Preview: The Ryder Cup

Preview: The Ryder Cup

With the success of the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink this summer and the advance of the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013, professional golf has returned to the Philadelphia area in a big way. Regardless of whether you, our loyal readers, play the game yourselves, it should be noted that our town lays claim to one of the strongest golf traditions in the country. Just take a look at a Google Map satellite over the area in and around 309 at Fort Washington to see the outrageous number of private country clubs all dating back roughly a century. The phrase "densely populated" comes to mind.

Now, even if golf isn't exactly your thing, I'm going to try to appeal to you on a basis I think we can all appreciate: blind patriotic support for national sporting endeavors. This, of course, brings me to this week's Ryder Cup. If at some points it seems like I'm going a bit overboard from here on out -- I'm not. This is golf people. We're going to war.

Having made their way to the Celtic Manor Resort in South Wales, golf's best will be teeing it up on the brand new "Twenty Ten Course," the first golf course ever built specifically for the purpose of hosting a Ryder Cup. Well, alright, it isn't exactly new. The track is actually just an extensively remodeled version of something originally built in 1999 called Wentwood Hills. This sort of dubious posturing should prove readily apparent to the most ardent patriots as a disingenuous attempt by some shifty Europeans to one-up us on their own soil, and I, for one, won't have it. Alright, I'm going overboard.

On to the golf itself, Corey Pavin's boys in the Red, White & Blue will be facing off against a very deep European squad led by 0-time Major Champion Colin Montgomerie. Comparing the squads on paper and factoring in some relevant history, like the fact that the United States has not won on European soil since 1993, puts the Americans at what appears to be a disadvantage. However, since the PGA Tour had instituted the Fed-Ex Cup playoff system in 2007, the United States has gone a perfect 3-0 in international competition. World #2 Phil Mickelson attributes the success to the forced change in schedule:

"In the past before team events, we would have six weeks off after the last major championship, the PGA, where guys would kind of shut it down," Mickelson said. "With the FedEx Cup it's kept our games sharp, and so the by-product has been we've had great performances in the last three team competitions.

But, as ESPN golf writer Jason Sobel's above article goes to speculate, with 9 of the 12 team members having played the last four weeks in a row, fatigue could become an issue. Either way, the two sides enter this weekend at vastly different conditions as related to both mental and physical rest. 

One American who will not be bothered by fatigue, however, is Tiger Woods, who required a captain's pick just to make the team after failing to earn an automatic berth. Having not qualified for last week's Tour Championship at East Lake, the best in the world had the week off to work on his game and, well, whatever else it is he now does with his time. While showing flashes of brilliance during brief periods since his return, his back-9 during the third round of this year's U.S. Open, for example, Woods also hit a distinct rock bottom at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Finishing second to last in an event he usually owns, Tiger posted his worst 72-hole score ever as a professional.  2010 has been  in many ways a referendum on Woods both as a golfer and as a person. I personally am going to stay away from his family situation for the purposes of this discussion and stick only to what he does on the course.

In light of all the above, and fill in the blanks where necessary, other golfers, specifically 21-year-old European Team Member Rory McIlroy, see enough chinks in Woods' armor to get unusually brazen with the former juggernaut. In a press conference earlier this week, McIlroy declared:

"I would love to face him," McIlroy, who won the Quail Hollow Championship in May for his first PGA Tour victory, said in an interview with the BBC last month. "Unless his game rapidly improves in the next month or so, I think anyone in the European team would fancy his chances against him."

When asked for his own comment, Woods coldly responded with only, "me too." Discussion on the subject was then closed. U.S. Captain Corey Pavin is, at least publicly, ruling out a direct grudge match between the two. Still, it should be interesting to see if Woods will face McIlroy during either the team matches Friday and Saturday, or, god-willing, in singles on Sunday. In the event that he does, can Tiger finally channel all his frustration, sorrow and disappointment into one truly dramatic comeback performance this weekend?

Golf fans have been so eager to declare Tiger "back" over the last 6 months that it's become a recurring tease. Every time he takes one step forward, he almost immediately takes two steps back. As such, do not take whatever happens this weekend as kind of definitive statement about where Woods will go from here. With only two months to go until Thanksgiving, the one year anniversary of his life's unraveling, the last ten months have clearly been the most trying of his life and figure to only bring more challenges (like possibly spending this year's Turkey Day away from his ex-wife and children). Listen, I want the old Tiger Woods back as much as everyone else; I'm just saying that he's clearly going to have to do it on his own time, when he gets his own life in order. Whatever happens at Celtic Manor this weekend, good or bad, it will be just one more step on a long road back to normalcy and shouldn't be viewed as symbolically representative of anything larger.

