The Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup is pretty much set – you know, except for one of the most important positions

The Philadelphia Union’s starting lineup is pretty much set – you know, except for one of the most important positions

Well, Union fans, it looks like this is your team.

The summer transfer window closed this week with the Union opting to make only a backup goalkeeper (Oka Nikolov), a backup left back/left winger (Fabinho) and a long-term project (Gilberto) their international acquisitions. Part of that is due to salary cap restraints but it also shows that manager John Hackworth is mostly content with his starting lineup (and will probably not make any significant trades until after the season).

So with 11 games left in the year and the Union right in the thick of a heated Eastern Conference playoff race (look at these standings!), we pretty much know how the team will look. Zac MacMath will be in goal; Ray Gaddis, Jeff Parke, Amobi Okugo and Sheanon Williams will hold down the defense; Danny Cruz and/or Fabinho will be on the left wing and Sebastien Le Toux will be on the right wing; and Conor Casey and Jack McInerney will start up top.

Of course, the one starting spot still sort of up for grabs is one of the most important ones on the field: central attacking midfielder. And while the Union have a lot of options there, none of them have exactly seized the opportunity.

Michael Farfan and Keon Daniel have earned the most playing time but have combined to rack up a grand total of one goal and two assists between them in 2,680 combined minutes. Leo Fernandes has become one of Hackworth’s favorite midfield reserves but showed his rookie inexperience by committing a turnover right before the go-ahead goal in last week’s loss to the Chicago Fire. And then there’s World Cup winner Kleberson and fan favorite Roger Torres, who’ve been completely buried on the depth chart despite possessing the kind of technical ability few players on the Union can match.

Leading up to Saturday’s critical nationally televised game against D.C. United at PPL Park, Hackworth fielded a lot of questions about the spot and why Kleberson – the team’s highest-paid player – hasn’t played at all since June 1, first because of an injury and then because he seemingly got passed on the depth chart by a player in Fernandes who once idolized him.

“Kleberson is a big name and I know there’s a lot of people that have this huge expectation for him,” Hackworth said. “But he was brought here for a reason and he has done everything we asked and if we get the opportunity to plug him in, I’m quite confident he’ll be ready for it.”

When Hackworth says, “He was brought here for a reason,” what he probably means is, “We had to bring him in order to get rid of Freddy Adu.” But it’s still hard for some fans to believe that Kleberson can’t leapfrog the club’s collection of uninspiring central midfield choices and find his way back onto the pitch.

“We’ve got a lot of different options to choose from based on the game and based on how things are working,” explained captain Brian Carroll, who’s started every game as the club’s holding midfielder. “It’s a great problem to have.”

Well, it is a problem. It just doesn’t really seem like a great one.

Jon Dorenbos advances to America's Got Talent finals

Jon Dorenbos advances to America's Got Talent finals

Jon Dorenbos' magic run continues.

The Eagles' long snapper on Wednesday was voted into the finals of NBC's America's Got Talent.

Dorenbos performed this incredible trick Tuesday night to advance.

Shortly after receiving the results, Dorenbos expressed his gratitude.

Dorenbos will play in the Eagles' preseason finale on Thursday night. He'll get some time off from the show, as he was part of the first semifinals. The second semis round starts next week.

This is all super cool. Dorenbos' magic has lots of meaning. If you don't know about his story, read it here.

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ losing streak against the Washington Nationals this season rose to nine games in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The Phils gave up five first-inning runs and had just nine hits in being swept in the three-game series. They had four hits Monday night, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
 
The Phils entered the game hitting .239 as a team. Only San Diego was worse in the majors.
 
The Phillies have lost three in a row and seven of their last nine.
 
Starting pitching report
Adam Morgan absorbed his ninth loss but had the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season. The lefty gave up a first-inning home run to Jayson Werth then did not allow another run until there were two outs in the seventh. He was one strike away from getting out of the frame with a 1-1 tie when he gave up a full-count RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
 
In all, Morgan gave up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out five. He had entered the game with a 6.50 ERA and lowered it to 6.21.
 
Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (10-9) held the Phillies to two hits and a run over six innings.
 
Bullpen report
Blake Treinen, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Kelley closed it out for the Nats. Manager Pete Mackanin pinch-hit Ryan Howard against the lefty Rzepczynski with two outs in the eighth. Howard, hitting .138 against lefties, struck out. Rzepczynski stayed on for the ninth. He walked Cesar Hernandez to lead off the frame then got Odubel Herrera to bounce into a double play before handing off to the righty Kelly. Herrera has two sacrifice bunts this season, but was not asked to get one down on this occasion.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis clubbed his 15th homer, a solo shot in the fifth, for the Phillies’ only run.
 
Werth’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the season. It was a bomb to dead center. It came off the bat at 107 mph and traveled 453 feet. Werth also homered in the first inning of Monday night’s game. He has reached base safely in 55 of his last 57 games.
 
Ramos’ tie-breaking hit against Morgan came one batter after Anthony Rendon extended the seventh inning with a two-out double.
 
Ramos leads major-league catchers with 71 RBIs.
 
Reinforcements coming
The Phillies will add three players from the minors on Friday (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80) vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66)
 
Saturday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21) vs. TBA
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Jake Thompson (1-4, 7.86) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (4-9, 3.12).

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”