Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

Soumares Role Could Be a Backline Bellwether for Union in 2013

By Steve Moore

Do you know who Bakary Soumare is?

If you’re a dedicated Union fan, you know he’s
the (really) big defender with lingering knee problems who barely played
after signing last summer (one league start). If you’re a casual fan
who didn’t pay much attention in August and September as the floundering
Union played out the string, then you’re likely still trying to pronounce
it.

He’s also the reason the Union don’t have a first-round
pick in this month’s MLS SuperDraft.

Instead of picking fifth and snapping up one of five
Generation Adidas players – players who sign with MLS before the draft
to pricier contracts than other rookies and don’t count against the
salary cap – manager John Hackworth and the Union will sit out the
first round before picking 26th and 29th overall.

The team shipped its first-round pick to Vancouver
so it could move to the top of the allocation order and sign Soumare,
6-foot-4 center back who now must fight for a starting spot with new
signing Jeff Parke (just called up to the U.S. National Team camp),
2012 MLS All-Star Carlos Valdes and one of last year’s lone bright
spots in midfielder-turned-defender Amobi Okugo.

Soumare’s role coming out of next month’s training
camp in Florida could provide some early insight into Hackworth’s
plans. If he’s healthy and competes for a center back spot, Okugo
could move forward into a holding midfielder position. The 21-year-old
(and No. 6 overall pick in 2010) was great last year alongside Valdes,
but it was his awareness and positioning that impressed the most –
skills that easily translate into his more natural midfield position.

As for Parke, the Abington native will turn 31 in
March, and has been one of the league’s top center backs for years,
most recently with Seattle. In a (read: my) perfect world, he would
start alongside Valdes in the middle, with Sheanon Williams locked in
on the right. Gabriel Farfan played on the left much of last year, but
often seemed lost, and may be better suited in the midfield or, ideally,
as a utility piece off the bench. Part of me thinks the starting left
back for the March 2 opener against Sporting Kansas City (get your long
johns ready) is not yet on the roster.

So, unless the whispered
Valdes-loan/sale-to-Colombia
turns out to be true,
Soumare seems to be nothing more than a big man taking up a seat on
the bench.

Depth is great, and real competition for starting
spots is even better. But defenders almost always go 90 minutes (barring
injury), and this is not Europe, where teams can be involved in four
competitions and play two or three games in a week.

With the semi-uncertainty about Valdes’ future
– reports are out there that Colombia’s Independiente Santa Fe wants
him on a loan (or more)
– Soumare could possibly
still find a steady role with the Union. But in the small-salary world
of MLS, Soumare’s $240,000 base salary is a steep price
to pay for a little bit of defensive depth (especially when Freddy Adu
is making $400,000 or more).

Hackworth and CEO Nick Sakiewicz have spent most of
the winter cleaning up from the disaster that was Peter Nowak’s ego
– both on the field, and in the minds of fans and paying customers.
So far, it seems to be working, as the mindset on my Union-heavy Twitter
timeline (@smoore1117) is closer to the excitement of 2011
than the expletive-laden vitriol of 2012.

Soumare’s place in the squad may not be as sexy
a topic as the return of Sebastien Le Toux, the signing of Conor Casey,
the team’s inability to score goals, or the enigma that is Freddy
Adu. But it could prove to be an early indicator of the team’s fate
in 2013.

*

Thanks to Enrico and The Level for letting me help out with Union
coverage this year. I’ve been a Union season ticket holder from the
start, and, like many “soccer nerds”, we are very particular about
news coverage of the sport and our team. This site has treated the Union
fairly from the start, and not as some novelty act. I hope to provide
intelligent soccer talk for the die-hards, while also helping the casual
fan keep up with the ins-and-outs at PPL Park. Feel free to compliment,
critique or criticize. Just promise you’ll try a little harder than
“no one cares about soccer,” OK?

Instant Replay: Phillies 3, Marlins 2

ap-jeremy-hellickson.jpg
AP Images

Instant Replay: Phillies 3, Marlins 2

BOX SCORE

Jeremy Hellickson gave the Phillies six more quality innings Thursday, and he and reliever Pat Neshek each struck out Giancarlo Stanton in big run-scoring situations to help the Phils to a two-game sweep and their sixth straight win.

The Phillies didn't do much hitting on the afternoon but took advantage of opportunities with runners in scoring position to claim the 3-2 win.

They are 11-9 as they hit the road for a tough, seven-game trip against the Dodgers and Cubs.

The Marlins are 10-10.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson encountered some traffic in three different innings but was able to pitch his way out of trouble. He allowed one run on seven hits over six innings with no walks and one strikeout.

It's the second straight start he hasn't walked a batter, and he's issued just three in 30 innings this season.

Hellickson continues to get outs without striking anyone out. His only K of the afternoon, though, was clutch — it came against Stanton with nobody out and runners on the corners in the fourth inning.

The fourth inning was the turning point of Hellickson's outing and really the game. Runners were on first and third with Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto coming up. Hellickson struck out Stanton, got Ozuna to pop up and Realmuto to line out, all on changeups. 

The Marlins are 7 for 54 (.130) against Hellickson's changeup since the start of last season.

Through five starts, Hellickson is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.80 WHIP. His trade value continues to rise, as does his importance to this pitching staff.

For the Marlins, Edinson Volquez missed the strike zone plenty but gave up only three runs (two earned) over 5⅔ innings. He walked four batters for the third straight start.

Bullpen report
Pat Neshek inherited a jam in the seventh and allowed a run to score but retired Martin Prado and Stanton to end the threat. 

