Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Three big misses the Union will regret if they miss the playoffs

Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales (11) takes a penalty kick and scores the tying goal during stoppage time against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 3.

From afar, if you simply looked at this year's standings with two games to go and last year's standings, you'd call this season a success for the Union, whether they make the playoffs or not (this cool graphic shows the Union's form this season).

The team already has 10 more points than it earned all of last season, and controls its own playoff destiny with two games to go. A win on Saturday in Montreal (2 p.m. -- Comcast Network) and another next weekend at home against Sporting Kansas City would clinch a playoff berth, no matter what happens elsewhere in the incredibly tight Eastern Conference.

But if you have followed the season closely, there is a feeling of frustration with this year's team. That's because there are a few specific cases where the Union "dropped points."

There's two kinds of games where you can drop points (an oft-used soccer term meaning a match you lost when you should've drawn, or settled for a draw when you had three points in the bag).

The first is a game  you were expected to win from the jump. A bad team, or a home game -- or a bad team in a home game. These are games where you looked at the schedule back in March and said, "That's three points right there."

The other kind of miss is a little trickier to identify. These are games where maybe you weren't expecting much at kickoff, but with 15 minutes left to play, you look up and say, "Hey, we can win this thing!" It doesn't matter the opponent, it doesn't matter the venue. This is where you learn if your team can close things out.

The Union have had a few misses this season in each category. Should they miss the playoffs, here's three they'll really regret -- six dropped points that should have them fighting for the Supporter's Shield instead of scrambling for a playoff spot.

Without further ado, in reverse order from "gut punch" to "throwing things around the living room."

April 13 -- Union 1, Toronto FC 1

This falls in the first category: a bad team in a home game. Toronto is a team you MUST beat at home. And if not for Kleberson's amazing free kick a few weeks ago, the Union would have two home draws this year against the Reds.

In the first meeting, the Union not only settled for a draw, they needed a stoppage-time equalizer from Jack McInerney to get the one point. Danny Cruz missed a gifted first-half chance, Toronto goalie Joe Bendik made two big saves early in the second half on a Jack McInerney header and Conor Casey drive, and the Union had a goal disallowed due to a foul.

The late goal may have left Union fans feeling relieved. But another look at the Toronto goal makes you realize just how bad a draw it really was.

June 29 -- Union 2, FC Dallas 2

This one actually fits in both categories. Dallas is a below average team that was winless in five games coming in, the game was at PPL Park, and the Union had a win in the bag if they could close it out.

But they didn't.

After Casey, McInerney and Sebastien Le Toux combined to waste an early counterattack, Amobi Okugo put the Union on top in the first half. After giving up an equalizer, Aaron Wheeler appeared to lock it up with an 87th minute goal to give the Union a 2-1 lead.

From there, it got crazy. Dallas -- which was playing a man down -- should have tied it if the ref had seen that a Blas Perez shot went across the line. Minute later, DEEP into stoppage time, Union goalie Zac MacMath came out weakly for a ball in the area and watched from his butt as Perez tied the game. Remember, they were STILL playing a man down.

July 3 -- Real Salt Lake 2, Union 2

The only road game on the list is yet another draw. A road draw against a team that can still win the Supporter's Shield for the most points in the league. A game where you'd GLADLY take a draw when looking at the schedule, especially without an at-the-time-red-hot McInerney, who was away with the U.S. National Team.

But a closer look reveals a game that might be the toughest result to swallow this season.

Le Toux gave the Union a first-half lead, and the Union went up a man for the final half hour after an RSL red card. Philadelphia lost the lead on a nice header off a corner, but quickly regained it on a nice play from Antoine Hoppenot and Casey.

With a 2-1 lead, Le Toux had an absolute gimme breakaway in stoppage time to ice the game, but failed to finish.

He would regret it a few minutes later.

Just Missed the Cut: Oct. 12 at D.C. United (1-1 draw); Sept. 14 vs. Houston (1-0 loss); Aug. 31 vs. Montreal (0-0 draw).

Prediction Sure to Be Wrong

The Union play a Saturday matinee in Montreal. Normally, it would be a game where you'd accept a road draw. But the Union would lose playoff tiebreakers to Houston, Montreal and Chicago, so they need to separate themselves. They go into a tough setting needing a win.

Since they couldn't get three road points against lowly D.C. United last weekend, I can't count on the Union to get three against a much better team in a much more intimidating environment against Montreal.

That means they'll enter the finale against Sporting KC needing a home win and likely some help.

Union 1, Impact 1.

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.