Looking Forward with a Look Back Its Go Time for Hackworths Union

Looking Forward with a Look Back Its Go Time for Hackworths Union

Apparently it’s become a thing to download your
Twitter archive, just to see how stupid you sounded when you first created
your account.

My first few tweets were boring replies to the likes
of Grant Wahl and Bill Simmons. My first “real” tweet was,
not surprisingly, Union-related.

March 25, 2010: @smoore1117: Counting down to @Union2010 season opener
tonight! Got the jersey on and ready to go. See you at Dark Horse! 

Sounds stupid, right?

I scrolled up to see my thoughts on January 31, 2012, when Peter Nowak
traded Sebastien Le Toux to the Vancouver Whitecaps. I went Twitter-crazy
that day, but here’s a few that stuck out:

- “It is very possible that Le
Toux has shown his best already. It could be a "sell high"
scenario that works out great for us.”

- “It definitely sucks. But the
team has to take emotion out of decisions. especially in a league where
money is inherently tight.”

- “Not saying I like it, or that
I have blind faith. But we only look at it with emotion. Team has to
use everything but."

- “If you think Le Toux just
gave you the 2 best years he has, then u sell high & get a huge
return on a guy you got for nothing. Still sucks.” 

does more than prove that I am that guy who uses “u” in tweets.
It proves that I, like many Union people, bought into “in Nowak we
trust.” Every time he made a move that seemed strange, I’d see that
tweet fill my timeline. “In Nowak we trust.”

year, one manager and 18 horrendous losses later, I feel like the guy
who made that first tweet before the Union’s first-ever game in 2010.
Excited for the season opener, but with absolutely, positively no idea
what I’ll see when I get there. 

using my newly unearthed Twitter Archive, I give you the 2013 Philadelphhia

October 27, 2012: “Can't wait to read this week's "Final Whistle
with Hack". I'm hoping it's just a long list of players we're cutting” 

so we didn’t cut him, per se, but the player who shall not be named
will not be at PPL Park on Saturday. As you know, I was somewhat of
a fan, but I’m glad we’ve moved on. Many would say he doesn’t
need to be replaced, since he didn’t bring much to the table. But
someone has to orchestrate the midfield.

that point guard falls to a strong holding midfielder. Brian Carroll
is a great anchor in the center, but by no means is he a playmaker.
Amobi Okugo could be that guy near the back, if Hack does what I hope
he will and move him into the midfield, but not just yet. 

in more words than were necessary: It’s Roger Torres time.

haven’t been as impressed with Torres as many in this town, but he
hasn’t had much time to prove himself. That needs to change. No Union
player has more creativity and individual skill than Torres, and it’s
time to see him do something he has never done: 

90 minutes.

right, the kid is 22 years old and full of energy, and he has NEVER
played 90 minutes for the Union. Much of that was Nowak’s unexplained
skepticism and obsession with overcoaching in the final minutes, and
some had to do with nagging injuries. 

according to Hackworth, whose “expectations are pretty high about
what he is capable of,” according to an MLSsoccer.com article,
Torres is injury-free and ready to play. Much like the rest of the roster,
it’s put up or shut up time. Put him in the starting 11, give him
targets up front, and take your hands off the wheel.

November 4, 2011: “Neither Farfan came to play tonight. Just like
everyone else.” 

still very skeptical about Gabriel Farfan at left back. He never seemed
comfortable and was often bailed out by Carlos Valdes and Okugo last
year. Valdes is gone, Okugo is (hopefully) moving to the midfield, and
it will likely take Jeff Parke and Bakary Soumare (or Okugo) some time
to figure things out in the middle of defense.

Union tried to draft for the position – sort of – in forward
Don Anding, who Hackworth says can play in the back. But it appears
to be Farfan’s job to lose. 

little farther upfield sits the other Farfan, Michael, whom many see
as the new midfield anchor and playmaker. Ask any Farfan fans about
him, and they’ll mention the sublime
chip goal against Real Madrid
. Call me skeptical,
but I’m not sold. Maybe with actual targets up front, things will
change. But Farfan often got a free pass for many of the same mistakes
made by he-who-shall-not-be-named. 

still not sure Farfan isn’t better served playing outside than in
the middle. But if Hackworth goes with the 4-3-3 he seems to be working
on, maybe Farfan will find his place alongside Le Toux and Conor Casey
(or Jack McInerney). 

