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.


Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.