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 He's not playing as a withdrawn forward or as a midfielder - he's playing a position he's accustomed to; up top and central in a 4-3-3.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.

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Flyers-Sabres 5 things: Forget about Monday's final result

Flyers-Sabres 5 things: Forget about Monday's final result

Flyers vs. Sabres
7:30 p.m. on CSN, Pregame Live starts at 6:30

After a hard-luck 3-1 loss in Montreal to the Canadiens on Monday, the Flyers (2-3-1) return home Tuesday to the Wells Fargo Center to face the Buffalo Sabres (1-2-1) for the first time this season.

The Sabres are struggling early on this year, so Tuesday night could be a prime opportunity for the Flyers to get back on the winning side of things.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

1. It’s a new day
Despite the result, the fact of the matter is the Flyers played a very good road game on Monday in Montreal against the Habs. Shots on goal were just about even (Montreal held a 33-32 advantage) and the Flyers had excellent opportunities to tie late in the game, but a fully healthy Carey Price had other ideas. Steve Mason was great with 31 saves, many of the difficult variety, and he had no chance on Brendan Gallagher’s winning deflection late in the third. It was a seesaw battle and the Habs wound up on top when the final buzzer sounded. It goes that way sometimes.

But Tuesday is a new day, and the Flyers have a chance strike right back against the Sabres. Forget Monday’s final result. If the Flyers play the way they did Monday, they’re going to win plenty of games.

“Overall we played a pretty good game,” head coach Dave Hakstol said after Monday’s loss. “Certainly we can do better, obviously not coming out with the points. We’ve got to turn the page real quick and get ready to go for a home game tomorrow night some 19 to 20 hours from now.”

Even though Monday night’s result is still fresh, sometimes it’s good to get right back out there and try and keep the momentum of strong play going.

And the Flyers will get some reinforcements on the blue line Tuesday as Radko Gudas will return from his six-game suspension and be in the lineup. No word yet on who will sit.

2. Can’t stop Jake
Move aside Matt Read and Wayne Simmonds. Jake Voracek is the new hottest Flyer.

With his slick deflection on Monday, Voracek now has three goals in his last two games and is riding a four-game point streak. As matter of fact, he has a point in all but one of the Flyers’ six games this season. He’s posted three goals and five assists for eight points so far, which is tied for fourth in the NHL in the early going.

Perhaps most encouraging about Voracek’s play early is the fact that he’s shooting the puck frequently. A natural passer, the 27-year-old forward has 21 shots on goal so far this year, which ties him for 10th most in the league. He has a nice shot when he wants to use it and he’s certainly using it this year.

Considering Voracek’s struggles last season, it has to feel good for him to get off to this kind of solid start. And it has to be reassuring for Hakstol and the Flyers. The second line with Voracek, Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny is playing well as a unit, too.

3. What’s up with Buffalo?
Things got off on the wrong foot, almost literally, for the Sabres the day before the regular season started when stud sophomore and franchise pivot Jack Eichel went down during practice with a high ankle sprain. He’s likely out for about another month or so.

And things haven’t gotten much better as the Sabres have scored just 11 goals in four games this season. Those 11 goals are tied for second least in the entire league and six of them came in one game in Edmonton. It’s tough to judge the Sabres based on the small sample size of games they’ve played so far, but it’s not a good sign when more than half of a team’s goals come in one game.

Starting goalie Robin Lehner is out of Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed illness. Backup Anders Nilsson will make his first start of the regular season. Nilsson has played in three games against the Flyers in his career and owns a 2-0-0 record against them with a 2.26 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

4. Keep an eye on
Flyers: Brayden Schenn has had the Sabres’ number with six goals against them in 14 career games. That said, Schenn is still trying to find his footing this season as he’s pointless in three games since returning from his three-game suspension that opened his season. Tuesday could be a perfect time for the Flyers’ 24-year-old forward to have the breakout game he’s been looking for.

Sabres: Buffalo’s offense begins and ends with Ryan O’Reilly. He leads the Sabres with three goals this season and is tied for the team lead in points with five. He’s got nine points (six goals and three assists) in 10 career meetings with the Flyers.

5. This and that
• The Flyers went 1-1-1 last season against the Sabres. The Sabres did win in Philadelphia in overtime last October.

• The Sabres enter Philadelphia on the end of a four-game road trip that saw them tour Western Canada. But the Sabres have had four days off while the Flyers played Monday night in Montreal and had to travel home.

• The Flyers haven’t lost to the Sabres at home in regulation in the regular season since March 5, 2011.

• The Flyers have been lethal in the second period this season, scoring 13 of their 20 goals.

• He hasn't found the back of the net yet this year, but Claude Giroux comes into Tuesday’s matchup on a five-game point streak with six assists over that stretch.

Watch: The Phillie Phanatic trashes ESPN, Skip Bayless

Watch: The Phillie Phanatic trashes ESPN, Skip Bayless

The Phillie Phanatic is just like you and me. He hates being stuck in an office.

ESPN posted the below video of the Phanatic being forced to wait around an office for some sort of interview and an idle Phanatic is a mischievous Phanatic.

He starts out by trashing former ESPNer Skip Bayless, finds some Mets' swag to desecrate, and finishes off by going all Office Space on a desk chair.

It's fun for the whole family.

Not sure why the ESPN people didn't just let him post for the Body Issue like the people over at Sports Illustrated.