Matchday 17: What Do You Mean By Impact?

Matchday 17: What Do You Mean By Impact?

The Union will look to make it three league wins in a row tonight as they host the expansion Montreal Impact at PPL Park (7PM/Comcast SportsNet). It's been a busy last couple of weeks for the Union, who will be playing their fourth game in 11 days. They're coming off of Wednesday night's 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City in the semifinals of the US Open Cup.

The 2-0 loss marked the first time the Union had been held off of the scoresheet since losing 1-0 to D.C. United back on June 16th. By and large the Union have been revitalized offensively under interim manager John Hackworth. Inserting Jack McInereny into the starting lineup has had a profound effect on their goalscoring fortunes. Also, Antoine Hoppenot has been a revelation coming in off the bench at the 60 minute mark.

Hoppenot has created a role for himself not unlike Vinny "The Microwave" Johnson did for the Bad Boy era Detroit Pistons in terms of bringing instant offense. Hoppenot is completely unafraid. Upon entering the game he sprints from the touchline to top of the 4-3-3 and proceeds to relentlessly run at and by opposing defenders.

It's also no coincidence that the Union are winning and both Freddy Adu and Michael Farfan are playing their best soccer of the season. You are finally starting to see some consistency out of Adu, who just toys with people when he's fully engaged in the match. Michael Farfan, although considerably less flashy, brings a unique blend of skill and work rate. Adu, who is deployed on the left, and Farfan, who is deployed on the right, bring a balance to the field and make it difficult for opposing defenses to shade their backline to one side.

Montreal is coming off of a 2-1 win over Columbus last week. The big story out of Montreal is their signing of World Cup winner and former AC Milan stalwart Alessandro Nesta. Fortunately for the the Union, but unfortunately for fans going to the game tonight, Nesta is not yet fit and will not make his MLS debut this evening. The Impact need all the help they can get along the backline as they've conceded a league-worst 36 goals thus far.

One face Union fans will recognize and likely see tonight is former Union player Justin Mapp, who was selected by the Impact in the expansion draft. Mapp has appeared in 16 games for Montreal, scoring two goals and adding two assists. The left-footed Mapp was maddeningly inconsistent when he wore the blue and gold. You never knew what to expect from him from game to game. He could light up a keeper with a stunning shot from 30 yards out or he could just as easily be completely invisible for 90 minutes.

Montreal brings a few other familiar names with them including former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, MLS veteran Davy Arnaud and yet another former Union player - Shavar Thomas. Recently signed designated player Marco Di Vaio, who has appeared in four games since joining the Impact, picked up his first assist last week. The Union centerback pairing of Carlos Valdes and Amobi Okugo will have to be aware of Di Vaio at all times.

Considering the compressed schedule they've dealt over the lat two weeks, it may be asking a bit much to expect the Union to play with as much energy as they have since Hackworth took over. The interim manager has basically kept the same lineup since taking over save for rotating Gabriel Gomez and Michael Lahoud. However, their newly found confidence should be enough to pick up the three points against Montreal.

I'll say this one ends 3-1 Union.

Phils lose LHP in Rule 5 draft, exit winter meetings balancing present with future

Phils lose LHP in Rule 5 draft, exit winter meetings balancing present with future

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The winter meetings ended Thursday morning with the Phillies sitting out the Rule 5 draft. The Phillies’ roster was at the 40-man limit and that prohibited the team from making a pick.

The Phils did lose one player in the draft as reliever Hoby Milner was selected by the Cleveland Indians. 

Milner, who turns 26 in January, is a left-hander who recently switched to a side-arm delivery. He had a 2.49 ERA in 49 games at Double A and Triple A in 2016.

Milner was eligible for the draft because he was not protected on the 40-man roster last month. The Indians selected him for $50,000. He must stay in the big leagues all season or be offered back to the Phillies for $25,000.