Neshek is a real weapon in the bullpen because of his funky delivery and unorthodox repertoire. He's already made big bats like Yoenis Cespedes and Stanton look silly this season. It pays to have different looks out of the back end of your bullpen.

Joaquin Benoit pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts. He's put just two men on base in five scoreless innings since being moved back to the eighth inning.

Hector Neris needed just seven pitches to earn his third save in as many chances.

At the plate
The Phillies didn't have many hits but were able to push runs across when they had men in scoring position. Freddy Galvis tripled and scored in the third inning, and Brock Stassi tripled in an insurance run in the sixth.

Galvis enjoys himself some Volquez — lifetime, he's 6 for 10 with two doubles, a triple and a homer off him.

It was Stassi's first career triple.

Maikel Franco reached base three more times with two singles and a walk. Franco has been locked in over the last week, going 10 for 23 with a double, two homers, 10 RBIs, three walks and just one strikeout over his last six games. His batting line has crept up to .221/.291/.403. Not great, but it was .148/.217/.278 a week ago.

And this is a little thing, but Andrew Knapp, batting eighth, had two quality plate appearances his first two times up, singling and walking with nobody on and two outs to turn the lineup over twice.

Phillie-killers silenced
Prado has more hits against the Phillies than he has against any other team. And he did have a solo homer Wednesday night, but the .305 lifetime hitter off the Phils went just 2 for 8 in the series. It's key to get him out ahead of Yelich and Stanton.

Ozuna, meanwhile, went 0 for 8 in the series. He entered as a .310 hitter against the Phillies and a .272 hitter vs. the rest of the division.

In the field
Trying quickly to turn a double play on Odubel Herrera in the first inning, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon made an errant throw to first base that trickled past Justin Bour and allowed Daniel Nava to score. It was a heads-up baserunning play by Nava, who would have just advanced from second to third if not for Gordon's throw.

Franco made a tough play on a short-hop off the bat of Ozuna in a key spot with one out and Stanton on second base in the sixth inning. It was an all-or-nothing play — had Franco not timed the hop perfectly with his backhand, it would have put Hellickson in a jam.

On the bases
On consecutive pitches to Franco in the first inning, Herrera stole second and was then thrown out at third by a pretty good margin. The Phillies challenged that Prado didn't apply the tag but there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.

Herrera is 3 for 5 on stolen base attempts this season.

Health check
Reliever Edubray Ramos was removed in the seventh inning after taking a line drive off the elbow.

Up next
The Phillies head out West for a three-game series at Dodger Stadium and it looks like they'll avoid Clayton Kershaw after all. He was initially scheduled to pitch Sunday but here are the updated pitching probables:

Friday night at 10:10 — Jerad Eickhoff (0-1, 2.55) vs. Kenta Maeda (1-2, 8.05)

Saturday night at 9:10 — Zach Eflin (0-0, 2.25) vs. Brandon McCarthy (3-0, 2.25)

Sunday afternoon at 4:10 — Nick Pivetta (MLB debut) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (0-4, 4.64)

NFL Draft Experience is open and bumping with Carson Wentz the early star

NFL Draft Experience is open and bumping with Carson Wentz the early star

The fans lined up early on Thursday in Philadelphia waiting for the NFL Draft Experience to open up at noon and there was actually a pretty exciting vibe while waiting in line, complete with Eagles chants. There have been plenty of Eagles chants. Expect that to be a theme throughout the weekend.

None more so than when Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz made an appearance. I first saw him drive by on a golf cart -- or a Wentz Wagon if you will -- while he was making his way to take photos with fans. A pretty exciting scene for any Eagles fan, I must say. Probably the highlight of the day so far.

He apparently messed with a Cowboys fan as well. Nicely done, Carson.

The weather in Philly is quite warm today with temps in the 80s. You'll get a good little sweat going if you decide to wait in line and participate in the 40-yard dash like I did. Running 40 yards is exhausting. And you'll have to wait a good bit to get your turn. Early on lines were maybe 20-30 minutes to participate in a drill, but they've since grown longer. Expect long lines for all of the activities today.So expect plenty of waiting if you want to try your legs at a vertical jump test or field goal kicking opportunity. After waiting probably 30 minutes, I got my two kicks up on the goal posts and will not be drafted by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Kicking is tough.

There are water filling stations if you've got a bottle to put it in. Those come in handy on such a warm day.

The beer is flowing as well. At many concession stands and also at the Draft Tavern. There are plenty of options as long as you like Budweiser products. They've got some IPA they make, some Stella, a Vienna Lager, a Pilsner, and all the usual suspects. Expect to pay about $12 for a 25-ounce can.

There's a plethora of food options from relatively cheap $5 hot dogs to $12 cheesesteaks. I tried out the cheesesteak from Tony Luke's and have to say I was very disappointed. When the worker handed it to me, I literally asked, "is this hot?" To which she said, "The bread isn't but the steak is." It wasn't. So I paid $12 for a cold cheesesteak I'd give a grade of a 'C-.' It could have been a 'B-' if it was moderately warm. It had no seasoning. But there was cheese on it and cheese is pretty hard to mess up. And the roll was fresh at least. I only ate half of it so that'll tell you what I really thought of it.

You can get pretty close to the draft stage and "NFL Draft Theater" without actually having a ticket. Check out the view from the public area:

The zip line looks fun but again, expect a lengthy wait.

This guy wins the day.

You can get a t-shirt for 35 bucks too.

The crowd right before the gates opened. 

Inside the Draft Tavern. You can enjoy a beverage anywhere inside whole Draft Experience.