Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

Matchday 13: Three Is a Magic Number

The Union, winless in league play since a 1-0 road win against Chivas USA on April 21st, host Sporting Kansas City this evening at PPL Park (7PM, The Comcast Network). The U need three points in the worst way. As Matt P. pointed out last week, despite falling at home to D.C. United in their last match, the Union were a much more confident team than they had been.

Interim coach John Hackworth trotted out a 4-3-3 which carried the game for long stretches against United. Gone were the hopeful long balls into space. Gone was the maddening frequency with which the Union bypassed the midfield. Granted, the lone goal they conceded was on a set piece - a bugaboo they've struggled with for far too long now - but overall the performance was much crisper and better organized than we'd seen in quite some time.

Yes, it was a loss. Yes, they still sit in ninth place in the ten team MLS Eastern Conference. But, and this is a big but, they played really well. Finishing in the final third is still a major issue. Perhaps Lionard Pajoy, who missed the D.C. game while serving a suspension, will thrive in Hackworth's system.

For me, the most positive development from last week was Hackworth's decision to pair Amobi Okugo alongside Carlos Valdes in the middle of the Union back line. Okugo brings a deft passing touch out of the back. Having played so much as a holding midfielder he is sound defensively, is aggressive going into challenges, and perhaps most importantly is composed on the ball. His skill on the ball, paired with Valdes' rugged play, is a nice combination.

Another positive was the manner in which Hackworth used his bench. With the game level at 0-0 with just under 30 minutes left he introduced rookie Antoine Hoppenot into the game. Hoppenot was a revelation. He played with incredible confidence - never hesitating to take someone on 1 v. 1. He consistently ran at people and drove to the end line.

Similarly, after going down a goal Hackworth inserted the recently acquired Jorge Perlaza into the game. Perlaza's greatest attribute is his pace. Bringing him in late in the game, after the United back line had expended so much energy chasing the Union around, was great to see. Hackworth actually played to Perlaza's strength - letting him try to stretch the United defense. It sounds elementary, but too often Peter Nowak's substitutions left you scratching your head.

The challenge this evening is just as difficult as it was against first place D.C. Sporting K.C. comes to town in second place in the conference. Should he choose, SKC head coach Peter Vermes has the ability to send out one of the most offensively talented lineups in the league. Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong, Graham Zusi, Teal Bunbury and Soony Saad (who I fell in love with when he played at Michigan) are all incredibly gifted in the final third.

In the run up to the game Hackworth has talked about just how devastating SKC is in transition. With that in mind the Union will need to be incredibly organized and disciplined in getting back and behind the ball. That task will be more difficult without the services of Sheanon Williams, who is out with a toe sprain.

Perhaps the Union will benefit from the fact that SKC played midweek - traveling out to Seattle where they played to a 1-1 draw against the Sounders. Maybe the short turnaround and the cross-country flight will leave SKC a little heavy-legged. The Union can obviously use all the help they can get.

Granted, SKC is a terrific team. However, considering the totality of the circumstances (the way the Union performed last week, the short turnaround and cross-country flight for SKC and an inspired home crowd) I think the Union have a realistic shot to end this winless streak.

Union win it 2-1.

Photo Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Ken Tribbett's 1st MLS goal helps Union salvage draw vs. Orlando City

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Ken Tribbett's 1st MLS goal helps Union salvage draw vs. Orlando City

BOX SCORE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ken Tribbett scored his first career MLS goal in the 75th minute and the Union tied Orlando City 2-2 on Wednesday night.

Tranquillo Barnetta started the scoring in the 52nd minute on the Union's first shot on goal. Chris Pontius outjumped his defender to win a diagonal cross and headed it to the back post for an unmarked Barnetta.

Then the game opened up with three goals in a 7-minute span.

Kevin Molino tied it in the 68th -- one minute after entering as a substitute. Cyle Larin collided with two defenders and the goalkeeper while battling for a long ball and Molino knocked the loose ball into an empty net.

Three minutes later, Larin gave Orlando City a lead on a questionable goal. Kaka played a ball across goal, Larin chested it off the goalkeeper and the Union's Fabinho appeared to clear it off the line.

Tribbett evened it for the Union (5-3-4) when goalkeeper Joe Bendik dove to get a touch on a cross and Tribbett slotted home the rebound.

David Mateos was given a straight red card for Orlando (3-3-6) in the 93rd minute for a studs-up tackle just outside of the box. But Barnetta's free kick sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.

Watch: Nerlens Noel dominates the American Ninja Warrior wall

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Watch: Nerlens Noel dominates the American Ninja Warrior wall

The American Ninja Warrior television show is hosting a regional competition on May 26th and 27th at the Richmond Power Plant in Philadelphia.

A Comcast SportsNet camera crew was there on Wednesday to tape a segment for a show next week when they recognized a familiar face in the crowd.

Sixers big man Nerlens Noel was there supporting a friend practicing on the course. Noel also gave the wall a go and it proved no match for his length.

Contestants will compete on Thursday and Friday in Philly with a chance of qualifying for the finals to be held in Las Vegas.

If you think you've got what it takes, head on over and try to be a walk on talent. You probably won't do any better than Nerlens though.

Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — At least Odubel Herrera was honest about it.

“I didn’t expect to hit it that far,” he said with a big grin on his face late Wednesday afternoon.

A couple of hours earlier, Herrera helped key an 8-5 Phillies’ win over the Detroit Tigers with a towering three-run home run into the right-field seats against Anibal Sanchez (see Instant Replay).

Herrera unloaded on the hanging slider and finished with his bat high.

As the bat reached its apex, Herrera didn’t just let it go. He flipped it in the air as if to say, ‘Uh-huh, I crushed that one.’ In the annals of bat flips, it wasn’t quite Jose Bautista quality, but it wasn’t far off. The flip was so dramatic that Herrera admitted after the game that he would not have been surprised if a Tigers pitcher had retaliated and stuck a pitch in his ribs later in the game.

Retribution never came. And Herrera left Detroit with a smile on his face and yet another big day for the Phillies. He is leading the club with a .327 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage is second-best in baseball.

Herrera's big home run helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola and the Phillies on a day when they really needed a win. After all, they had lost four of their previous five and are headed into the den of baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday.

“For me, it was a must-win,” said manager Pete Mackanin, whose club is 26-21. “We’d lost four of five and I felt like we needed to come out of here with a win.

“The guys battled the whole game. To me it looked like they played like they had to win this game, which was nice to see. It looked like they played knowing we had to win. They were grinding and coming up with hits. Call it what you want, it was just the feeling I got.

“I’m not going to say I’m anxious to see the Cubs; they’re a hell of a team. But I’m hopeful we can take two out of three.”

The Tigers are one of baseball’s best hitting teams.

The Phillies are one of the worst. They entered the day scoring just 3.2 runs per game.

But on this day, the Phillies out-hit the Tigers, 12-10, to salvage one game in the series.

Nola went six innings, allowed four runs, a walk and struck out six. He left with a 7-4 lead. Things got hairy in the seventh, but Hector Neris cleaned up things for David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez registered his majors-leading 17th save.

In between, Peter Bourjos had a couple of big hits, including his first homer of the season. Andres Blanco started at second over Cesar Hernandez and had a couple of big hits, as well. Bourjos and Blanco even hooked up on a double steal with Blanco becoming the first Phillie to swipe home since Chase Utley in 2009. (An off-line throw to second by Tigers catcher James McCann helped.) 

“We have to try things,” Mackanin said. “We can’t bang it out with most teams so we have to try that kind of stuff, take chances.”

The Phillies actually banged it on this day.

Bourjos’ homer in the seventh provided some valuable cushion.

There are no cheap homers in spacious Comerica Park. Bourjos’ homer traveled 401 feet according to ESPN’s play by play.

Though Bourjos claimed he did not see Herrera’s bat flip in fifth inning, he was aware of it. For the record, Bourjos did not flip his bat on his homer. He put his head down and ran.

“I don’t have that kind of swag,” he said with a laugh.

Bat flips make some folks, particularly old-schoolers, uncomfortable. Bautista’s famous bat flip against Texas in the playoffs last season led to simmering tensions all winter and eventually a brawl between the two teams two weeks ago.

Mackanin actually seemed a little uncomfortable talking about Herrera’s flip.

“I did not see it,” Mackanin said. “A lot of players believe that they should be able to celebrate. But I didn’t see it. I wish you never brought it up.”

Herrera explained that he always flips his bat, even when he makes outs. This one had a little extra oomph, he said, because, "I didn’t expect to hit it that far.”

And how far did he hit it?

Well, ESPN’s play by play said it traveled 409 feet. MLB’s Statcast said it went 427.

Either way, that’s a long Uber ride.

Herrera was asked what was more impressive, the flip or the homer?

“Both,” he said with a laugh.

Herrera has become a more demonstrative player in his second year in the league. He’s letting his emotions show. On Monday night, frustration over a poor at-bat got the best of him. He did not run out a ball back to the pitcher and was benched.

On Wednesday, his emotion was more triumphant, hence the bat flip. But sometimes that can make an opponent angry. There were no repercussions Wednesday and probably won’t be because the Tigers and Phillies don’t see each other again this season. But down the road?

“I’m not worried,” Mackanin said.

“It was nothing personal,” Herrera said. “It was natural.”