Soccer Night in America: Union Travel to Portland to Chop Some Timber

Soccer Night in America: Union Travel to Portland to Chop Some Timber

The Union will be under the bright lights of Fox Soccer's inaugural "Soccer Night in America" tonight as they travel to Portland to play the Timbers (10:30PM/Fox Soccer (obviously)). The Timbers, who are 3-0 at Jeld-Wen Field this season, play in front of what may be the most impressive home crowd in MLS.

Sure, it's only been three MLS games, but the Timbers have some serious soccer history. The Timbers, in one form or another, have been playing soccer in the Pacific Northwest since 1976 back in the North American Soccer League. Check out Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald’s excellent look at the history of soccer in Portland.

In addition to the intimidating atmosphere the Union will also face a Timbers side that has shown an ability to put the ball in the back of the net. Portland has scored ten goals already this season, which is double the Union’s goal total (Portland has played one more game).

Former USMNT forward Kenny Cooper leads the Timbers with three goals. He’s a strong target man who has surprisingly quick feet. Jorge Perlaza, Jack Jewsbury, and Rodney Wallace have each scored two goals thus far. By comparison, Carlos Ruiz is the lone Union player to score more than one goal (he’s got two).

On the flipside, compared to the Union the Timbers are a veritable sieve defensively. Portland’s conceded 13 goals already. The Union? Yeah, they’ve given up just two goals. Clean sheets!

One player the Union will not have is outside back Jordan Harvey, who will be serving his red card suspension. It remains to be seen who will fill that void, but the most likely candidate is Michael Farfan.

Farfan was inserted into the lineup following Harvey’s sending off against San Jose last week. Harvey has been an iron man of sorts, as his streak of 74 consecutive games will come to an end (h/t to Peter Hirdt and the Elias Sports Bureau for that nugget). I’ll miss his “My Name Is Earl”-esque mustache running up and down the flank.

What the rest of the Union lineup will look like remains TBD. Last week Peter Nowak, who obviously has been reading my previews, finally came around and gave Roger Torres a start. It’s tough to fairly assess the lineup change as Torres was subbed off for Farfan after Harvey picked up the red. Stefani Miglioranzi is listed as probable (groin strain), but I’d like to see Nowak go back to Torres.

Danny Mwanga is another player who got a starting nod last week. Mwanga, who settled in Portland with his mother after leaving Democratic Republic of the Congo, is making his homecoming. The second year forward played his college ball at Oregon State before being selected first overall by the Union in the 2010 MLS Super Draft. You know there’s nothing Mwanga would like more than to open his account in his hometown.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see tonight: Mondragon, Farfan, Califf, Valdes, Williams, Okugo, Torres, Daniel, Le Toux, Mwanga, Ruiz.

Final Score Prediction: This is a tough spot for the U. They’re flying cross country, dealing with the time change, playing in a hostile atmosphere, and facing a team who is undefeated at home. With that being said, I think the Union are mentally tough enough to handle all of that. I think they earn a nice road point with a 1-1 draw (which would be the first time a visiting team picked up a point at Jeld-Wen)

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Last week I threaten to get rid of this gimmick and Jordan Harvey goes ahead and sees red. Ok, I won’t get rid of it. Fine. I’ll say Farfan gets sent off tonight. A rookie making his first start in a raucous stadium located in the Pacific Northwest?

Those are the exact circumstances which led me to name this little exercise in ridiculousness after Toni Stahl (who was sent off in the Union’s first ever game, which was played in Seattle). Sorry, Michael. The parallels are just too strong not to go with you.

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

As Aaron Altherr's audition begins, Pete Mackanin says Cody Asche 'needs to step it up'

ATLANTA — Nearly four months late, Aaron Altherr is finally getting his shot to show the Phillies he deserves to be part of their future outfield plans.

Altherr, 25, was activated from the disabled list before Thursday night’s game against the Braves and was in the lineup, batting fifth (see story). Altherr will see a lot of playing time over the final two-plus months of the season. He’s essentially auditioning.

“We want to see him play as much as possible,” manager Pete Mackanin said before the game. “So if he stays healthy, I’m going to keep running him out there. That’s what this year is all about. We’re finding out about the guys that are here. He is a potentially important part so we want to see what he does. I’m anxious to see what he does.”

