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. 

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

Lane Johnson declares he's done taking supplements

No more supplements, Lane Johnson says. Those days are over.
 
Johnson, who faces a 10-game NFL suspension after a second positive test for a banned substance, said Wednesday he’s finished taking anything that could possibly put him at risk for a career-threatening third suspension.
 
Johnson claims the amino acid he ordered online and took was approved by the NFL but was tainted with a banned substance that didn't appear on the label, the so-called peptide found in Johnson’s sample.
 
Johnson also said he is planning to take legal action against the company that provided him with the amino acid.
 
“Going after them,” he said. “I have people on it to get it done.”

Johnson declined to identify the company that supplied him with the supplement.

Johnson was suspended for four games in 2014. A third suspension would result in a two-year ban.
 
“Seriously, I don’t want to have to go through this again,” Johnson said at his locker after practice Wednesday. “Unless something changes, the policy, I don’t trust anything.
 
“I can’t risk it. If it happens again, I miss two years and I’m just not going to risk that happening. I’m not taking any chances.

"Food and water. That's all I'm going to put in my system. Food and water. No supplements, no powders, nothing."
 
Johnson has been practicing with the second team and playing in the preseason games while he awaits his fate.

Johnson was the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, the Eagles' highest-drafted player since Donovan McNabb was the second pick in 1999.
 
Once Johnson’s B sample comes back — presumably positive, since Johnson has admitted taking the supplement — Johnson said he plans to appeal the suspension. But he said he doesn’t expect it to be reduced.
 
“Even if you prove it (was tainted), there’s nothing you can do,” he said.
 
It would be unusual for an NFL offensive lineman to not use any supplements at all.
 
“Look in everybody’s locker,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s got ‘em. But you just don’t know what’s really in them.”
 
Players say supplements help them not only to build strength and muscle but also in their recovery following games.
 
Johnson insists he can get by without them.
 
“You’ve got cold tubs, you’ve got different stuff you can do, foam rolling, soft tissue stuff,” he said. “There’s only limited (benefits) with that stuff. I think I’ll be fine.”

Meanwhile, he waits.

“It’s like waiting for an execution date,” he said. “It’s been living hell the past month.”

Isaac Seumalo to miss Saturday; Stefen Wisniewski sees game as audition

Isaac Seumalo to miss Saturday; Stefen Wisniewski sees game as audition

Since he joined the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason, veteran Stefen Wisniewski has been focused on becoming a starter.
 
He’ll get a chance to show what he can do Saturday.
 
Rookie Isaac Seumalo, who has been working as the first-team left guard since Allen Barbre was shifted to fill in at right tackle for Lane Johnson, has a strained pec muscle and will miss Saturday night’s preseason game against the Colts. Wisniewksi will start in his place.
 
And the veteran sees the game as an audition for the starting gig.
 
“Yeah, I definitely think it’s an audition to be the starter,” Wisniewski said. “I think I’ve been playing starter-quality football all camp. And the job’s still open and just going to try to continue to do what I’ve been doing, play really well and show that I can be the starter.”
 
But can he actually win the job? Is there anything he can do on Saturday to keep Seumalo from retaking the left guard spot?
 
“I’m not saying he can’t win it,” head coach Doug Pederson said, “but I’m saying right now I’m not going to let an injury keep Isaac out of the starting rotation.”
 
Wisniewski, 27, has played in 77 career games and has 77 career starts. At the time he signed, he was clearly frustrated that a longer-term deal didn’t come his way. Now, he’s determined to keep his starting streak alive.
 
“That’s definitely my goal,” Wisniewksi said. “I’d be lying if I told you I wouldn’t be disappointed if I was the backup.”
 
Seumalo was plugged into the starting left guard spot just after a less-than-stellar performance against Tampa Bay in the first preseason game. At the time, it was a surprise to some that Seumalo was handed the job, even though he was a third-round pick.
 
Despite Seuamlo’s being in the lead, Wisniewski said he thinks the competition has been fair.
 
“Yeah, I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s been an open competition and it’s still an open competition,” Wisniewski said. “That’s as fair as it can be. I’ve been getting a lot of reps at guard, so have the other guys. That’s all I can ask for.”

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

CHICAGO — David Hernandez has great respect for what Tim Tebow did on the football field.

But as for Tebow's bid to become a major-league baseball player at age 29 after not having played the game since he was a junior in high school — well, Hernandez has some strong opinions.

The Phillies' relief pitcher first voiced them on Twitter when Tebow announced his intentions two weeks ago and echoed them when it was announced Tuesday that the former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback had scheduled a private showcase for major-league scouts to be held next week in Los Angeles. As a matter of curiosity and due diligence, the Phillies will have a scout peek in on Tebow's workout. As many as 20 other teams are expected to be on hand as well.

"I think it's ridiculous," Hernandez said of Tebow's bid to reach the majors. "Hats off to him for getting an opportunity, but I just don't think it's very plausible that he'll get anywhere.

"Nothing against him, but just from the standpoint that getting to the major leagues is a long grind. It's not easy. There's a lot of work that goes into it. 

"It's kind of a slap in the face for him to say, 'I think I'll grab my things and go play pro baseball.' It's not that easy."

Hernandez, 31, pitched in high school and college then spent more than four seasons in the minors before getting to the majors with Baltimore in 2009. Before signing with the Phillies last winter, he pitched for Arizona and survived Tommy John surgery. 

In other words, he's put in the time. He knows how difficult it is to make the climb to the majors.

So does catcher Cameron Rupp. He was recruited to play linebacker at Iowa, but baseball was his first love and playing in the majors his goal. He played three years for his home state Texas Longhorns before being selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2010 draft. 

Rupp laughed when he first heard of Tebow's intention. 

He remained skeptical when he heard Tebow had lined up a showcase.

"If that's what he wants to do — good luck," Rupp said. "Guys play a long time trying to get where we are. And those that are here are trying to stay here. Staying here is the tough part.

"High school is one thing. A lot of guys play high school and were good and get to pro ball and are overmatched. He's an athlete, no question. But you can't go 10 years without seeing live pitching and all of the sudden some guy is throwing 95 (mph). That will be a challenge. 

"I don't know if he thinks baseball is easy. It's not. It'll be interesting."

Bench coach Larry Bowa is a huge sports fan, loves football and loves what Tebow did on the field at the University of Florida. 

But Bowa has been in pro ball for 50 years. He played in the majors for 16 years and has managed and coached in the majors. Like Hernandez and Rupp, Bowa is skeptical about Tebow's chances and he wonders about the former quarterback's overall understanding of the challenge he faces.

"Whosever idea it is, they don't respect the game of baseball," Bowa said. "It's a hard game. You don't come in at age 28 or 29. I'm not saying he's not a good athlete, but this is a hard game and there are a lot of good athletes in pro ball that never get to the big leagues. 

"I don't think it can happen. There are guys 28 or 29 that are getting released everyday. How can you take 10 years off and all of the sudden be facing guys throwing 95, guys throwing sliders?"

Tebow did show some baseball tools as an outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease HS in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. He played three seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Jets but failed to stick. 

Clearly, he still has the competitiveness, desire and work ethic that he took to the gridiron. It's just difficult to see that ever getting him to the major leagues. 

But if he ever does ...

"Who knows, maybe I'll face him," critic David Hernandez said with a laugh. "Hopefully he doesn't hit a home run off me. That would be the ultimate comeback."