Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Conor Casey a Rare Philly Phenomenon -- A Player Who Is Far Exceeding Expectations

Hey, it's been a while. I'm Steve, and I like soccer. Pleased to meet you.

Seriously though, apologies for the lack of posts the last few weeks. Real work got in the way (you thought blogging was a real job?), but hopefully things have settled down and we can get back in the groove.

I've had to miss the last two home games, but was able to watch them on television. While I'll gladly take my seat at PPL Park over one on the couch, you do get a different perspective, especially as the team adapts to life without Jack McInerney.

(Ironically, that's a problem that could come to an end today, as United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann is entitled to make roster changes before the Gold Cup quarterfinals on Sunday. Jack McInerney has not seen the field in three group games, and we should find out today whether he'll return to the Union in time for Saturday's big game vs. Portland)

That different perspective has made me realize something you don't really need to be an astute soccer mind to figure out:

Conor Casey's still got it.

When Casey signed with the Union in the offseason, I was happy with the move and excited to see Casey play. But if I'm being honest, most of that excitement was because for the first time since the Freddy Adu signing, the team was bringing in a player I had heard of. A player with a name and a pedigree and an established MLS career.

I didn't really expect Casey to do much more than be a vocal leader, a bruiser up front, and a spark off the bench when the Union needed a late goal or to hold the ball up and keep a lead.

In reality, Conor Casey is the hands-down, without-question, don't-even-try-to-argue-with-me Most Valuable Player for the Union.

McInerney leads the team in goals and Sebastien Le Toux leads the entire league in assists. I know this. But Casey has been exactly what this team needs at exactly the right time.

In the season-opening loss to Kansas City, Casey came on in the 84th minute of a game the Union were going to lose anyway. He threw his body around, earned a few laughs from the River End, and I walked out expecting more of the same. A nice player who is not afraid to get involved and get under an opponents' skin. But I wasn't expecting much skill or finishing touch.

Boy, was I wrong.

Finally, for the first time since flashes from Le Toux in the team's inaugural season, the Union have forward(s?!?!) with a finishing touch. Casey technically only had one goal against Chivas last weekend, but only because his header glanced off Brian Carroll before finding the net and soccer is silly with how it awards goals.

Casey's "real" goal -- the team's third -- may seem like a simple finish. But with a completely saturated field and a bouncing ball, there was nothing simple about it.

Instead of blasting it into the Delaware (something Michael Farfan and others do regularly), Casey had the patience to see the goalkeeper leaning to his left, and calmly rolled it the other way to seal a win the Union desperately needed.

Casey will tun 32 years old next week (Matthew De George of The Daily Times in Delaware County had an great Casey story in Wednesday's edition). He's been around the block, and with one glance it's easy to see he doesn't have the typical soccer body type (although the fact that he played a full 90 in the heat in Houston 2 weeks ago was surprising).

But whether McInerney returns this weekend or is out the rest of the month, Union fans can rest comfortably knowing that should a Grade A chance fall at the feet of a Union forward, odds are good it'll actually be converted.

That's not something fans of this team are used to.

Since I've slacked off in recent weeks, a few posts coming this week. On Thursday we'll break down the strangest goal in Union history, followed Friday by a look ahead at the biggest home game of the year so far for the Union.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.