Union manager John Hackworth is back on the defensive

Union manager John Hackworth is back on the defensive

To start his midweek press conferences, Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth usually just walks up to the podium and immediately fields questions.

But on Wednesday, the Union manager decided he first needed to get something off his chest, launching into a defensive about how Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the New England Revolution was not nearly as bad as some made it seem.

“I think sometimes perception becomes reality when people don’t see all of the facts,” he said. “I think our team right now is under a little bit of pressure from having a really tough result.”

His general point was a sound one: two disallowed goals that would have put the Union ahead in the second half dramatically changed the course of the game. And if not for those two referee whistles – one of which was a particularly bad call – Hackworth claimed, “My feeling is that we would have gotten out of there with a good result.”

Maybe so. But the fact remains that the Union completely fell apart after getting hosed by the ref, giving up four unanswered goals in the span of 15 minutes. Also, just whom is Hackworth defending his team against? At least from what I saw and heard, much of the in-game talk and postgame articles seemed to be about those momentum-shifting disallowed goals.

“I’ll give you a for instance,” Hackworth explained. “When I went back to the hotel Sunday night, I’m watching the ESPN game, Seattle-Portland, and Taylor [Twellman], who I think does a great job, he clearly didn’t see the game, so all he knows is that it’s a 5-1 result. Is that the reality of what happened in that game? Well if you just look at the score, you certainly have something to judge on. But if you know we didn’t play well in the first half and in the first 10 minutes of the second half we literally put the ball in the net three times against a team that’s had 12 shutouts in the league and know that two of them got called back, you probably have a different perception of what happened there.”

Twellman, who used to broadcast Union games before striking big with ESPN, caught wind of this and reminded his Twitter followers that he did in fact watch the game and even pointed out at the time that the disallowed Casey goal was a terrible call.

And here’s his original Tweet:

To be honest, there’s not really any kind of beef between Hackworth and Twellman, and anyone who says there is probably missed the tone of the press conference. The main point is simply that Hackworth seems to sometimes be too sensitive.

Case in point: also during the press conference, the Union manager claimed that Conor Casey is “on the wrong end of a lot of [referee] decisions," before later continuing his defense of not playing his highest-priced player, saying that “if the only problem with the Philadelphia Union is that we’re not playing Kleberson, that’s not a problem for me at all.”

Granted, the Union might not get enough national respect, Casey might not get enough calls and Hackworth’s lineup decisions might be too sharply criticized. The Union, after all, do boast a solid 10-8-8 overall record and are still in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race despite the loss Sunday that Hackworth believes was over-exaggerated. And sticking up for his team is certainly a good thing and could perhaps even a source of pride for his players as they head into a critical game against the first-place Montreal Impact on Saturday night at PPL Park.

But is being so defensive a good quality for a coach? And just whom exactly is he trying to convince?

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

ATLANTA — The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves — No. 157 of 162 — ranked last in the majors in runs scored (591) and were hanging out near the bottom in a slew of other important offensive categories.
 
The stat sheet says the Phillies need more offense.
 
So does the manager.
 
Pete Mackanin plans to make his case for adding a bat this winter — the best fit would be in the outfield — in an end-of-season meeting with the front office Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
 
“Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we’re all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are,” Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m anxious to hear from (general manager) Matt Klentak and from (president) Andy MacPhail and if there’s an owner there. We’d like to hear what they have to say. We’re pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need.
 
“I, for one, think we need at least one hitter that gives you quality at-bats.”
 
There could be hurdles in adding a bat. Money is not one of them. All of the team’s big contracts will be gone when Ryan Howard rides off into the sunset on Sunday. The team that spent over a half-billion in salaries from 2012 to 2014 (and missed the playoffs each time) has plenty of money and has vowed to spend it in due time. But that time might not arrive until team leaders believe the club has built a nucleus that would benefit from the signing of a "finishing" talent or two. The team is committed to building that nucleus from within, and there lies the potential hurdle in adding the difference-making bat that Mackanin craves. Building from within requires eventually giving players from the system an opportunity to prove themselves and grow at the major-league level. The front office, still very much committed to a rebuild, will be cognizant of blocking those players (the list includes Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens and others) and their opportunities. Klentak has said as much on several occasions this year.
 
Even Mackanin acknowledged that the situation is a Catch-22.
 
“I know I don’t want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it,” he said.
 
“But at the same time, I think by having one guy in the middle of the lineup or somewhere in the lineup that can take a little pressure off (Maikel) Franco and (Odubel) Herrera and the rest of them could do wonders. You look at when (Matt) Kemp joined the Braves. They all went off. They’re all hitting. They’ve scored more runs than anybody, I think, since the All-Star break. Last year, with (Yoenis) Cespedes, he joined the Mets and all of a sudden they all started hitting.
 
“I will give those examples. I feel that’s important.”
 
A number of outfield bats will be on the free-agent market this winter. Cespedes could be there if he opts out of his contract with the Mets, but he’s not likely to be interested in joining a rebuilding team and the Phillies are unlikely to want the long-term commitment a player like that would require. Dexter Fowler and Matt Holiday could be free agents if their options for 2017 are not exercised. Ian Desmond will be out there, but the Rangers will probably look to retain him. Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Colby Rasmus will also be out there. Martin Prado is the type of “professional hitter” that would appeal to Mackanin, but he agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.