Matchday 2: The Home Opener

Matchday 2: The Home Opener

PPL Park will be packed late this afternoon as the Union host Colorado in the 2012 home opener (4PM/NBC Sports Network). The Union, who have never beaten the Rapids, look to rebound from a season opening 3-1 loss at Portland on Monday night. Their performance in Portland provided few answers and raised a number of issues which bear monitoring against Colorado.
First, the positive. Lionard Pajoy had a very strong first half before running out of gas and service. In one half he provided the Union with the best back to goal forward presence in its short history. He shrugged off challenges, won 50/50 balls, and held up play. He was physical and intelligent in his runs. For my money he was the best Union player over the first 45 minutes.
It may sound strange to laud the performance of a goalie who conceded three goals - including an absolute mess of a first goal - but I thought Zac MacMath played fairly well. He was incredibly aggressive. I think he came off of his line more in one game than Faryd Mondragon did all last season. I am obviously exaggerating, but MacMath was confident and decisive in dealing with crosses. Importantly, he did not shrink after spilling that awful first goal. He had no chance on the Kris Boyd header and was beaten on a misfired cross for the third and final goal. Going forward, I am not too concerned with MacMath.
The rest of the team? Well, that's a whole other matter. The Union failed to create anything from the run of play. The midfield was completely overrun. The outside backs were undressed all night. New acquisition Porfirio Lopez struggled mightily. He was turned inside out for 90 straight minutes.
Now, I say all of this recognizing that Portland is an incredibly difficult place to play. I did not expect them to get a result, but I did expect them to play better. They played as if they'd never taken the field together before. Which, when you consider the fact that Gabriel Gomez, Josue Martinez, Lopez, and Pajoy were making their Union debuts, wasn't too far from the truth.
So, what do the Union need to do today to pick up the three points against Colorado? Defending set pieces would be a good place to start. Portland caught the Union on a quick restart for their third goal. Yes, it was a wayward cross that ended up in the back of the net, but the Union were not in a position to shut down that service.
Some possession would also be nice. The Timbers enjoyed a 55.6% to 44.4% advantage in possession. Further, there was not a consistent link between the Union back line and Pajoy. Too often the midfield was either completely bypassed or too easily gave up possession. To that end, Roger Torres, who did not play on Monday, should be in the lineup today and will no doubt help with possession. 
Two players who will not be available for the Union are Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo, who are with the US U23 team as they prepare for Olympic qualifying.
Colorado brings a balanced team to PPL Park. In Marvell Wynne and Kosuke Kimura they have two supremely fit backs who can run all day. The holding midfield pairing of Jeff Larentowicz (a Chestnut Hill Academy alum) and former US international Pablo Mastroeni provide a sturdy presence in the middle of the park.  Omar Cummings, who had a down 2011 season, scored 14 goals in 2010, and has the sort of pace that can give the Union back line trouble.
MLS did not do the Union any favors by having them open the season on the road at Portland. Facing Colorado in the home opener isn't any easier a task. I think most fair-minded Union supporters assumed it'd take this team some time to gel. They'll have needed to sort out a number of issues in a short period of time in order to avoid starting the season 0-2. 
Starting Lineup I'd Like to See: MacMath, Sheanon Williams, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Lopez, Gomez, Brian Carroll, Torres, Michael Farfan, Danny Mwanga, Pajoy.
Final Score Prediction: As mentioned, Colorado is a very sound, balanced team. I am not convinced the Union are a cohesive side capable of putting 90 minutes together. Colorado wins it 2-1 as the Union falls to 0-2.
Photo Credit: Scott Olmos, US Presswire

Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

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Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

The only surprising thing about Stephen Colbert making fun of the Phillies with the Democratic National Convention in town this week is that it took until Tuesday.

Colbert used our beloved Phillies as the brunt of a joke last night and then invited out the "Hilly Phanatic" instead because the real guy was unvailable.

"Unfortunately the Phillie Phanatic wasn't available for the convention because it belongs to some baseball team and they can't spare him because he's the only entertaining part," Colbert said.

As you can see below, the Hilly Phanatic has the personality of Mike Pence compared to the real Phillie Phanatic. This one looks like the Phillie Phanatic's second cousin from overseas, not from the Galapagos but rather from the land of Smurfs.

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

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USA Today Images

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

Midfielder Derrick Jones has made Union history.