Andrew Pullin was a player the Phillies feared losing, but they hung on to the lefty-hitting outfielder. Pullin, 23, hit .322 with a .885 OPS between Single A and Double A in 2016. A late-season elbow injury prevented Pullin from playing in the Arizona Fall League and factored into the Phillies’ decision to leave him unprotected.

The Phillies selected one player, infielder Jorge Flores, in the minor-league phase of the draft. Flores had been in the Toronto system.

The Phils lost one player, 25-year-old pitcher Jairo Munoz, to Tampa Bay in the minor-league phase. Munoz pitched in the low minors in 2016.

With the winter meetings behind them, Phillies officials will head back to Citizens Bank Park to complete the construction of their 2017 roster. So far this winter, the Phils have re-signed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson and added outfielder Howie Kendrick and relievers Joaquin Benoit, Pat Neshek and David Rollins.

Remaining on the Phillies’ to-do list is adding a backup infielder – Andres Blanco could return – and deciding whether to pursue a veteran hitter to play a corner outfield spot or give an opportunity to a young tandem such as Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr. 

General manager Matt Klentak spoke often during the week about that balance he is trying to strike between improving the 2017 club while keeping intact long-range goals.

“Successfully balancing the present and the future is the single greatest challenge that a baseball operations department faces,” Klentak said. “We’ve talked about it all offseason. The decisions that we are making right now about giving playing time to a young player that has cut his teeth in Triple A and needs that opportunity to take the next step as opposed to a shorter-term solution from the outside – that’s one of the main challenges that we’ve run into this offseason.”

Time will tell which way the Phillies go on this matter. 

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

Even with Jordan Matthews' return, Paul Turner still in Eagles' plans

There were just two things on Paul Turner’s mind as he sprinted across the field early during the third quarter on Sunday, anticipating his first career NFL catch. 

Turner relayed them on Wednesday: 

1. “Make sure you get in [Carson Wentz’s] vision.” 

2. “You better catch this ball.” 

He did both. 

Turner, the 23-year-old undrafted receiver from Louisiana Tech, who has become a fan favorite since his stellar training camp and preseason, caught his first NFL pass during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals and it went for a big gain of 41 yards. 

On his first catch, the Eagles used the play-action to tilt the defense and Wentz threw a dart into a small window to hit Turner on an over route. Then, the rookie turned upfield with a ton of space in front of him. 

By the end of the afternoon, he caught six balls for 80 yards. It was the best receiving day for an Eagles rookie since Jordan Matthews in 2014 and was a better day than last year’s first-round pick, Nelson Agholor, has ever had. 

“It's always good to catch a few balls,” said Turner, who has been on the 53-man roster and active for just the past two games. “It gets your motor going and gets your confidence going. It just gets you more into the game and gets you excited. I think it does a lot for a person's confidence.”

Turner played 41 snaps against the Bengals in large part because Matthews was out with an ankle injury. Matthews predominantly plays in the slot, which is where head coach Doug Pederson and his coaching staff like Turner. 

“Honestly, that wasn't really my mindset going into the game,” Turner said when asked if he knew how much opportunity he’d have with Matthews out. “My mindset was to go in there and if my number was called, just go out there and make a play. Even if my number was called, just take care of my assignment and take care of the little details and I knew everything else would just take care of itself. I knew that if I got the ball, I'd be excited. But even if I didn't, just to go out there and just block, and give up myself for my teammates. That was my goal coming into the game and just try to stay focused on that.” 

It appears as though Turner has done enough to warrant keeping his playing time. As Matthews returned to practice on Wednesday — as a limited participant — Pederson said there will still be opportunities for Turner. 

“There are, there are,” Pederson said. “And these are things we talked about the last couple of days as a staff — getting Paul in there, even with Jordan coming back. I think it can be a benefit to the offense to have both of those guys ready to go.”

The Eagles still haven’t had more than four receivers active for any game this season. During the last two weeks when Turner has played, either Agholor or Matthews were out. 

“It means a lot that the coaching staff has confidence in me,” Turner said. “My biggest thing is just to come in here and just work each and every day in practice and just prepare in practice so I'm prepared when I go out there in the game.”