Hackworth hints at lineup changes – so what exactly will they be?

Hackworth hints at lineup changes – so what exactly will they be?

If you take John Hackworth at his word, the Philadelphia Union manager is seriously considering shaking up the lineup for Saturday’s huge Eastern Conference matchup against the Houston Dynamo at PPL Park.

This comes as fairly big news because Hackworth, by and large, has pretty much stuck with the same guys this season, unless he’s had to deal with injuries or international call-ups. But with the Union winless in their last four and coming off a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in a game in which they failed to score despite being up a man for much of the second half, Hackworth seems to recognize that some changes might be in order.

The Union manager didn’t offer too many specifics during his weekly press conference but did indicate the changes will likely come in the attack, with strikers Jack McInerney and Conor Casey and attacking midfielders Danny Cruz, Keon Daniel and Sebastien Le Toux all in danger of losing their starting spots.

Who will take their place? Let’s take a look at some of the options with their chances to start in parentheses. (Note: these percentages are derived from a complicated formula and specific data I’ve been compiling the entire season and … no, I’m just kidding – I’m pretty much just making it up as I go.)

Fabinho (chances to start - 75 percent): Amobi Okugo returns from a two-game suspension this week and will slide back into his center back role (Hackworth said it would be too much of a change to put him in the midfield, even if Delaware County Daily Times writer Matt De George shows it could sorta make sense), which means Fabinho is in danger of losing his spot at left back. But Fabinho has played well, so it seems likely he will either start at left back over Ray Gaddis or supplant Danny Cruz as the team’s left midfielder, where he can continue to showcase his impressive crossing ability.

Michael Farfan (chances to start - 60 percent): Some people would point to Farfan as one of the problems this season, but Hackworth noted how much better the Union were in the second half Sunday after Farfan came on. If Hackworth takes Keon Daniel out of the starting lineup, it will probably be Farfan that replaces him as the team’s central attacking midfielder. (Granted, this wouldn’t be too big of a change considering Farfan and Daniel have started the same number of games this year.)

Antoine Hoppenot (chances to start – 50 percent): The Union’s “super sub” has started just once this season but Hackworth could look for Hoppenot’s energy at the start of games, when the team has often sputtered. The Union manager could opt to play Hoppenot in place of the struggling Jack McInerney or put him on one of the wings.

Aaron Wheeler (chances to start – 25 percent): The 6-foot-4 striker could be one of the best bets to jumpstart the offense as he always seems to pick out balls when he comes on as a late-game sub. But the only way he’d probably start is if Conor Casey goes to the bench. And even though Casey hasn’t scored in the past four games, the burly striker has still been one of the team’s bright spots all season.

Kleberson (chances to start – 20 percent): A straight swap of Daniel for Kleberson would probably do the most to improve the midfield issues. But for reasons only he knows, Hackworth has been very reluctant to play the Brazilian World Cup veteran, who’s logged only 10 minutes in the past three months.

Michael Lahoud/Leo Fernandes (chances to start – 15 percent): Both are solid options to earn minutes in the midfield but neither really brings the kind of creativity Hackworth hopes to see in the attacking third.

Roger Torres (chances to start – 1 percent): Hackworth wants to see less predictably in the midfield and the Colombian playmaker can certainly help with that. But Torres has been buried on the bench even deeper than Kleberson, having played just 37 total minutes this season. This would certainly be a change that would open the most eyes.

Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

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Penn State uses dominant second half to top No. 6 Wisconsin for Big Ten title

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State’s offense rewrote the Big Ten Championship’s offensive record book Saturday night but its 38-31 victory over Wisconsin wasn’t secure until the final minute.

And Linebacker U. got the game-saving play from the secondary.

Wisconsin, armed with a pair of timeouts and lining up for a fourth-and-1 play from the Nittany Lions’ 24, called on Corey Clement. Clement, who’d already racked up 166 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, got the ball but never got close to the marker.

Grant Haley made sure of it.

The junior cornerback wrapped up Clement’s legs and safety Marcus Allen kept Clement from leaning forward and the game was over. Penn State (11-2) has the 2016 Big Ten title and, at worst, will play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2009.

“They ran [a counter] early in the game and split it for a touchdown,” Haley said of the final play. “I saw them set the edge, so I got triggered really well and Marcus finished off the play.”

Haley and company watched the Badgers run wild in the first half; 164 yards and three touchdowns, including Clement’s 67-yard scamper. Wisconsin, one of the conference’s best rushing teams this season, managed less than half that total (77) in the second half.

“They really weren’t running that many plays,” Haley added. “We just came out in the second half and had a jolt. 

“We just had the energy going into the second half.”

Wisconsin got the ball twice in the fourth quarter but managed only 65 yards - 51 of which came on its final drive.

“Give credit to Penn State for coming out in the second half and making those adjustments and allowing those big plays to happen,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. 

Give plenty of credit, too, to the Nittany Lions’ offense. 

Quarterback Trace McSorley was named the game’s most valuable player after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns - both championship game records. He helped Penn State complete the biggest comeback in the game’s six year history after his team fell behind 28-7 in the first half and also finished the regular season with 3,360 yards and 25 touchdown passes, both school records.

Saeed Blacknall had six catches for a Big Ten Championship-record 155 yards and two touchdowns and DaeShean Hamilton finished with 118 yards on eight grabs.

Tailback Saquon Barkley, injured in last weekend’s victory over Michigan State, returned with 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught an 18-yard scoring pass from McSorley early in the fourth quarter to put the Nittany Lions ahead for good.

Penn State, in its first-ever trip to this game, is coming home from it with just its second outright Big Ten title. It’s on a nine-game winning streak that has seen it average 40 points per contest.

It also could present the College Football Playoff selection committee with a bit of quandary. The Nittany Lions, who were ranked seventh by the committee last week, topped the No. 6 Badgers and claimed a conference championship, something likely playoff teams Alabama, Clemson and Washington all boast.

On the flip side, Penn State’s last defeat was a lopsided 49-10 loss at Michigan, which sits at No. 5 in the rankings and likely won’t move into the top four after losing last week to No. 2 Ohio State.

Penn State coach James Franklin stated his team’s case after Saturday night’s win, but also made it clear he and his team won’t be moping their way to Pasadena, Calif., where the conference champion is slotted if it is not chosen for the playoff.

“We’ve got great options in front of us,” he said. “I hear people on TV talking about they feel like maybe the playoff has taken away from the bowls. 

“Are you kidding me? The Rose Bowl? It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.”

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Report: Jordan Matthews (ankle) not expected to play vs. Bengals

Jordan Matthews will not play Sunday against the Bengals after missing practice all week with an ankle sprain, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Matthews is the Eagles' leading receiver with 57 catches for 686 yards and three touchdowns. The team has called him a game-time decision.

Second-year receiver Nelson Agholor will reportedly be inserted back into the lineup. If Matthews doesn't play the Eagles will have only four healthy receivers active on Sunday: Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and undrafted rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner.