SECOND LEVEL: Clint Dempsey has 8 goals ... the Union have 9; this could be a problem

SECOND LEVEL: Clint Dempsey has 8 goals ... the Union have 9; this could be a problem

Seattle's Clint Dempsey moves the ball against FC Dallas on April 12. (AP Photo)

In our continued quest to give you great pretty good adequate soccer coverage here at The 700 Level, we’ll be launching a new feature where Philadelphia Union writers and old newspaper buddies Steve Moore and Dave Zeitlin discuss (read: argue about) a Union-related topic every week until the end of time. We'll call it "Second Level" until we come up with something better.

As someone who covers the team for MLSsoccer.com and CSNPhilly.com, Dave will bring you the perspective of a seasoned, award-winning journalist. And as someone who watches games from the River End while drinking a beer, Steve will give you the perspective of an occasionally sober fan.

This week’s question: between zero and one zillion, how many goals will red-hot striker Clint Dempsey score against the Union on Saturday in Seattle (10 p.m., The Comcast Network).

Dave: I really just picked this topic so we can show you some videos of Dempsey, who’s been LIGHTING IT UP for the Sounders of late.

After mostly struggling at the end of last season (and drawing unjust criticism from a sector of jump-off-the-cliff-at-the-sign-of-any-trouble fans), Dempsey is now hitting his stride in MLS.

The 31-year-old star currently has more goals (eight) than anyone else in the league – and just one fewer than the Union have scored all season. Here’s one of them in which he makes a ridiculous pass before finishing the job himself on a rebound.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/9F7PQvSy87o width=620 height=349]

It’s nice to see one of the best American soccer players playing so well leading into next month’s World Cup (holy crap, is the World Cup really next month?!?). And that extends to Union manager John Hackworth, who used to coach Dempsey on the national team and gave the old I’m-happy-for-him-but-this-weekend-he-is-the-enemy routine before leaving for Seattle.

The big question is whether a Union backline that features a converted midfielder (Amobi Okugo) and converted striker (Aaron Wheeler) at center back slow him down.

When asked about Dempsey this week, most Union players said they have to pay close attention to him but not at the expense of forgetting about other players on the first-place Sounders, especially his partner-in-crime, Obafemi Martins. In other words, they didn’t reveal any sort of gameplan about how they plan on stopping the leading MVP candidate, on the road, in perhaps the toughest place to play in the country.

Dave's Prediction: since the Union seem to be better in an “underdog” rule than when they play winless or slumping teams, I’ll say Dempsey finishes with zero goals and one assist while the Union manage to escape Seattle with a 1-1 draw.

* * *

Steve: So the underachieving Union are going on the road, to play the best team in MLS, in front of the biggest crowd in the league, on crappy artificial turf, against the best American goal-scorer there is.

That probably means a 4-0 Union win.

Seriously though, I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the Union Saturday night. Hackworth might start Austin Berry at striker and Antoine Hoppenot at goalkeeper. I don't know which way is up anymore.

One thing I do know is that Dempsey is going to be a nightmare for the Union back line. Whether it's Berry or Wheeler (it'll be Wheeler, and I'll be upset), Dempsey will get loose and create problems.

As an aside, my favorite Dempsey goal of the year so far:

[nbcsports_video src=http://player.ooyala.com/iframe.js#ec=AzNjgxbToagDg1OdTT2xua8MPmQMderw&pbid=4bfc225f82bf46c48dfb065eda97f74f width=620 height=349]

As much as the "we need to watch him but not at the expense of others blah blah blah" is just coach speak, it's the truth in this case. I have a feeling it'll be other Sounders players who burn the Union Saturday night. Wheeler and Okugo will need to be on their game, but the responsibility will also fall on Brian Carroll to track back with Dempsey and Martins.

And as much as Maurice Edu wants to push forward more often, he'll really need to pay attention to Dempsey and Martins, too.

Hackworth's seat is absolutely heating up in recent weeks, but this is not really a game that will make or break him. The Union are expected to lose this one.

Unfortunately, I think they will.

Steve's Prediction: Dempsey gets on the end of a rebound for a goal, Martins gets another, and the Union give up a header from a defender on a set piece. Conor Casey gets one for the Union. Sounders 3, Union 1.

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NHL Notes: Rangers' Kevin Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes will miss two to three weeks with a lower-body injury.

The team announced the timeline Monday after Hayes underwent an MRI in the morning. Hayes left the Rangers' game Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings during the second period.

Hayes had seven points in his previous six games and is third on the team in points with 35. The 24-year-old has 13 goals and 22 assists in 47 games this season.

His injury is a major blow to New York, which holds the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The silver lining for the Rangers is that Hayes will miss fewer games because of the upcoming All-Star break.

Senators sign Zack Smith to 4-year, $13 million extension
OTTAWA, Ontario -- The Ottawa Senators have signed forward Zack Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $13 million.

The Senators said that the extension goes through the 2020-21 season and carries an annual average value of $3.25 million.

Smith, 28, has 11 goals and 11 assists in 43 games this season and is averaging a career-high 16 minutes, 13 seconds per game.

He set career highs with 25 goals and 36 points in 2015-16. He has 75 goals and 61 assists in 443 games, all with the Senators.

Smith was Ottawa's third-round pick (79th overall) in the 2008 draft.

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS