Matchday 14: Union Look To Make It Two In A Row

Matchday 14: Union Look To Make It Two In A Row

The Union return to Houston for the first time since being eliminated from the MLS playoffs by the Dynamo last season (8:30PM/The Comcast Network). Interim head coach John Hackworth has rejuvenated a long struggling Union offense. The blue and gold have scored 9 goals over the last two games (a 4-0 win of Sporting KC and a 5-2 win over the Harrisburg City Islanders in US Open Cup play).

They'll need to continue their recent run of good form if they hope to hand Houston its first home loss of the season. This will be the Union's first trip to the brand new BBVA Compass Stadium, where the field dimensions are the same as they were at Robertson Stadium, which is to say narrow. Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear made certain that his team would continue playing on a 70 x 115 pitch, which is an advantage for a team as dangerous as Houston with Brad Davis whipping left-footed crosses into the box.

It's been only three games since Hackworth took over, but there's an unmistakeable sense that a huge weight has been lifted of the shoulders of the players. They're playing freely. They seem more committed to each other. Players seem to have clearly defined roles. And, most importantly, they've started putting the ball into the back of the net.

Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the coaching change has been Jack McInereny. The former first round pick has started all three games under Hackworth and has responded with three goals over the last two games. He's not playing as a withdrawn forward or as a midfielder - he's playing a position he's accustomed to; up top and central in a 4-3-3. McInereny is not going to blow you away with his pace, or overpower you with his size, but he has a nose for goal and a sense for how to slip behind opposing back lines. Hackworth recognized this and has finally put him in a position to succeed.

Another area of improvement under Hackworth has been the consistent play of the midfield. The threesome of Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud and Michael Farfan have been terrific. It will be interesting to see if Hackworth replaces Lahoud with Gabriel Gomez, who is returning from knee tendonitis. Gomez actually played and scored a cheeky goal against Harrisburg midweek. If I had to guess I'd say that Lahoud will retain his starting spot and Gomez will likely come off of the bench.

However, with Ray Gaddis out serving a suspension and Sheanon Williams listed as doubtful there may be a hole to fill at right back. Chris Albright is listed as probable and could get the start. Another option would be to play Michael Farfan at right back and start Gomez in his place. Whatever they do I am firmly in the play anyone other than Porfirio Lopez camp.

No matter who is along the back line they'll have to deal with Dynamo forward Will Bruin, who is fourth in MLS with 9 goals. There's no real mystery to what the Dynamo want to do offensively. They want Brad Davis to serve balls into the box from the run of play, from corner kicks and from free kicks. He'll aim for the heads of Bruin, Brian Ching, Andre Hainault, Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron. It's simple, but it's incredibly effective. We saw during the playoffs last season how difficult it can be to stop.

In reviewing the game notes I was surprised to read that the Union are undefeated all-time against Houston (2-0-2). They'll need to continue playing the free-flowing style they've shown of late if they hope to stay undefeated against the Dynamo. I think the Union will be satisfied if they earn a point on the road tonight.

I see the Union earning a road point with a 2-2 draw.

Photo Credit: philadelphiaunion.com

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

ap-cj-sapong-union.jpg
Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).

Odubel Herrera's bat returns, but so do Aaron Nola's struggles in loss to Pirates

Odubel Herrera's bat returns, but so do Aaron Nola's struggles in loss to Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The good news for the Phillies on Saturday was that it finally seems All-Star Odubel Herrera's bat is returning to its typical, productive form.

The centerfielder had his second straight three-hit game Saturday as he continued to pull out of his slump, though it wasn’t enough to keep the Phillies from losing 7-4 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle game of a three-game series at PNC Park (see Instant Replay).

Yet Herrera’s suddenly hot bat gave the Phillies some reason to feel good on a day when another player who the organization believes can be a foundation player backslid. Right-hander Aaron Nola (5-9) took the loss as he allowed six runs and six hits in four-plus innings.

The bad Nola returned after pitching six scoreless innings in his previous outing Monday against the Miami Marlins. Prior to shutting down the Marlins, Nola allowed a combined 30 runs in five starts while failing to get past the fourth inning four times.

“When he’s at his best, he has control of all his pitches,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s lost his control and he needs to a find a way to get it back.”

However, Herrera improved to 6 for 9 in the series by going 3 for 4 with a triple, two runs scored and two stolen bases. He had been 4 for 41 in his previous 11 games before coming to Pittsburgh, a skid that dropped his batting average to .281 from .300.

“It was getting pretty ugly for about a week there, so it feels good to get some hits,” Herrera said. “That’s my job, to get hits, be successful and help the team win. I really don’t go into too many slumps, so it’s hard to try to fight your way through it and stay positive. When I get a hit, I am happy.”

Herrera is now hitting .290 with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs in 98 games.

There had been a school of thought that making his first All-Star Game appearance July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego might have had an effect on the 24-year-old. The schedule for the players during the festivities is basically non-stop for two days and then Herrera had to fly across the country to rejoin the Phillies in Philadelphia for the second half of the season.

“I was concerned it might have an effect on him,” Mackanin said. “It was the first time he had participated in an even of that magnitude and it can be hard to refocus after that.”

Herrera, though, said he is not sure how much being an All-Star played into his cold spell.

“Maybe it did,” Herrera said. “It was a busy couple of days there. I don’t know what to compare it to because I hadn’t been before. Obviously, I didn’t have the same chance to rest as a lot of other players, so it could have had an effect. However, playing in the All-Star Game was a great experience and I am glad I had a chance to be there.”

If Herrera plays like he has the last two games, Herrera figures to appear in more Midsummer Classics before his career is through.

“He has the ability to win a batting title,” Mackanin said. “He’s that good of a hitter. He’s a smart hitter. When pitchers start adjusting to him, he adjusts back. I only see him getting better.

“Then you throw in that he played a heckuva center field and it’s just an impressive total package."