MATCHDAY: The First True Test -- MacMath, Union Welcome Star-Studded Galaxy to PPL (7:30 p.m., CSN)

MATCHDAY: The First True Test -- MacMath, Union Welcome Star-Studded Galaxy to PPL (7:30 p.m., CSN)

In my season preview, I said this about Zac MacMath:

It’s put up or shut up time for MacMath. ... MacMath is immensely talented and amazingly athletic, but from where I sit, it’s time for the 21-year-old, former first-round pick to put the team on his back and win a few games on his own this season.

Well, that happened on Saturday.

MacMath was off the charts in the Union's 1-0 win in Chicago last weekend. None of his six official saves were better than this one in the final 30 seconds.

[nbcsports_video src=http://p.mlssoccer.com/SAu5a/video/1724404/mls_2013-05-11-155204.640hq.mp4 service=mlssoccer width=590 height=332]

No one has ever questioned MacMath's athleticism. But his decision-making is questionable at best and wildly inconsistent at worst. If he can put it together and play like he did Saturday, this team could go far.

[RELATED: Landon Donovan has high praise for Jack Mac]

For the first time this season, someone other than Jack McInerney was the star of a Union win. So with Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and the LA Galaxy coming to PPL Park tonight -- likely meaning plenty of chances for MacMath to save the Union's bacon -- it's a perfect time for the casual fans to learn a little more about Mr. MacMath (a trend we'll continue occasionally throughout the season).

How He Got Here: MacMath -- a star at the University of Maryland -- was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 MLS Draft, the Union's second-ever draft. He is the only goalkeeper drafted in the first round since 2009 (Stefan Frei, Toronto), and one of just 11 goalies ever taken in the first round since the league began drafting college players in 1996. Only three goalies have ever been picked higher: Former Union player Chris Seitz (4th by Salt Lake in 2007), budding English Premier League star Brad Guzan (2nd by Chivas in 2005) and Adin Brown (3rd by Colorado in 2000).

Why Fans Love Him: The 21-year-old MacMath is incredibly athletic. He has incredible reflexes and his six-foot frame can reach all four corners of the net.

Why Fans Are Frustrated By Him: Expectations, plain and simple. The Union spent a high pick on MacMath, and gave him an experienced veteran to learn from in fan favorite Faryd Mondragon. His name was mentioned as the next in a long line of American goalkeepers -- the one position where the United States stands out in the soccer world.

He seems to doubt himself at times, come out on balls when he shouldn't, and stay on his line when he should be more aggressive. In the last home game against Seattle, he made two saves while STANDING INSIDE HIS OWN NET -- one which resulted in a goal and one that he got away with. This only served to illustrated his sometimes-shaky sense of control over his own penalty area -- something Mondragon excelled in.

That's another thing working against MacMath's perception among Union fans: Faryd Mondragon. The Colombian was a fan favorite during his one season in 2011, and has an INCREDIBLE command over his penalty area and defenders. He was constantly barking out instructions, consoling defenders after mistakes, and constantly teaching and directing his teammates. MacMath needs to remember some of the lessons he learned from Mondragon and realize this is his ship now.

You Know He'll Have a Good Night: When he makes a big save early, like he did on Saturday. MacMath then seems engaged and in control, and more aggressive coming off his line.

Union Highlight: In my opinion, Saturday's game against Chicago was MacMath's best game as a Union player. He also saved a penalty kick in a crazy 1-1 draw against DC United last year.

Where Does He Go From Here: Based on his age and athleticism, MacMath still could be a top goalkeeper in this league, and eventually parlay that into a European career, should he so choose. But he has a long way to go on the consistency and confidence front. For now, he needs to be someone that Union fans don't need to worry about on a game-by-game basis.

* * *

Today's Game:

Philadelphia Union (4-3-2, 15 points) vs. LA Galaxy (4-3-2, 14 points)

7:30 p.m. -- PPL Park -- TV: Comcast SportsNet

Prediction Sure To Be Way Off:

The Union seem to be finding their way, and Jack McInerney is hotter than any forward in the world not named Lewandowski. And the Galaxy are still finding their way with Landon Donovan back from his self-imposed vacation (another post for another day). But LA is still LA. The Union will get one early and sneak in another. But they'll struggle to hold the lead, before giving it up and settling for a draw.

Union 2, Galaxy 2.

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.

Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

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Today's Lineup: Ryan Howard still starting against a righty

One day after a rain-soaked 6-2 loss to the MLB-best Cubs, the Phillies look to steal a game against Chicago's fifth starter Kyle Hendricks Saturday afternoon (see game notes).

