Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

The appetizer to your Memorial Day Soccer Saturday kicks off at 12:30 on Comcast SportsNet. It was such an amazing sentence to read that I couldn't resist lifting it directly from the MLS.com game preview..."Toronto FC remain home to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field".

Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. It even feels strange to type that. Yes, they are tied with New York (who has a game in hand) for first place, and technically are listed second in the standings thanks to goal differential, but the fact remains that ten games into the season the second year Union sit atop the table. Fairly remarkable, no?

In the course of preparing to write this I took a quick look at the Union's road record this season. Thus far they are 1-3-0 on the road. I wanted to compare their road futility with the other teams in the league to see how they stacked up away from home. What I saw was stunning.

If you had to guess how many of the 18 MLS teams had a winning record on the road what would you say? The answer? Three teams, LA 3-2-3, Real Salt Lake 2-1-1,and Chivas USA 2-1-2, are (barely) over .500 on the road.

How is that possible? What explains that? Honestly, I have no idea aside from the conventional soccer wisdom that road teams play more conservatively on the road in the hope of escaping with a point. Is the travel that rigorous? Are the home crowds that important? I mentioned this is an earlier post, and I have zero documentation to back it up, but I'd venture to say that those road numbers are even worse for teams traveling cross-country. Yes, I am making wild claims based on zero empirical evidence. Go with it.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, perhaps we should temper our expectations when the Union are away from PPL Park. Now, Toronto is not an elite MLS team. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, tied with D.C. United, with 12 points from 12 games. They bring a -6 goal differential into the match.

They are coming off a game where their leading scorer, Maicon Santos (3 goals on the season), came off the bench in the 60th minute. Similarly, in their last game they started an entirely new midfield. This is a team trying to figure out who they are and who can play where.

Yes, BMO Field used to be a very difficult place to play, but if the Union are going to earn some much needed road points this may be the spot to do it. This is particularly true considering that TFC just played a rain shortened game against Vancouver on Tuesday night as part of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

The Union are riding high after their offensive explosion (sarcasm) last week. For the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game. Both goals came off of dead ball situations. Michael Farfan flawlessly executed a textbook training ground corner kick. Carlos Ruiz put the Union ahead in style with that ridiculous golazo. It's wonderful that they executed on set pieces, but now the challenge will be to actually, you know, score some goals from the run of play.

The defense, playing in front of Faryd Mondragon, continues to be this team's strength. Although I hate to make yet another baseball comparison in a Union pregame post the fact remains that defense, like good pitching, will keep you in games and give you a chance to win each time out.

I'd imagine the first five names on Peter Nowak's team sheet each week are Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Harvey. The sixth is obviously Sebastien Le Toux, who along with Mondragon and Valdes, has played every minute of every game thus far. Le Toux = fitness.

You'd have to guess that after last week Ruiz is also going to be penciled into the lineup. Which brings us to the midfield, where there has been the most flux this season. Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Stefani Miglioranzi, the Farfan brothers...take your pick. No one has really put a stranglehold on a position. Last week it was Michael Farfan, Carroll, Okugo, and Mapp. This week? I have no idea. Perhaps coming off of a win this group will start together again.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Torres, Okugo, Carroll, Farfan, Le Toux, Ruiz.

Final Score Prediction: Just like pimpin' winning on the road aint easy. I see this one ending 1-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Let's go with Ruiz. It would be so him to follow up on that ridiculous goal from last week with a red card this week.

Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

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Today's lineup: Phillies try to salvage game against struggling Anibal Sanchez

Justin Verlander mowed down the Phillies last night in a 3-1 Tigers victory, but the Phils have a chance to strike back this afternoon against a struggling pitcher who hasn't had much career success against them.

Anibal Sanchez will take the hill for the Tigers and oppose Aaron Nola in today's series finale (1:10 p.m. on CSN). To say Sanchez hasn't had a great start to his season would be an understatement. He's 3-5 with a 6.32 ERA and opponents are batting .270 against him.

In his career against the Phillies, Sanchez is just 4-8 with a 4.94 ERA. Granted, most of those numbers came in the early part of his career with the Florida Marlins, when he regularly faced powerful Phillies lineups. As one might expect, Ryan Howard, who is again in the lineup today as the designated hitter and batting fifth, has seen Sanchez plenty of times. His 42 at-bats against Sanchez are tied for third-most against the 32-year-old righty. Howard's done OK against Sanchez — 9 for 31 (.290 average) with two homers and four RBI. Maybe some familiarity will finally lead to a breakout game for Howard. But, if his massive slump is any indication, maybe not.

For as poor as Sanchez's start to the season has been, Aaron Nola's first six weeks of 2016 have been at the other end of the spectrum.

Today's Phillies starter is 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA. But he's been better than those numbers show.

His .900 WHIP is third in the NL, as is his 5.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 6.45 hits allowed per nine innings is fourth in the NL, as is his 1.65 walks per nine innings. His 64 strikeouts rank eighth in the NL. Imagine if he got more than the 2.89 runs of support he's been getting in his starts.

As for the rest of the Phillies' lineup today, the only changes see Andres Blanco getting the start for Cesar Hernandez, batting seventh and Cameron Rupp behind the plate, batting sixth.

Phillies
1. Odubel Herrera CF
2. Freddy Galvis SS
3. Maikel Franco 3B
4. Tommy Joseph 1B
5. Ryan Howard DH
6. Cameron Rupp C
7. Andres Blanco 2B
8. Tyler Goeddell LF
9. Peter Bourjos 1B

Tigers
1. Cameron Maybin CF
2. J.D. Martinez RF
3. Miguel Cabrera DH
4. Victor Martinez 1B
5. Nick Castellanos 3B
6. Steven Moya LF
7. James McCann C
8. Mike Aviles 2B
9. Jose Iglesias SS

Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

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Watch: Miguel Cabrera gives Jeremy Hellickson thumbs up for fooling him on nasty pitch

The Phillies once again couldn't find much offense and fell to the Tigers in Detroit last night by a final of 3-1.

But at least the pitching showed something.

There was a fun moment between Jeremy Hellickson and Miguel Cabrera after Hellickson threw quite a nice pitch that fooled Miggy.

Here's how Jim Salisbury described the fun battle:

Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.

And here's the thumbs up:

Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

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Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

Eagles rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans will report to training camp on Monday, July 25. 

The rest of the veterans will report on July 27, with the first full-team practice of training camp taking place on Thursday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m., the team announced Wednesday. 

The majority of training camp practices this summer under Doug Pederson will take place at the NovaCare Complex, beginning at 8:15 a.m., which is earlier than the team practiced during camp under former head coach Chip Kelly. The early practices hark back to training camps under Andy Reid at Lehigh, although now the team will have its walkthroughs in the afternoon. 

The Eagles will have two practices open to fans at Lincoln Financial Field: Sunday, July 31 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. Both open practices are free and don't require tickets. Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The Eagles will have several off days throughout camp: Aug. 2, Aug. 9, Aug. 12. And camp ends on Aug. 16, with the preseason opener vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs in the middle, on Aug. 11.