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! 

See?
Sounds stupid, right?

Anyway,
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.” 

This
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.”

One
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. 

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

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” 

OK,
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.

Often
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. 

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

I
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: 

Go
90 minutes.

That’s
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. 

But
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.” 

I’m
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.

The
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. 

A
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. 

I’m
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.”

At
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. 

He
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.


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

Keon
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. 

If
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
once.” 

The
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
trigger?

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.

* * *

I’ll
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
Union. 

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

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

Your
move, John Hackworth.

Follow
Steve on Twitter @smoore1117.


Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”