Altherr, a ninth-round draft pick in 2009, played in 39 games for the Phillies last season. He hit just .241, but 20 of his 33 hits were for extra bases and he had a .827 OPS. He was slated to be the team’s everyday rightfielder before suffering a wrist injury that required surgery early in spring training.

Altherr is healthy now and eager for his chance.

“I’m good to go mentally and physically,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I’m definitely excited to be back up.”

Altherr took Peter Bourjos' spot on the roster. Bourjos was placed on the disabled list with a sprained right shoulder two days after running into the outfield wall in Miami.

With Mackanin committed to giving Altherr playing time, it will be interesting to see how the skipper divides up playing time with the remaining outfielders, especially when Bourjos recovers. Bourjos was a trade candidate before his injury. He could still be moved in a waiver deal once he’s healthy in August. Tyler Goeddel, Cody Asche and Jimmy Paredes also play corner outfield spots and much heralded prospect Nick Williams is expected to be here at some point (see Future Phillies Report).

Asche is walking a tightrope. He entered Thursday night’s game mired in a 4-for-51 skid and Mackanin seems to be losing patience.

“As I said earlier in the season, this is a very big year for Cody to prove that he can be part of the future and he needs to step it up,” Mackanin said.

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Heading into his 13th season, Jason Peters has experienced a lot during his exceptional NFL career. So when the eight-time Pro Bowler says head coach Doug Pederson is more respectful of veteran players than the previous regime under Chip Kelly, you take notice.

"I think so," Peters stated frankly on Thursday at training camp (see Day 4 notes). "The last couple years, there wasn't a lot of vets, and any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him.

"Doug was a player here, he understands veteran players and he understands the game, so I think it's better."

Addressing the media for the first time since last season, Peters faced a series of questions about how Pederson differs from his unique predecessor. Schemes and philosophies were topics of discussion, as well, but perhaps the sharpest criticism levied by Peters was Kelly's lack of appreciation for what an NFL player goes through to be ready on Sunday.

"Any time you've got a coach who's been there, done that, he knows about the trenches and he knows about the two-a-days, it definitely helps with a veteran team as a whole," Peters said.

Peters admitted Kelly's practices took their toll on players. If that sounds like a familiar complaint, it's probably because former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams voiced a similar opinion in 2014. On Thursday, Peters echoed and expanded upon Williams' sentiments.

"The same practices that we did in training camp were the same spring practices, exactly the same, so it's pretty much we had training camp the whole offseason," Peters said. "Even OTAs were the same exact practice. It kind of wore us down."

Peters also maintained the unusual practice schedule during the regular season was no help, either.

Most teams practice Monday and take Tuesday off. Kelly did the opposite, so there was no real break leading up to gameday.

"We practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here, and you felt it on Sundays," Peters said. "I did anyway."

Pederson has mentioned on several occasions the Eagles intend to do everything they can to keep Peters fresh and prepared for Sundays this season, which the 34-year-old says is "just being smart." One way that could manifest itself is an occasional day off during the week.

Although Peters' criticisms of Kelly weren't limited to the workload on veterans, the left tackle indicated the constant uptempo attack may not have done the offense many favors, either.

"If you run 100 times in a row, back to back to back, don't you think your 50th time you're going to be a little slower?" Peters asked. "But if you get a little bit of a rest, you're going to be a little bit faster.

"It's give and take. When you go back to the huddle and you get that wind, you're just a little stronger when you go back to the line, so I think it will help."

Peters added that the simplicity and predictability of Kelly's system became a problem, as well.

"I mean, this is the National Football League, and if the running back is to the left and you're running the zone read, where do you think the ball is going?" Peters asked rhetorically. "To the right.

"They caught up to us. We had some good years there back to back, then last year we had that down year. We just needed to change a little bit up, especially with [quarterback Sam Bradford] back there. They know he's not gonna run it, so it kind of put our hands behind our back."

While Peters believes the return to a more sophisticated, traditional NFL offense under Pederson — one that uses snap counts and chip blocks to help its offensive linemen — will be an enormous improvement for the Eagles.

Peters knows it's on the players to do a better job in 2016, too. At the same time, he feels as though the deck might've been just a little stacked against them.

"We can't really blame it on that, we're professionals," Peters said.

"[The coaches] call the play, and we execute it. But when the [opponents] know, and they're professionals too, and they know what the play is, it's tough."