This, on the other hand, should be taken exactly that way. Give 'em hell, boys.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Europe)

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

Union goalie John McCarthy ready for 1st MLS start of season

CHESTER, Pa. — Long after Wednesday’s morning training session ended, John McCarthy remained on the practice field to sign autographs for a bunch of young campers.
 
This is a typical activity for the popular Philadelphia native, who in many ways is a perfect backup goalkeeper for the Union.

But this weekend, McCarthy will be more than just an ambassador for fans. With Andre Blake on international duty with the Jamaican national team, the La Salle alum will be thrust into the limelight and make his first MLS start of the season when the Union face the Chicago Fire on Saturday at Toyota Park (8:30 p.m./TCN).  

“Obviously he’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said. “He’s a professional. This is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role — you have to be ready when your number is called, and I know Johnny will be. He’s a guy I trust a great deal. He’s a winner. He won big games last year, and I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”

McCarthy indeed had a memorable rookie season last year, starting 11 games in league play while playing a key role in the Union’s run to the U.S. Open Cup final. 

But with Blake overcoming injuries and growing into an All-Star this year, McCarthy’s opportunities for playing time have dried up. So far in 2016, he’s played in just one U.S. Open Cup game on top of the 11 starts he's made for the Union’s USL affiliate, Bethlehem Steel FC.

How has he dealt with such a change?

“You don’t want to change anything up,” McCarthy said. “You just want to be as consistent as possible, keep training the same and keep your mindset the same because it’s the same when you’re sitting on the bench. You’ve got to be ready to play — and the opportunity is here.”

Another international call-up for Blake left the door open for McCarthy to potentially start June 1 vs. Columbus Crew SC. But Curtin instead opted to go with Matt Jones, who gave up two goals but got the win in what's been his only MLS start. Jones has since been dealing with an injury though, which led to McCarthy getting the nod this weekend. 

Despite the competition, McCarthy insists he and Jones — and Blake too — have maintained a great rapport.

“We’re all really good friends,” he said. “We all sit next to each other in the locker room. We can give each other crap off the field, joke with each other and stuff, and then when it comes to [being] on the field, it’s time to work. And we work together as a group because at the end of the day, whoever’s playing, we want the best for them and we want to win.”

McCarthy certainly wants the best for Blake, who is set to start in net for Jamaica in a couple of key games vs. Panama and Haiti as the Reggae Boyz look to advance to the fifth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. 

Alejandro Bedoya will also be involved in the final two games of the fourth round of qualifying as he joins the U.S. national team. And if he plays in Friday’s game vs. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as expected, it will mark just the second time in club history an active Union player plays for the USMNT.

That’s a big deal, according to Curtin.

“Listen, when kids watch the game and they see who’s on the national team, that’s who they should all aspire to be like,” Curtin said. “I think Alejandro is a player every kid should want to be like. … To have a guy from the Union with this badge represent our country is really powerful. I think that shows the growth of our club. We want more and more of our guys to represent our country.”

At the same time, Bedoya’s absence will naturally create a big hole for the Union, who are dealing with injuries to other midfielders. Blake — who’s usually good for a spectacular save or two — not being in Chicago will be tough for the team to cope with, too.

But Curtin is eager to see some of his bench guys fill important roles this weekend — especially McCarthy.

“All goalies are a little bit crazy in their own way,” Curtin said. “I put Johnny right in that category. So he’s not fazed by pressure. I think he embraces pressure. He’s a fighter. He has a good strong mentality and he works his tail off every day in training.
“He’s one of our hardest working guys. He stays after to take shots, and puts a ton of work in. I’m happy and excited for him to get his opportunity now.”

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

Sixers waive Carl Landry, Tibor Pleiss; officially sign Cat Barber

The Sixers made some roster tweaks on Wednesday night.

The team waived forward Carl Landry and center Tibor Pleiss, while officially announcing the signing of guard Anthony "Cat" Barber.

The Sixers were expected to cut Pleiss, who was acquired last Friday in a trade with the Jazz. On July 21, Barber and the Sixers reportedly agreed to a partially guaranteed deal.

Landy, a 32-year-old veteran, played one season with the Sixers after being acquired last summer in a trade with the Kings, a deal in which he was essentially a toss-in as it revolved around bringing Nik Stauskas to Philadelphia. Landry, who was under contract for 2016-17 at $6.75 million, battled injury to start 2015-16 and ended up playing in 36 games (12 starts), averaging 9.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Barber, 6-foot-3, 173 pounds, will fight for a roster spot at point guard during training camp. The 22-year-old went undrafted in June after declaring following his junior season at NC State in which he averaged 23.5 points per game, seventh most in the country and best in the ACC.