And with a right-hander on the bump for the Cubs, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has decided to give Ryan Howard the start at first base instead of Tommy Joseph.

This has been the subject of debate in Philadelphia. What to do with first base? Mackanin has used a platoon at first all season long, first with Darin Ruf and now with Joseph.

But with Howard's struggles at the plate continuing, many have called for more playing time for the 24-year-old Joseph, even against righties. Both played in Detroit.

Now it appears the platoon may continue on. Or at least one more day. Howard gets the call for Game 2 of a three-game set Saturday at Wrigley Field against Hendricks.

Howard is sporting a .159 average in 132 at-bats with .224 on-base percentage and is hitting .172 in May. Additionally, the lefty is hitting .162 against righties this season.

Still, Howard is tied for the Phillies' lead with eight homers. He's not making much contact and the case against playing him may be stronger, but he still has some pop.

Chicago is scheduled to start another righty Sunday with John Lackey. Joseph, who's hitting .290 with two home runs and four RBIs, might find his way into the lineup then.

Joseph faced four straight righties before Friday's game in Chicago. Against Atlanta last Sunday, he went 0 for 4 but in Detroit, Joseph was 4 for 11 with a homer and three RBIs.

What the Phillies do with Howard-Joseph at first base will continue to be a storyline until the situation is resolved. At least for Saturday, the discussion lives on.

In other lineup notes, Mackanin has given leftfielder Tyler Goeddel the day off, giving David Lough the start in left and batting him seventh. Cameron Rupp is back behind the plate, catching Jerad Eickhoff.

Here are today's full lineups:

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
7. David Lough, LF
8. Jered Eickhoff, P
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Cubs
1. Dexter Fowler, CF
2. Jayson Heyward, RF
3. Kris Bryant, 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Jorge Soler, LF
7. Miguel Montero, C
8. Addison Russell, SS
9. Matt Hendricks, P

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a word of advice for rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere when the two meet each other as opponents in this fall's World Cup of Hockey.

"The last few weeks, I told him to keep his head up," Giroux said Friday night on a conference call after both players were added to World Cup rosters.

"I'm pretty excited to go on the forecheck against him. It's pretty impressive what this kid has been able to do this year. To see it right beside him, he's got so much potential.
 
"To be on this team will only help him be better."
 
Giroux was named to Team Canada's roster, while Gostisbehere, the NHL's top rookie defenseman, was penciled in on Team North America (see story).

You may recall Giroux was overlooked by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
 
"That was a little disappointing," Giroux said. "Any time you have a chance to represent your country and go play for them, you hope to get the call. I was a little disappointed for that. To be able to be on this team, I'm excited and I"m ready for the challenge."

Team North America is a unique blend of age 23-and-under players who will compete in the eight-team tournament starting in mid-September.

Whether the veteran athletes competing for other countries take this young stars contingent seriously on the international stage is subject to debate.

"I hope some teams would take us seriously," Gostisbehere said, "because I think we're pretty darn good. It's a different dynamic.
  
“You don’t have the veteran presence per say, but some of the guys on the team have been playing in the NHL for three years already. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was also named to the tournament, playing for Team Europe.
 
“I am really surprised and excited,” Bellemare said in a statement. “I am happy that the way I played with the Flyers has helped me get a chance to play in the World Cup for Team Europe. I think this is going to be a celebration of hockey and it is surreal that I get to be in the middle of it.”
 
Both Giroux and Gostisbehere have been rehabbing at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, since their hip and abdominal surgeries on May 17.

Bellemare will go into the tournament fully healthy, while Giroux and Gostisbehere will not. Giroux had reservations about undergoing surgery if it meant his exclusion from the tournament, sources said.
 
“The surgery was a little question mark,” Giroux said. “Maybe not so much for me, but for them. I don’t know what they were thinking. The rehab has gone very well right now. There’s no issue as to why I wouldn’t be ready for that tournament.”
 
Gostisbehere is no stranger to serious rehab from surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season as a Phantom with a torn ACL in his left knee.
 
“It’s the same sort of rehab I did with my knee,” Gostisbehere said of his current rehab.  “We’re going to keep going down the line knowing something is at the end of the line for us. We gotta really focus.”
 
The 23-year-old Gostisbehere, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which will be announced in late June, said he was humbled by the selection.
 
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “The whole format of the tournament is pretty cool to see. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
The Flyers have eight players competing. Chicago has an NHL-high of 12.