September 30, 2012: “Also, I'm sure MacMath is staying, and that's
fine. But I'm not as high on him as I used to be.”

the end of this season, there needs to be six-to-nine points in the
standings that can be credited solely to Zac MacMath. Team can’t keep
the ball? Make a few big saves. Defense hangs you out to dry? Make the
stop no one expects. Get outshot 15-3? Secure the 0-0 draw. 

doesn’t need to be the locker room leader Faryd Mondragon was, but
MacMath needs to take charge in the back. He has the athleticism, let’s
see if he has the makeup to lead a team out of the doldrums.

3, 2011: “Keon Daniel is all over the ball. Looks more comfortable
on the ball than anyone we have right now.”

Daniel may be the wildcard this year when it comes to trying to predict
the regular lineup. I think Danny Cruz is the Saturday starter on the
right side of midfield, but Daniel is a much different player who could
occupy the same position. Daniel is a creative wing midfielder, while
Cruz gets by on his effort and tenacity. 

Daniel proves to be a spark off the bench who can contribute in the
final third, Cruiz might be supplanted. But if the defense can’t hold
things down and needs the help, Daniel might not be a luxury Hackworth
can afford.

January 22, 2013: “If they get anything for Adu & want to spend
DP $, it should be on a veteran in MF. Too many young guys playing at

biggest off-field question is this: If the team has a glaring need after 8-to-10 games (and I’m sure it will), will the money it’s currently
wasting on Unnamed Midfielder stop Hackworth and Co. from pulling the

It might prevent a move for Messi or Ronaldo, most
likely, but there’s always Joey Barton.

December 6, 2012: “Love the "Le Toux doesn't
fit in our system" tweets. What system? The one that doesn't score
goals and doesn't win games?”

If trading away Le Toux was bizarre, the Twitter reaction
to his return was downright insane. On the day Hackworth fixed one of
Nowak’s biggest mistakes, there were plenty of tweets about Le Toux
“not being as good as he was,” or “not fitting into our system.”

Listen, do I think Le Toux is Messi or Benzema? Absolutely
not. But he’s better than anything we used last season in the same
position, and sincerely, genuinely never wanted to leave. Call me naïve,
but I think that’s just as important as individual skill.

Le Toux is not only old enough and mature enough to
become a leader of a young team, but he seems to have a relationship
with Hackworth that allows the Frenchman to speak his mind if he feels
he could be used in a better way.

He’s not a savior, but his return marks a big step
forward for the franchise, both on and off the field.

* * *

be back on Saturday with a few Predictions Sure to Fail, as well as
a glance at Sporting Kansas City, a tough test out of the gate for the

the meantime, it’s officially March. And the season opens tomorrow.
Get your beanbag tosses dusted off.

plenty excited, a little more skeptical and a lot less forgiving. 

move, John Hackworth.

Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Birds just do not match up well

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Birds just do not match up well

Eagles (4-2) at Cowboys (5-1)
8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC
Cowboys favored by 4; over/under 43

Sizing up the Eagles' highly anticipated Sunday night showdown with the Cowboys:

When the Eagles have the ball
Here we go. Biggest game of the season so far for the Eagles, who have already beaten two of the NFL's best in the Steelers and Vikings.

The Cowboys are surprisingly playing like the class of the NFC, making this an enormous game. If the Eagles win, they'll be in first place in the division at the beginning of November, and they'll have three high-quality wins under their belt. Winning a tough road game like this would do wonders for the confidence of Carson Wentz and whoever else plays a key role.

But a victory is far from certain. The Cowboys have exceeded expectations on both sides of the ball this year. We all know about the offensive attack led by Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott (more on that below), but Dallas' defense has also done its job well.

