The U Who Play the Fire

The U Who Play the Fire

To paraphrase the great 80’s
sitcom"What's Happening" - No Carlos, no Sheanon, no points? We'll find
out tonight (9PM/CSN) whether the Union can overcome the loss of their
leading goal scorer (Carlos Ruiz, who has completed a transfer to
Mexican side Veracruz) and the temporary loss of their most effective
outside back (Sheanon Williams, who is out after picking up a red card
against Colorado on Saturday).

If
the Union could hand-pick an Eastern Conference opponent to face under
these circumstances it would undoubtedly be Chicago, who sit in last
place in the conference. The Fire have certainly earned their spot at
the bottom of the table, accumulating a nightmarish 2-6-12 record.

Not
only will the Union be facing a bad team, but due to a scheduling quirk
they’ll be facing a team that has not played an MLS game since July
16th (they lost a friendly with Manchester United 3-1 on July 23rd).
What do you make of the long layoff? It’s hard to say. If nothing else
the Fire will be well rested – although a bad team is a bad team
regardless of the extended time off.

Perhaps
Fire coach Frank Klopas used the time off to integrate new signing
Pavel Pardo into his lineup. The circumstances surrounding Prado’s
arrival in Chicago are straight out of one of those amazingly ridiculous
soap operas you see on Mexican television.

Pardo, a former Mexican international, is involved in a child-support
dispute with his ex-wife Cristina. Cristina, who obviously is the
biggest fan in the world of aging former Mexican internationals, decided
to keep things within the El Tri family and is reportedly now in a
relationship with former Fire and Mexican star Cuauhtémoc Blanco. Pardo,
who apparently is loathe to give his ex any money, is now faced with
the reality of his ex-teammate exchanging one-touches with his ex-wife.
Is there no man code south of the border?

Speaking of goings on south of the border, the Carlos Ruiz to Veracruz rumors have been confirmed.
If Union coach Peter Nowak is to be believed Ruiz has moved on due in part to Union fans being too tough on him. Wait, what? Here’s a quote
from Nowak addressing the Ruiz situation following the loss to the
Rapids on Saturday:

“A lot of fans
even in the stands have a pre-bias toward Carlos and make bad comments
about him being a diver, being that, being that, not working hard, all
these little things, and it was getting tired to us,” Nowak said. “I
always believed fans in the stands will stand behind us and are going to
cheer for us and all the players we have on the roster, and not having
something against a single player. As I said, it’s an unfortunate
thing.”

If the Union fans really
had any influence over personnel decisions then Chris Seitz would’ve
been released in the middle of last season, Shea Salinas would never
have been left unprotected in the MLS Expansion Draft, and Jordan Harvey
would still be a member of the team.

The
notion that fans ran Ruiz out of town is absurd and insulting. Why
would fans of a team that struggles to score want the team’s leading
goal scorer gone? Sure, the guy was on a mission to send every linesman
in the league in for rotator cuff surgery due to repeated lifting of the
offside flag, but results are results. The guy was a poacher. He was
dangerous on free kicks. He scored some incredibly timely goals.

Look,
if the Union received an offer they couldn’t refuse then so be it. All
Nowak had to do was say that the organization appreciated Ruiz’s
contributions, wish him luck with his new team, and discuss how the team
will be relying on Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux to rediscover the
chemistry they enjoyed last season. In other words, simply state that
it was a business decision.

Ok,
with that out of the way let’s look at the game tonight. The big
question is who will step in and start for Williams at right back?
Remember, Gabriel Farfan replaced Harvey as the starting left back. Does
he slide Keon Daniel out there? Will Michael Farfan get the nod? Do you
possibly move Carlos Valdes outside and play Stefani Miglioranzi in the
middle alongside Danny Califf? Or, does local product Ryan Richter
start his first MLS game at right back?

One person who will not be on the technical area tonight is head coach Peter Nowak, who according to the Union is recovering from a minor back surgery. Perhaps Union fans are responsible for that too? I kid, I kid. Here's wishing Nowak a speedy recovery.

Here's the lineup I hope we see tonight:
Mondragon, M. Farfan, Valdes, Califf, G. Farfan, Mapp, Okugo, Carroll,
Paunovic (they’ll likely need his attacking ability), Le Toux, and
Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I am worried
the Union will struggle to score. Combined that with the fact that
Chicago is the master of the tie and I fear we may be looking at a 0-0
draw.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely to See Red:
Seemingly every single time I threaten to retire this a Union player
goes ahead and picks up a red card. Kudos, Sheanon. For tonight I’ll go
with Valdes, who could possibly make some ex-wife jokes at Prado’s
expense in Spanish and get into a shoving match.

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas (cq) Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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