Hackworth finally fired: Here's what must happen next for Union

Hackworth finally fired: Here's what must happen next for Union

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This is always when many thought it might happen, with the World Cup looming as a perfect distraction. But in recent weeks, it seemed less and less likely that it would happen at all.

On Tuesday, it finally did, as the Philadelphia Union fired team manager John Hackworth after 16 matches, in which the team won just three times.

John Hackworth was fired Tuesday as manager of the Philadelphia Union.

When things started so poorly for the Union, it was assumed that if a firing was going to happen midseason, it would be right about now, with the league taking a break for the World Cup, which kicks off Thursday.

But once Hackworth survived a horrendous home loss to D.C. United last month, and then made it past a loss to LA Galaxy where his team simply rolled over and died, it seemed pretty clear (to me, at least) that CEO Nick Sakiewicz and the Union brass were going to ride out the rest of the season and figure things out in the winter.

Assistant Jim Curtin will take over in an interim role.

The move feels slightly odd coming off what was the only really entertaining home game of the year so far -- a 3-3 draw with Vancouver on Saturday -- but it was coming, of course.

Hackworth did not have the veil of "I'm still fixing Peter Nowak's mess" anymore. These were his guys, in his system, and there was more than enough talent to go around.

It simply was not working. We've broken that down ad nauseum here and so has every other Union writer out there. By all accounts, it seems like Hackworth was a good guy with a good soccer mind, who either was just in the wrong spot or in over his head. I wish him well, and I'm sure he'll land on his feet elsewhere in the vast soccer world.

We've talked so much about Hackworth's possible firing, that we've never really discussed what's next. So, what is next for the Union?

In my mind, there are three things that need to happen now:

The players need to hold themselves accountable.

These are the players who DEFIANTLY celebrated with their coach during the win over Sporting Kansas City and seemed annoyed that the fans were on his case. Well, if you liked him so much, maybe you should have played better.

Many of the Union players have not performed up to snuff this year, and formations or coaches or training sessions are absolutely no excuse for that. There is absolutely no reason this team should have just three wins in 16 games, no matter who the coach is. You or I could create formations and drills for training sessions and scratch more than three wins out of these players if they were playing to their potential.

You don't have the coach everyone wants to fire as a human shield, anymore. It's time to put up or shut up.

Stop the charade of this season and play the kids

No team will ever publicly admit that they're giving up on the season (except maybe the Sixers), and that's fine. And the Union team releases will tell you that they are three points out of a playoff spot. But the team that is three points ahead of them has FIVE GAMES IN HAND. That's right, the Union have played as many as five more games than some of the teams they are chasing.

So it's time to leave anyone behind who won't (or shouldn't) be part of this team in 2015. That means Brian Carroll, Fred, and others. It's time to turn Zach Pfeffer loose and hope he shakes off some of the anxiety he seemed to have last weekend. See if Michael Lahoud can play as well as he did in the second half vs. Vancouver. See what guys like Jimmy McLaughlin or Pedro Ribeiro are made of. Decide who works best with talented midfielders like Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueria and Cristian Maidana.

I'd also say that the Union should decide what to do with their goalkeeping situation, but that's a decision that is going to have to wait for the next manager.

Have a real, honest to goodness coaching search that takes time

What's the rush? Seriously, the Union are not going anywhere this season, and their last coaching "search" left a bad taste in a lot of mouths when they simply removed the "interim" from Hackworth's title without ever really looking elsewhere.

People will toss out experienced MLS names like former New England manager Steve Nicol (now an ESPN analyst). You'll hear about how MLS player acquisition rules are so complex that you need someone with MLS experience.

I don't love the idea of a retread like Nicol, and I don't necessarily think you need someone with MLS experience. I'd be fine thinking outside the box. Look everywhere. Ask everywhere. Find me a young assistant coach with some experience in a big league, or a head coach from a smaller European league who loves the idea of a project in America. Someone willing to be innovative, to not be locked into a system, to play with the guys they have in front of them.

Veljko Paunovic

And if that person doesn't understand what allocation money is, then so be it. Hire a GM or player personnel guy who does.

The most interesting name I've seen floating out there today is former Union player Veljko Paunovic, who is now retired and is apparently interested in coaching. Do I have any clue whether he'd be a good coach? Of course not. But he's young, he absolutely loved his time here and fell in love with the fanbase, which in return fell in love with him. I'm not saying he needs to be hired, but don't be afraid to think outside the box. Ask everyone. Ask everywhere.

And for goodness sake, take your damn time.

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.