

36’: Nice job by Gaddis to run at Colin again. He seemed
to know Colin had one yellow card and forced him into another dangerous
tackle. Colin makes a nice play to stop him, but that’s great awareness
from a young player.

37’: Great corner kick from Le Toux and a semi-free header
by Okugo that he can’t get on frame. Solid corner by Le Toux, who
often misses his mark on those.

39’: Moreno (rightfully) harping on Le Toux’s inability
to ease pressure by holding up the ball. He needs to get better at that,
especially if he going to play up top alone.

41’: SPORTING GOAL. Carroll’s biggest mistake of the match
leads to a goal. Okugo misreads a bouncing ball on the wing 40 yards
out and it falls to Convey. At this point, my brother, standing beside
me, says “He should’ve fouled him there.” Carroll can see a teammate
out of position in front of him and needs to go for the ball and take
a “professional” foul, even if it means a yellow card. Instead,
Carroll meekly stabs at the ball and Convey beats him easily before
floating a cross into the box.

Claudio Bieler nods it down nicely to Feilhaber, whose
shot is saved well by Macmath. But Parke and Gaddis are inexplicably
retreating BEHIND their goalie to guard the line, so when the rebound
rolls out to Graham Zusi, there is no one there and he roofs it to tie
the game
. Plenty of blame to go around on this one.
Macmath gets the least, as the shot was ripped and would’ve been hard
to push to catch or push to one side. Carroll needs to do better, and
Gabe Farfan and Michael Lahoud need to do more than watch from the edge
of the 18. A terrible goal to give up when you’ve dominated the half.

HALFTIME: The scoreline is not what the Union deserve for this
possession and passing game, which has been better than at any point
in 2012. Also, I’m super pumped that the creepy Bimbo teddy bear ads
are back this year (sarcasm font). And Peter Pappas is part of the halftime
show on 6ABC. I got his autograph on a Philadelphia Kixx ball after
a game at the Spectrum when I was a kid. That ball would be worth a
pretty penny today. An actual penny.

46’: SO MANY empty seats at the start of the second half
… a PPL Park tradition. For a new stadium, the number and layout of
the bathrooms is embarrassing, especially when men vastly outnumber
women. Not sure I’ve ever seen a second-half kickoff live.

54’: Feilhaber runs over Michael Farfan and gets called for
a foul. Running people over and pretending he did nothing wrong is what
Feilhaber does best.

60’: Sporting really controlling the ball now. Everything
has been different since the Zusi goal. Despite that, the Union have
had one or two forays into the attacking third. Last year when momentum
changed this way, the Union folded up and never pushed forward.

66’: Williams tangles with substitute C.J. Sapong and get
called for a foul. From my seat on Saturday I thought it was a foul
on Sapong if anything. From here it should’ve been a no-call. Both
guys were using their arms.

66’: SPORTING GOAL. Zusi’s free kick is well-placed, but
the Union are just watching. Gaddis
lets Oriol Rosell run free for the header
, so he gets
Blame #1. But Macmath MUST be more assertive there. You know where Zusi
is going to put it, so come to the ball and be aggressive. The goalie
is always going to get the benefit of the doubt in a penalty box pileup,
but Macmath consistently seems unwilling to make the first move. Just
bad all around from the Union, who apparently don’t practice set piece
defending.

70’: McInerney comes in for Gabe Farfan. I thought Farfan
was serviceable enough to deserve another chance in the attack. I’ve
never been the biggest McInerney fan, and would’ve rather seen Hoppenot
or Casey come in here.

75’: Williams trying to beat two men by himself. That tells
you all you need to know about the second half. No poise at all. For
Hackworth’s sake, you hope it’s not tired legs. Let’s also not
forget that Sporting K.C. is one of the top three or four teams in the
league, as well.

79’: Le Toux with a great ball to McInerney, who directs
a great header on goal, but Nielsen is positioned well to make the save.

80’: Roger Torres comes in for Lahoud. I have never liked
Lahoud but thought he played OK in this game. Not sure he needs to be
out there with Carroll and Okugo though.

83’: SPORTING GOAL. Again, this was easy to see a mile away.
Zusi is everywhere on this play, floats a great ball to Myers, who cuts
it back to Bieler, who seemed shocked to be so alone inside the 18. The experienced
forward makes no mistake and slots it home past Macmath.

Why are the Union never linked to designated players like Bieler? (The
$1 million question).

84’: Casey comes in and throws his body into Collin, drawing
a cheer from the Sons of Ben, who were waiting for anything to cheer
about.

89’: Gaddis lucky to not see a red card after a wild tackle
on Peterson Joseph.

90’: Let’s hope the Union are taking notes. This is how
an experienced winning team closes out a game. Sporting putting on a
second-half clinic.

FINAL: SPORTING K.C. 3, UNION 1.

I won’t get too caught up in one game. And there
were plenty of reasons to think this won’t be 2012 revisited. The
offense was MUCH better and there were chances created. There was even
a chance well-finished for a goal.

The problem is the defense was sloppy on all three
goals, while Macmath shares the blame for at least one of them (the
second). I like Gaddis, but he might be a better option as the left
back, especially if Bakary Soumare can play in the middle alongside
Parke.

I won’t fall into the “more of the same” argument. This was not like a 2012 loss, even if it felt like it at
times. There is more talent here and more cohesion, especially in the
midfield. That’s not to say roster moves aren’t needed and lineup
changes shouldn’t come. But let’s wait a few games before we write
off 2013 as a continuation of 2012.

Follow Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers-Stars 5 things: Streaking like it's 2002?

Flyers (16-10-3) vs. Stars (11-11-6)
1 p.m. on CSN and CSNPhilly.com

Remember when it was a fight for the Flyers to simply sew together back-to-back wins?

Prior to this run, they had done it just twice in the first 22 games.

Now, they’re the hottest team in the NHL, winners of seven straight and trying to make it eight on Saturday afternoon when they welcome the Dallas Stars to the Wells Fargo Center.

Here are five things you need to know for the matchup:

1. The great eight?
Jeremy Roenick, Mark Recchi, John LeClair and Eric Desjardins.

Roman Cechmanek and Brian Boucher.

These are just some of the players that were wearing Flyers jerseys when the team last won eight consecutive games, back on Jan. 6-19, 2002.

It’s worth mentioning, before the 2004-05 season, winning streaks were a bit more challenging with a tie being the result if overtime went scoreless. The extra session was also not 3-on-3, like it is now.

Still, what the current Flyers are doing is impressive. They’ve gone to the shootout only once over the seven-game spurt and have outscored the opposition by 10 goals, 27-17.

2. Raffl winners
Dave Hakstol has called Michael Raffl a big-bodied, straight-line forward, which is certainly not off the mark.

But from time to time, Raffl will show the deceptive skill side of his game.

He did it Thursday night to win the Flyers’ 6-5 affair over the Oilers in the final minute and a half of regulation for his second game-winner over the last three contests.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," Steve Mason said postgame Thursday (see story). "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl is quietly making teams pay. The Flyers are 4-0-2 in games that he scores a goal. Despite missing eight games because of injury, the 28-year-old Austrian is on pace for around 20 goals.

That’s much-valued secondary scoring and complementary play.

3. Not so bright
Before reeling off seven straight wins, the Flyers were in a similar spot to which the Stars are in now.

Dallas, which finished 50-23-9 last season — best in the Western Conference — after starting 19-5-0, can’t find consistency through 28 games this season. The Stars have won back-to-back games just once thus far and goaltending has been an issue as Dallas is surrendering an NHL-worst 3.18 goals per game.

The Stars do not lack offensive firepower, however. Center Tyler Seguin is tied for second in the NHL with 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists), while linemate Jamie Benn isn’t far behind at 24 (eight goals, 16 assists).

Also, veteran forward Jason Spezza is coming off a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in Dallas’ 5-2 win over the Predators.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: We’ve got to go Jakub Voracek after the winger’s one-goal, three-assist performance on Thursday night. Voracek has been an absolute monster on the seven-game winning streak, posting 11 points with three goals and eight assists for a plus-6 rating.

Stars: It’s hard not to say Seguin, a dynamic player who always gives the Flyers trouble. His 21 career points (nine goals, 12 assists) against the orange and black are his second most versus any team.

5. This and that
• Mason is on a career-best six-game winning streak in which he’s posted a 2.27 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Since Nov. 12, Mason is 9-3-1 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

• Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is a dreadful 1-10-3 lifetime against the Flyers with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage, while backup Antti Niemi is 4-1-0 with 1.48 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.

• Dallas has won its last three meetings with the Flyers by a combined score of 7-3.

• The Stars have lost 11 of 15 on the road.

• Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games.

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

Penn State fan surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in heartwarming video

It's been a long road back to relevance for the Penn State football program. 

The Nittany Lions surprised just about everyone this season by finishing 10-2, winning the Big Ten title and claiming a spot in the historic Rose Bowl against USC on Jan. 2. 

For one fan, the surprise season went one step further.

Per ESPN's Instagram account ...

But wait, there's more. 

Not only was he surprised with Rose Bowl tickets in what could be the most touching video of the year, but he even got a personal call from Penn State head coach James Franklin thanking him for his support. 

Not a bad way to close out 2016.