Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

By Steve Moore

Do you know who Bakary Soumare is?

If you’re a dedicated Union fan, you know he’s
the (really) big defender with lingering knee problems who barely played
after signing last summer (one league start). If you’re a casual fan
who didn’t pay much attention in August and September as the floundering
Union played out the string, then you’re likely still trying to pronounce
it.

He’s also the reason the Union don’t have a first-round
pick in this month’s MLS SuperDraft.

Instead of picking fifth and snapping up one of five
Generation Adidas players – players who sign with MLS before the draft
to pricier contracts than other rookies and don’t count against the
salary cap – manager John Hackworth and the Union will sit out the
first round before picking 26th and 29th overall.

The team shipped its first-round pick to Vancouver
so it could move to the top of the allocation order and sign Soumare,
6-foot-4 center back who now must fight for a starting spot with new
signing Jeff Parke (just called up to the U.S. National Team camp),
2012 MLS All-Star Carlos Valdes and one of last year’s lone bright
spots in midfielder-turned-defender Amobi Okugo.

Soumare’s role coming out of next month’s training
camp in Florida could provide some early insight into Hackworth’s
plans. If he’s healthy and competes for a center back spot, Okugo
could move forward into a holding midfielder position. The 21-year-old
(and No. 6 overall pick in 2010) was great last year alongside Valdes,
but it was his awareness and positioning that impressed the most –
skills that easily translate into his more natural midfield position.

As for Parke, the Abington native will turn 31 in
March, and has been one of the league’s top center backs for years,
most recently with Seattle. In a (read: my) perfect world, he would
start alongside Valdes in the middle, with Sheanon Williams locked in
on the right. Gabriel Farfan played on the left much of last year, but
often seemed lost, and may be better suited in the midfield or, ideally,
as a utility piece off the bench. Part of me thinks the starting left
back for the March 2 opener against Sporting Kansas City (get your long
johns ready) is not yet on the roster.

So, unless the whispered
Valdes-loan/sale-to-Colombia
turns out to be true,
Soumare seems to be nothing more than a big man taking up a seat on
the bench.

Depth is great, and real competition for starting
spots is even better. But defenders almost always go 90 minutes (barring
injury), and this is not Europe, where teams can be involved in four
competitions and play two or three games in a week.

With the semi-uncertainty about Valdes’ future
– reports are out there that Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe wants
him on a loan (or more)
– Soumare could possibly
still find a steady role with the Union. But in the small-salary world
of MLS, Soumare’s $240,000 base salary is a steep price
to pay for a little bit of defensive depth (especially when Freddy Adu
is making $400,000 or more).

Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz have spent most of
the winter cleaning up from the disaster that was Peter Nowak’s ego
– both on the field, and in the minds of fans and paying customers.
So far, it seems to be working, as the mindset on my Union-heavy Twitter
timeline (@smoore1117) is closer to the excitement of 2011
than the expletive-laden vitriol of 2012.

Soumare’s place in the squad may not be as sexy
a topic as the return of Sebastien Le Toux, the signing of Conor Casey,
the team’s inability to score goals, or the enigma that is Freddy
Adu. But it could prove to be an early indicator of the team’s fate
in 2013.

*

Thanks to Enrico and The Level for letting me help out with Union
coverage this year. I’ve been a Union season ticket holder from the
start, and, like many “soccer nerds”, we are very particular about
news coverage of the sport and our team. This site has treated the Union
fairly from the start, and not as some novelty act. I hope to provide
intelligent soccer talk for the die-hards, while also helping the casual
fan keep up with the ins-and-outs at PPL Park. Feel free to compliment,
critique or criticize. Just promise you’ll try a little harder than
“no one cares about soccer,” OK?

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.