New Life at PPL? Union Sharp Despite Loss

New Life at PPL? Union Sharp Despite Loss

It's been a month since we filed in for a regular season home match at PPL Park. Might as well have been two with how long it felt. On Saturday night, with perfect summer weather the likes of which we probably won't see again this season, the place was packed, electric from the intros and receptive to a rally video moment from new boss John Hackworth. It also helped that nearby rival and first place side DC United were in town, complete with their travel contingent. The east end of the stadium sounded like a drum circle all night, echos bouncing throughout the whole building. 
It was a lot more than the just the result of month away, this energy. I don't recall it like this all season so far. 
The team on the field looked a whole lot different too. From the opening tap, the Union were running. They controlled the run of play, generating great opportunities and limiting the potent DC attack. For the better part of the night, it looked like we might be in for an outstanding 0-0 match. I know that doesn't sit well with a lot of non-soccer folks, but the action was highly entertaining despite the lack of scoring. 
Then a reality we know a bit too well came back to the stadium. A late concession, a Union loss. A Lancaster Kolsch-soaked look at how Hackworth deployed his selections and how they fared below, along with video highlights from a great match. 
The night on the whole was a positive step forward for the Union, who outshot DC 15-7. Chris Pontius, who scored for United in the 78th minute on the receiving end of a controversial free kick, tweeted after the game: 

Props to Philly 2night. Took it 2 us most of the night. We have a lot to work on and will get back to work this week. Safe travels everyone!

We'll enjoy that progress for now, but the Union still lacked finish on all those opportunities, and they once again allowed a late goal. If they play like they did last night, the results should often be better than they've been so far. At the very least, the matches should be more entertaining. 
Tactically, Hackworth deployed a trio of Freddy Adu, Jack Mac, and Josue Martinez. When Lio Pajoy returns from suspension, it will be interesting to see what the Union do up front. It will be tempting not to break them up after the amount of opportunities they generated. Adu played with intensity and flashed the skill that can set him apart. When once he got too cute and lost the ball in the attacking third during the first half, he raced back and retrieved the stolen property himself, turning the play back toward Bill Hamid. That broken play may have been my favorite part of his night. Martinez had one of the match's best opportunities, but couldn't get around Hamid. The first half saw a flurry of action in the DC box, but Hamid stood tall when the shots were on target. When it came time for second-half subs, Adu remained while Martinez came off for Antoine Hoppenot and Jack Mac left for Chandler Hoffman. Hoppenot saw one shot hit the frame and another sail wide, but man did he look dangerous. It may be hard to coach the group to the next level, as they were tactically on-point and got the opps they needed and then some. They just lacked finish. Only the players themselves can deliver that, and some luck is probably in the cards as well. A little will go a long way, hopefully soon. 
At midfield, the Union were still without Roger Torres, who watched the game along with others from the stadium club. Torres told me he'll be back next week, which could add creativity and a scoring threat to the middle while allowing Adu to play forward again. Brian Carroll, Michael Lahoud, and Michael Farfan made up the middle in this one, and they moved the ball well. Notably absent, at least to me, was unused sub Keon Daniel. Due to all the personnel issues lately, Keon's been moved around and used outside of the roles we saw him do well in last season, not always looking as effective in 2012. Maybe as roles become more consistent (presuming they do), so will he. 
Gabe Farfan and Sheanon Williams returned to the outside of the Union back line, with Carlos Valdes and Amobi Okugo paired inside. They all played very well from my vantage—quick and physical—and it's likely we'll see this quartet work together more frequently. The Union won't face many tougher tests than the DC attack, and they held up against all but one well-placed free kick that Pontius was on the right end of. As Rev pointed out in the pre-game, the Union are susceptible on set pieces, and we saw the business end of that damn them to zero points on the night. Whether you agree with the referee's call on Valdes or not, they need to stop bleeding goals off of free kicks and corner. 
But, there truly did seem to be progress from start to finish. Gone were the long-ball Hail Mary's to the forwards, stretching the field instead with short passes and measured control. The Union looked confident and cut through DC with speed and well-placed passing, using the entire field and being opportunistic. 
Next up in regular season action is a meeting with Sporting KC on Saturday at PPL Park. For the first time in a while, the Union gave us good reason to raise our expectations. 

Phillies' rookie Zach Eflin has surgery on left knee

Phillies' rookie Zach Eflin has surgery on left knee

Six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair the patella tendon in his right knee, Phillies rookie Zach Eflin went under the knife again Friday.

As expected, Eflin had the same surgery - performed by Dr. Steve Cohen - done on his left knee.

According to the Phillies, Eflin will be immobilized for six weeks and is expected to make a full recovery.

Eflin, 22, has been dealing with knee problems since he was about 11 years old. The issues caused him to make just 11 starts in his rookie campaign. 

“You know this is an issue he’s been fighting since he was a kid,” general manager Matt Klentak said on the day of Eflin’s first surgery in August. “I think he told me since he was 11 years old, he first started battling knee problems. The hope here is that it’s going to alleviate the problem. And that he’s not going to have to deal with it. And in just talking candidly with Zach last night, while not excited to undergo the knife today, he was pretty excited about the possibility of coming to spring training next year pain-free for the first time in his life.”

That is still the expectation.

Eflin finished his rookie year 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA in 63 ⅓ innings pitched. He was 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 68 ⅓ innings at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Temple's Trey Lowe to redshirt as recovery from car accident continues

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Temple's Trey Lowe to redshirt as recovery from car accident continues

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy had a feeling some bad news would come regarding guard Trey Lowe's status for the coming season. On Friday, it was made official.

Lowe, a freshman who suffered serious upper-body injuries in a single-car crash in his native New Jersey last February, will miss all of the 2016-17 season and take a medical redshirt as he continues to recover, Dunphy announced on Friday.

"We all feel that this is in the best interest for Trey, as a person, a basketball player and a student," Dunphy said in a statement released by the university. "We feel at this time that concentrating on his rehabilitation this year will give him the best chance to come back strong and healthy for 2017-18. Trey will still be a big part of the team during this redshirt year, while continuing to work with our medical and strength team in preparation for his full return to action.”

Lowe was just starting to come into his own at the collegiate level around the time of the unfortunate accident. In a Feb. 17 game at the Liacouras Center against then-No.1 and eventual national champion Villanova, Lowe dropped a career-high 21 points. Though the Owls lost, 83-67, Lowe had made an impact and earned the trust of Dunphy, which isn't easy to do as a freshman.

A three-star recruit, Lowe played in all 28 games, including five starts, prior to his injury and averaged 4.8 points and 1.8 assists in 12.3 minutes per game. He would be a redshirt sophomore if he's ready to return for the 2017-18 season.

The absence of Lowe will leave the Owls particularly thin at guard this year. You may recall senior point guard Josh Brown, who was to be counted on as the Owls' leader this season, tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. His status for this season is still unknown as he continues to rehab from his injury.

Junior forward Obi Enechionyia, who averaged 11 points per game last season, is Temple's leading returning scorer.

The onus to produce at guard will be placed on redshirt senior Daniel Dingle and sophomore Shizz Alston, Jr. True freshmen Quinton Rose and Alani Moore will also likely have to chip in.

They have just over a month to get ready. Temple hosts La Salle in both schools' season opener on Friday, Nov. 11 at the Liacouras Center.