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. 

MLB Notes: Bag of signed Jose Fernandez baseballs wash up near site of fatal crash

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MLB Notes: Bag of signed Jose Fernandez baseballs wash up near site of fatal crash

MIAMI -- As the baseball world mourned the death of Jose Fernandez, a beachgoer found a bag containing four baseballs signed by the Marlins 24-year-old pitcher.

WSVN-TV reports a black bag containing Jose Fernandez's checkbook and four autographed baseballs apparently washed ashore on Miami Beach not far from the site the pitcher's boat slammed into a jetty early Sunday. Fernandez and two friends were killed.

Ocean Rescue Division Chief Vincent Canosa tells WSVN the bag was given to a lifeguard and that it apparently came from the boat.

Fernandez had been scheduled to start Monday night's game against the New York Mets. Instead, his teammates honored him in an emotional pre-game ceremony. The players took the field, tears in their eyes, wearing black jerseys with the number 16 and Fernandez's name on back.

Rangers: Brother of Yu Darvish convicted on gambling charges
TOKYO -- A Japanese court on Tuesday convicted the brother of Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish of gambling on baseball games, handing him a suspended prison sentence.

The Osaka District Court found Sho Darvish guilty of taking hundreds of bets on Major League Baseball and on professional baseball games in Japan last year.

The court said the 27-year-old younger brother of Yu Darvish was sentenced to two years and four months in prison, but it was suspended for five years. The court said the defendant's gambling was limited to his group of friends and was not linked to organized crime, according to local media reports.

The younger Darvish took bets of 10,000 yen ($100) on Japanese and American professional baseball games, accepting wagers totaling about 110 million yen ($1.1 million) through the LINE social networking application, Kyodo News reported.

Sho Davsish himself bet roughly 220 million yen ($2.2 million) on the games, Kyodo said.

His arrest last year led to an investigation of his brother, Yu Darvish, but the authorities found no involvement by the Rangers star.

Sho Darvish reportedly said during his trial that he regretted causing trouble to his family and that he planned to change his surname to make their relationship less obvious.

But on Tuesday, judge Hajime Hashimoto reportedly advised Darvish that what should change are his actions, not his name.

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

CAMDEN, N.J. — It appears Ben Simmons took the saying about having the weight of the world on your shoulders a tad literal.

The Sixers' No. 1 overall pick walked into the team's sparkling new training complex for media day sporting a much bigger frame than when his name was called on draft night.

"I'm a lot stronger. When I started getting ready for the draft I was about 217 [pounds] and now I'm around 250," Simmons said Monday.

When you're expected to be the centerpiece of an organization that managed just 10 wins a season ago, it helps to have that extra bulk to carry those expectations. 

But Simmons isn’t just being looked at as a key to help change the franchise’s fortunes. He’s also being viewed as perhaps a once-in-a-generation talent after drawing several comparisons to LeBron James, who Simmons shares an agent with in Klutch Sports Group.

So how did the incoming rookie deal with being likened to four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion James? He went to work like someone trying to achieve those same goals.

“Just being around him and learning from his habits and what he does has just helped me overall,” Simmons said of working out with James and other NBA stars during the summer. “He’ll be one of the first guys in the gym every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is. He’s one of those guys who gets the work in and enjoys the rest of his day. Just learning from him I think I can take a lot from what he’s done. ... He’s done a lot for me. He’s helped me experience things I need to learn.

“They get in the gym and work. It’s one of those things where they don’t play around. They get straight to it. Obviously in the weight room too. LeBron loves the VersaClimber and they also brought two more in here. I’m starting to learn from what these guys do, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) also. They’re all doing the same thing, working out every day and getting ready.”

That type of work ethic will go a long way toward Simmons' earning the respect of his Sixers teammates. The group was already eager to get on the floor with him for training camp at Stockton University and get a firsthand look at the versatile forward, especially his prowess as a passer.

“The most exciting thing that I’ve seen was his passing ability,” Jahlil Okafor said of Simmons. “That’s going to help me out a lot. He’s selfless. Being with the summer league guys he was always about the team. I’ve always considered myself a good teammate and he’s a great one as well. I’m excited to work with him.”

“I think for anybody who likes to shoot or likes to score, whenever you can have a big man who is a really good ball handler, can make good decisions, has great vision, it’s always a great thing,” Gerald Henderson said. “If you can be aggressive on the offensive end you don’t always have to have the basketball to be able to be right there and score. You have somebody that can find you and really is thinking pass-first. I think it’ll be great, not only for us but just our offense in general.”

Considering that the Sixers finished 29th in scoring a season ago, Simmons knows they will need him to be more than just a facilitator. The team needs consistent scoring from everyone on the court. And while the LSU product’s jump shot was questioned during his lone year in college, he believes he has worked hard to silence those doubts.

“I usually try to take what they give me. Obviously I’ve been working on my shot a lot with all the coaches,” Simmons said. “I can shoot the ball. I’m not really worried about that. Coming into training camp, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on since LSU.”

Simmons made it clear several times that he is confident in his offensive game and that the Sixers’ logjam in the frontcourt will work itself out on the floor. One thing he’s not so sure about: that he’s even in this position.

Despite dreaming about being in the NBA since he was a kid in Australia and being groomed to be the No. 1 overall pick for years, Simmons said it’s still a bit of a surprise to be at this point.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” he said. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”