Circle your calendar -- the Union's 2014 schedule is out and it's home-heavy late

Circle your calendar -- the Union's 2014 schedule is out and it's home-heavy late

We could've used a photo of Jeld-Wen Field in Portland, where the Union will open 2014 against the Timbers. But we couldn't turn down Timbers fan Owen Dell, wearing ear muffs before Sunday's game against Real Salt Lake. (Photo USA TODAY Sports)

It's been a while since we discussed Union soccer here at the Level. That's largely because there wasn't much to talk about after the team collapsed down the stretch and missed out on the playoffs (Real Salt Lake will play for MLS Cup at Sporting KC on Dec. 7, in case you were curious). And somewhat because your resident soccer nerds (Dave Zeitlin and I) have small children who don't understand "Daddy has to blog now."

Anyway, there isn't much going on on the roster front, at least until the Union begin what should be a decent amount of offseason wheeling and dealing. Expect that to happen in the coming weeks, as we get closer to the 2014 MLS Draft, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center here in Philadelphia.

But in a very un-MLS bit of news for a league that is notorious for waiting until the last minute to plan anything, the 2014 schedule was released on Monday.

Seriously, I'm stunned.

Anyway, we have plenty of time to see which games will mean most next year. But here's a few quick takes on next year's slate.

  • The Union get no favors on opening weekend, beginning their season at one of the toughest road stadiums in the league, March 8 at the Portland Timbers. The Timbers lost Sunday night in the Western Conference semifinals, and play in front of one of the best crowds in MLS (we won't talk about their fake grass). A point on the road would be a great start for the Union. I'd count on that game being on national television.
  • The rest of March isn't too bad for the Union. The home opener follows on March 15 against New England, followed by a short trip to Columbus and a home game against Montreal.
  • For better or worse, April and May will be where we find out if the Union are for real or not. Only three of nine games are at home, mixed in with tough road trips to Chicago, New York, Montreal, Seattle, Kansas City and Los Angeles (the good news is back-to-back road games in LA vs. Galaxy and Chivas. East to stay out there instead of making two trips).
  • Plenty of time to rest after that stretch with just two games in June due to a break for the 2014 World Cup.
  • Union will be on the road for July 4th yet again, with a game at FC Dallas. The highlight of July will be a Wednesday home game against New York (already slated for ESPN2).
  • If the Union are in decent position come September, the schedule really opens up. Seven of the last 10 games are at PPL Park, against many teams that SHOULD be expected three-pointers (Toronto, Columbus, Chicago). Between August 21 and the season finale on October 26, the Union will make just three road trips, and all should be winnable: At Toronto (Sept. 6), At D.C. United (Sept. 27) and at Columbus (Oct. 26).

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

Eagles Injury Update: Mathews and Matthews to return to practice

If you're searching for some good news following the Eagles' dismal 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday afternoon, here it is. 

Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Ryan Mathews (knee) are going to return to practice this week, head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday. 

Ryan Mathews, who suffered an MCL sprain against Seattle, has missed the last two weeks. The Eagles averaged just 77 yards rushing in those two losses, going with Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. 

Jordan Matthews, who has been the Eagles' best and most consistent receiver this season, suffered an ankle sprain against the Packers and was inactive on Sunday against the Bengals. It was the first game he ever missed in college or in the NFL. 

Wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, who injured his midsection and got X-rays during the game, has an oblique contusion, according to Pederson. Green-Beckham is sore and will be held from practice on Wednesday, but Pederson expects him to be "OK" for the Washington game on Sunday. 

Pederson said right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is "coming along," but isn't yet ready to return. 

"He's going to do a little more this week, not from a practice standpoint but from a rehab standpoint, and he's doing good," Pederson said. "But we'll see where he is again later in the week."

In Vaitai's absence, left guard Allen Barbre has shifted from left guard to right tackle and Stefen Wisniewski has replaced him at left guard. 

MLB Notes: Dodgers sign LHP Rich Hill to 3-year deal

MLB Notes: Dodgers sign LHP Rich Hill to 3-year deal

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers have signed free-agent pitcher Rich Hill to a three-year contract after he went 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA in six starts with the team he joined at the trade deadline.

The 36-year-old left-hander was acquired in a five-player trade with Oakland on Aug. 1. Hill was 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA in three postseason starts for the NL West champion Dodgers, including tossing six scoreless innings to win Game 3 of the NL Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.

Hill was 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts for the Dodgers and A's last season. His ERA was second-best in the majors behind Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw's 1.69.

Hill was limited at times by a finger blister and a groin injury.

He has a 38-28 career record with a 4.10 ERA in 221 games in 12 major league season with the Cubs, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, A's and Dodgers.

Japan: Otani could be headed to MLB
TOKYO — Japanese pitcher Shohei Otani says he could move to Major League Baseball after the 2017 season.

The 22-year-old righthander, who has also shown potential as a hitter, signed a $2.37 million contract for next season with the Nippon Ham Fighters on Monday.

Otani will not become eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season and will need the Fighters' approval to negotiate with a major league club through the posting system before that time.

Otani says "we discussed the possibility of me going. ... The club will respect my wishes whenever I decide I want to go."

Otani went 10-4 as a pitcher and batted .322 with a career-high 22 home runs this season for the Fighters.

Blue Jays: Pearce signs
TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays signed utility player Steve Pearce to a two-year, $12.5 million contract.

The Blue Jays announced the move Monday. It could spell the end of Edwin Encarnacion's tenure in Toronto as Pearce primarily plays first base and first baseman Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak are also on the roster.

Pearce hit .288 with 13 home runs in 85 games for Tampa Bay and Baltimore last season. The right-handed hitter can also play second base and left and right field and hit .309 against left-handed pitchers.

Not signing fan favorite Encarnacion will not go over well in Toronto, which led the American League in attendance. Encarnacion hit 42 home runs and led the AL with 127 RBIs along with David Ortiz. The Blue Jays might also let free agent right fielder Jose Bautista sign elsewhere.

Toronto has avoided large long-term contracts since Mark Shapiro became president of the club following the 2015 season.

Pearce, 33, underwent surgery to repair flexor tendons in his right forearm in late September and was expected to be out four to six months.