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.

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

Eagles bye week: Team soaring up national power rankings

After handling two inferior opponents in the Browns and Bears, the Eagles' Week 3 matchup with the Super Bowl-hopeful Steelers was viewed as a barometer to gauge just how good Carson Wentz and Co. really were.

Despite their 34-3 shellacking of the Steelers, no one came rushing to label the Eagles as the team to beat in the NFC nor as legitimate Super Bowl contenders less than a quarter of the way through the season, and understandably so. 

But as the Eagles go on their Week 4 bye, the national media has begun to buy stock in the Birds as a playoff team following their 3-0 start, a far cry from the bottom-five team many projected them to be in 2016.

Here's what they're saying about the Eagles during their bye week:

Power Rankings
Many in the national media expected the Eagles to flop in 2016, but since the start of the season the Birds have experienced a rapid rise in power rankings. 

ESPN: No. 7 

CBS Sports: No. 5 

FOX Sports: No. 5 

NFL.com: No. 6

USA Today:  No. 4

Carson Wentz for ... MVP?
Through the first three games of his NFL career Carson Wentz has been nothing short of stellar. The rookie quarterback has posted a 64.7 completion percentage, five touchdowns and a 103.8 passer rating, all while throwing zero interceptions. 

Is it safe to say Wentz is the early leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Sure. How about for league MVP? It may sound crazy, but Jeff Dooley of The Washington Post would tab Wentz as the Most Valuable Player through three weeks for being the league’s best quarterback thus far.

"Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is off to the best three-game start that Pro Football Focus has ever recorded from a rookie QB in 11 seasons of grading players,” Dooley wrote. “His 90.5 grade (on a 0-100 scale) is not only better than the three-game starts of each of the star rookies from 2012’s renowned QB class (Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, all of whom led their teams to the playoffs in Year 1, and by season’s end ranked among PFF’s top 15 quarterback grades), but it is the top mark among all QBs so far for the 2016 NFL season.”

Show the defense some love too
Enough Carson Wentz talk, how about this Eagles defense?

Jim Schwartz’s unit paces the NFL in total points allowed (27), is third in total sacks (10), fourth in yards per game (274.3) and seventh in total turnovers (eight).

Under the tutelage of Schwartz this defense has come a very long way since last season, when opposing offenses torched the Eagles for an average of 26.9 points on 400-plus yards per game. 

According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, that improved defense is so important because it’s going to keep the Eagles alive in games when Wentz is having a rough outing.

"With Fletcher Cox making an early case for consideration behind Von Miller in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, Brandon Graham in a defense better suited to his talents and a playmaking safety duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, the Eagles defense is soaring,” Patra wrote. “Through three games it's the prefect mesh of talent and scheme. If Wentz ever stumbles this season, the Eagles' D will be there to help prop up the rookie and get through a rough outing or three."

Playoffs?
The Eagles had the longest odds (plus-600) by a wide margin to come out of the NFC East before the season began. Now, they’re the favorites (2/1) to capture the division crown as they sit alone atop the NFC East.

There's still a lot of football left to be played, including all six division games, but the Birds simply reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2013 with a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach would be an impressive feat. 

According to Peter King of Sports Illustrated the Eagles' ceiling is even higher than just a division title and a playoff berth.

"It shouldn’t be happening this fast for the Eagles, coming up from 7-9 with a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback from North Dakota State and a defense that needed a new leader," King wrote. "But it is, and there’s nothing fluky about it. The Eagles are legitimate deep-into-January contenders right now."

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

Flyers Notes: Michal Neuvirth starts big season; Travis Konecny with new chance

VOORHEES, N.J. — In many ways, Michal Neuvirth’s contract year officially gets underway Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
The Flyers’ goalie will make his preseason debut against the Bruins and head coach Dave Hakstol’s plan is to play Neuvirth the entire game.
 
The 28-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent following the 2016-17 season, as can his goalie partner Steve Mason. The two make up a formidable tandem and both are considered No. 1 goalies.
 
The outlook doesn’t change, though, for Neuvirth.
 
“Every season is big,” he said Saturday after taking the ice at Flyers Skate Zone. “It’s a good opportunity. I want to play my best hockey.
 
“Just going to focus on myself and try to prepare the best I can for the season right now.”
 
Neuvirth started his preparation by playing in the World Cup of Hockey for Czech Republic. His last game was Sept. 17 when he lost to loaded Canada, 6-0, still making an impressive 44 saves on 50 shots.
 
He’s now ready to get back between the pipes at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
“Very excited,” Neuvirth said. “I haven’t played for a while and it was a good week for me in practice and finally get into a game.”
 
Entering his second season with the Flyers, Neuvirth is fresh off a career year in 2015-16, when he went 18-8-4 with personal bests in goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.924). He also shined in the postseason when he relieved Mason, going 2-1 against the top-seeded Capitals and stopping 103 of 105 shots.
 
Despite the internal competition, Neuvirth and Mason have always supported each other.
 
“It’s a great situation,” Neuvirth said. “Mase is a great guy, I love to be with him on the same team. Unfortunately only one guy can play. Like Mase said, we’re making each other better every day.”
 
Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek, all of whom played in the World Cup, will also make their preseason debuts.
 
Trying the left
Travis Konecny’s tryout at left wing starts tonight, as he’ll be centered by Sean Couturier with Jakub Voracek on the right, making up the Flyers’ second line.
 
Hakstol debuted the trio during Friday’s practice. It will now see its first game action.
 
“It’s exciting,” Konecny said. “They’re high-skilled, hard-working forwards, so it makes it easier for a guy like me to just keep things simple and just let the game take over and have fun.”
 
Left wing is Konecny’s greatest shot at making the Flyers’ roster. The Flyers are heavy at right wing, where if Konecny were to play, it would be on a bottom-six line. If he makes the roster, the Flyers likely want their prized prospect to play more than bottom-six minutes for developmental reasons.
 
“New spot for Travis in terms of playing on the left side, in our camp anyways,” Hakstol said. “He’s played there before. It’s his second day at left wing and he’ll get the opportunity there tonight.
 
“There’s an adjustment but good players make those adjustments.”
 
Konecny is happy to play left — whatever is asked of him.
 
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s just the other side of the ice,” he said. “I’m sure I’ve found myself on the other side of the ice when I’m right wing before.
 
“I’m not too worried about it.”
 
Young pairing
Instead of pairing Ivan Provorov with a veteran blueliner, which has oftentimes been the case during preseason, Hakstol is putting him with fellow 19-year-old prospect Philippe Myers.
 
“Those two young guys have played a little bit together on the power play, they’ve paired up pretty well in practice and I think they’ll handle things well,” Hakstol said. “They’ve got pretty good chemistry between the two of them. I’m sure there will be some challenges, but they’ll be fine.”
 
Five to Phantoms
As expected, forwards Petr Straka, Andy Miele, Chris Conner and Greg Carey, as well as defenseman T.J. Brennan have cleared waivers and will join AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. The Flyers' roster now stands at 34, including injured Nick Schultz, Mark Alt and Cole Bardreau. It needs to be at 23 before the Oct. 14 season opener.
 
Schultz skates
Injured defenseman Schultz (knee) skated before practice Saturday. It was announced Wednesday he would miss four to seven days.
 
Projected lineup
F:
Brayden Schenn-Nick Cousins-Wayne Simmonds
 
Travis Konecny-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
 
Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal-Dale Weise
 
Chris VandeVelde-Boyd Gordon-Roman Lyubimov
 
D: Shayne Gostisbehere-Michael Del Zotto
 
Ivan Provorov-Philippe Myers
 
Travis Sanheim-Andrew MacDonald
 
G: Michal Neuvirth
 
Steve Mason