The Cowboys' secondary had been a mess for several years, but the unit has gotten better since the arrival of last year's first-round safety, athletic freak Byron Jones. 

In one of the most important developments for Dallas, Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012 who was a straight-up bust in his first four seasons, is playing the best football of his career. He's been targeted 40 times and allowed just 21 catches for 191 yards (9.1 average) and no TDs. Over the last two games, Claiborne has faced A.J. Green and Jordy Nelson and given up just three catches for 37 yards, breaking up two passes.

Claiborne signed a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal to stay with the Cowboys, and he's earning himself some money before heading into unrestricted free agency.

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr plays opposite Claiborne and is also having a decent year after a few disappointing ones. Carr has two inches and 20 pounds on Claiborne, so one would think the Cowboys would try to match Carr up with the Eagles' biggest receiver, Dorial Green-Beckham.

Last season, Sam Bradford targeted Jordan Matthews five times when he was being covered by Carr and all five were completions, for 24 yards and a TD. In this one, Matthews will likely line up opposite Jones or Tyler Patmon in the slot.

Coverage has been the best aspect of Dallas' defense this season. Getting to the quarterback has been the worst. Lacking an explosive pass rusher, the Cowboys have just 11 sacks on the year and four came against the Bengals. Per Pro Football Focus, the only team in the NFL that has rushed the passer less effectively than the Cowboys is the Lions, who did sack the Eagles three times in Week 4.

If the Eagles can protect Wentz against this mediocre pass rush, they have a real chance to win. Wentz has been accurate and decisive when he's had a clean pocket, and while the Cowboys have made those aforementioned improvements in the secondary, this is still a defense you can move the ball against.

When Wentz has been kept clean — i.e. not faced pressure — he's 100 for 146 (73 percent) for 1,097 yards with seven TDs and two INTs. When under pressure, he's 18 for 39 (46 percent).

The Cowboys have been much better this season at stopping the run, thanks in large part to the health of linebacker Sean Lee. The former Penn Stater is instinctive and fast, a sure tackler and a sound coverage LB. He really does everything ... except stay healthy. In the four seasons prior to 2016, he missed 33 of 64 games to various injuries. Annually, the Cowboys' defense has fallen off a cliff without him.

Dallas is allowing just 92.2 rush yards per game, 10th-fewest in the NFL, and no RB has exceeded 75 rushing yards against them. The Eagles have not been a particularly effective running team so far, ranking 20th with 4.1 yards per carry and 17th with 111.5 rush yards per game. For reference, that's 50 fewer rushing yards per game than Dallas, which leads the NFL.

Look for the Eagles to try to get that ground game going quickly in the first quarter. If they can, it will open up the play-action game in which Wentz has thrived. It would also further mitigate the Cowboys' pass rush by making them a step slower reaction-wise.

The best formula for success would seem to be involving Ryan Mathews early, letting Wentz complete some short passes to Darren Sproles, Matthews and the tight ends, and then opening up the deeper stuff once an amped-up Dallas defense has been forced to adjust.

When the Cowboys have the ball
The Eagles have a very good defense and the Cowboys have a very good offense. Based on how the Cowboys move the ball, this is the worst possible game to be without defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who's missing his second straight week with a groin injury.

The Dak Prescott-Ezekiel Elliott tandem has worked wonders. 

Elliott has averaged 142 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry in his last four games. 

Prescott, like Wentz, has quickly become more than just a game manager. Over his last four contests, Prescott has completed 73 percent of his passes, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and totaled nine touchdowns with one interception. He hasn't been much of a threat running himself, except on the goal line, where he has rushing TDs of one, five and six yards.

But before getting to the Cowboys' passing game, it's obvious that this defensive game plan will begin with stopping Elliott. That's no easy task. Elliott is a world-class running back behind the best offensive line in football. And stopping Zeke only becomes tougher with the expected return of All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith.

The Eagles know they must rally to the ball when Elliott has it. Gang tackles are a necessity. Of Elliott's 703 rushing yards this season, 383 have come after contact.