On Wednesday, the club announced Jones, 19, has been signed to the Union first team as a Homegrown Player. Currently playing with the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel, Jones is the first Union Academy graduate to make the move from Union Academy to Union first team.

“Derrick’s progression through our system has been quicker than anticipated and it’s evident that he is ready for the next step of his career,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said in the team’s official release. “This is a testament to Derrick’s commitment to his trade, and it should be considered a tremendous accomplishment to become the first player to come through our Academy, to Bethlehem Steel, and finally to the first team.”

Jones, who moved to Philadelphia in 2012 from Bantana, Ghana, and worked his way through the Union Academy before joining the Steel in 2016, made his Union debut in a friendly match against Crystal Palace on July 13 at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The 6-foot-3 rangy midfielder, who doesn’t have a set position, showed well playing the entire second half, presenting his on-the-ball poise at the attacking mid position.

“Derrick has now set the benchmark for every player in our youth system,” Stewart said. “That there is a pathway to the professional level, and that it is achievable if you remain committed to your goals.”

Jones is the first Union homegrown signing since 2012. Homegrown status means the player avoids being submitted into the MLS SuperDraft. The Union Academy has been around since 2013 and is located at the YSC Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania. 

“I’m delighted that Derrick is our first and that the work of our staff has come to fruition in this way,” Academy director Tommy Wilson said. “This is a proud moment for Derrick and his family. I would like to congratulate them and everyone else who has played a part in his development.”

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Phillies can be forgiven to some extent for their failure to get consistent production out of their corner outfielders this season. After all, they've been without one of their projected starters since spring training.

The good news is Aaron Altherr is on the verge of returning after missing almost four months with a wrist injury. The 25-year-old reached the final stop of his rehab tour through the Phillies' minor league system Tuesday, going 1 for 3 with a double in a 4-2 victory for the Triple A Ironpigs.

Needless to say, Altherr is feeling better.

"It's going good," Altherr said of his recovery. "It gets a little tight every now and then. Just gotta loosen it up. I'm good to go."

Altherr suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist attempting a diving catch in a Grapefruit League game back in March. The injury was expected to keep the righthander out four-to-six months, possibly even ending his season.

If the current rehab assignment is any indication, it turns out he's about ready to rejoin the Phillies. Through 12 minor league games, which includes stints at Reading, Clearwater and in the Gulf Coast League, Altherr is 13 for 34 (.351) with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. He's also walked seven times to six strikeouts and stolen two bases. Yet while clearly enjoying himself, he feels as though he's ready to rejoin the big club.

"It's been fun," Altherr said. "Was just down to (Double A) Reading, good crowd there. It's gonna be another good crowd up here (in Lehigh Valley) I'm sure. I always enjoy going to these places and seeing people again, so it's definitely fun.

"Mentally and physically, I think I'm ready to go. My timing is there. I'm just ready to go and get after it and play some games up there."

As for what he could bring to MLB's 29th-ranked offense, which too often this season has seen little impact from its corner outfielders, Altherr will do what he can to provide a spark for the Phillies.

"I hope so," Altherr said. "I'm not gonna try to do too much though. I'm just gonna go up there and do what I know I can do and hopefully help out the team any way I can."

A ninth-round draft pick in 2009, Altherr got his first serious look with the Phillies last year, batting .241 with 19 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs in 39 games. It wasn't nearly enough to anoint the German-born prospect as part of the franchise's rebuilding effort, but the organization was hoping to use 2016 to evaluate his potential as an everyday player.

"I wouldn't say missed opportunity," Altherr said about the poor timing of his injury. "Things like this happen. I'll get back stronger than ever and show what I can do. It is what it is. I've worked hard every day and tried to get back as fast as I could."

He's right, of course. It's not like all is lost in that sense. Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel have had their moments, but none has cemented his role moving forward. Outside of likely September call-up Nick Williams posting quality numbers at Triple A, there isn't exactly a long line of players knocking down the door for one of those two spots.

"There's always going to be competition no matter where you are in life, so I definitely don't really think about it too much," Altherr said. "I just have to go out there and control what I can control and play the way I know I can play."

Altherr's opportunity is coming any day now. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete who also happens to be a plus-defender could bring a lot to the mix for the Phillies right now. It may be too late to find out this year if he has a long and bright future with the club, but he could certainly provide some excitement down the stretch.