The return of wide receiver Dez Bryant should also benefit Elliott. Bryant simply cannot be covered one-on-one in crucial third-down or red-zone situations. He excels at making tough catches when being well-defended. 

Bryant torched Nolan Carroll last season, catching a 51-yard pass and an 18-yard TD against him. And that was with Matt Cassel at the helm.

Cole Beasley and Jason Witten are factors over the middle. Malcolm Jenkins was great last year as the Eagles' slot corner but not against Beasley. In the first meeting, Beasley caught nine passes for 112 yards and two TDs and both scores were against Jenkins.

It seems that all small, white wide receivers get compared to Wes Welker, but that really is the type of player Beasley is. He's the go-to option on third down because of his shiftiness and ability to get that one foot of separation with a quick move. Prescott has targeted Beasley often, and without Bryant, Beasley has caught three TDs in his last three games. Prior to that he had never really been a red-zone threat.

The slow-footed, ageless Witten still somehow gets open, though it would seem the Eagles are equipped to defend him with Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks and the safeties.

As it always is, the key here is pressure. The Eagles made Bradford uncomfortable all day last Sunday and that was the main reason the Vikings got nothing going offensively. But Minnesota was playing with two backup tackles. The Cowboys are playing with an O-line filled with first-round picks who've lived up to the hype. 

Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox have played well this season, but this needs to be their best game if the Eagles are to have a chance. 

Special teams
The Eagles are the only team in the NFL with a kick return TD this season and they have two, courtesy of Wendell Smallwood and Josh Huff. Both are good runners, but that has just as much to do with the other special teamers' preparation, scheme and blocking ability. 

Since ST coordinator Dave Fipp arrived, the Eagles have 21 return TDs — that includes kick returns, punt returns, interceptions, fumbles and blocked kicks. No other team in the NFL has more than 15 over that span.

Speedy second-year receiver Lucky Whitehead returns the kicks and punts for Dallas. He's yet to score in that role, but did return a kick 79 yards last year.

Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey is the most accurate in NFL history. In his six seasons, he's converted 90.1 percent of his field goals. He's also 222 for 222 in extra points. And at home, in Dallas' dome, he just does not miss (82 for 88, 93.2 percent).

I think this is going to be a great game decided by fewer than seven points that comes down to the final two minutes.

But, while the Eagles have played up to the level of competition in their two toughest games, I just don't see them going into Dallas after a Cowboys bye week and beating a balanced offense. This just is not a great matchup for a pressure-oriented defense against a gargantuan offensive line.

For the Eagles to win, they'll need surprising performances from a few players, whether it's Nelson Agholor or Josh Huff catching a deep ball, or Connor Barwin or Vinny Curry having a standout game. 

My score predictions have been wrong four weeks in a row, so let's hope this makes five.

Cowboys 27, Eagles 24

Sixers apologize for replacing anthem singer, say 'wrong decision was made'

Sixers apologize for replacing anthem singer, say 'wrong decision was made'

The Sixers on Friday issued an apology to Sevyn Streeter, the artist who was supposed to perform the national anthem before Wednesday night's home opener.

Streeter was replaced by the Sixers for wearing a shirt that said "We Matter."

The team released the following statement:

“We are sorry that this happened. After receiving feedback from our players, basketball operations staff and ownership group, we believe that the wrong decision was made, and Sevyn should have been welcomed to sing. We apologize to her, and in an effort to move the conversation forward, we have reached out to offer her an opportunity to return and perform at a game of her choice. We are waiting to hear back.”

Streeter turned to social media during the game to voice her displeasure. CBS3 did report Thursday that she had signed a contract that barred her from making a political statement during the performance.

The Sixers addressed their players in a team meeting to get their opinion on how they would like to the situation to be addressed.

“Collectively, we talked about it, everybody expressed their emotions about it,” Robert Covington said on Thursday. “We know that we want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things. That’s one thing that, as a team, we’re very aware of now that the whole incident’s happened. It’s not something we’re going to look over. It’s just a matter of time.”