Union take fan interaction to a new level

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Union take fan interaction to a new level

CHESTER, Pa. The commissioner of Major League Soccer strolled into the interview room at PPL Park, walked up to the podium and explained to reporters why he was here, in Chester, on a Wednesday night, when there was no game in town.

Our fans, in many ways, believe their teams belong to them, Don Garber said. Our job as a league is to ensure were communicating with them regularly and effectively.

The Philadelphia Union, it seems, are taking this idea to a whole new level.

Just days after Union manager Peter Nowak signed up for a Twitter account the first MLS manager and the first professional head coach in Philadelphia ever to do so the Union held their first-ever Supporters Summit, inviting the club's most passionate fans to ask any question they wanted about the team and the league.

Commissioner Garber made the trip from New York to field those questions, alongside Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, manager Peter Nowak and players Sbastien Le Toux and Faryd Mondragn, in front of about 200 members of the Sons of Ben, the Unions first and largest supporters group.

Our club, from the very beginning, built its brand on involving media, involving fans and opening our doors, Sakiewicz said, shortly before Wednesdays Supporters Summit began. Part of Peter joining the world of Twitter is along that theme of being inclusive and bringing fans and media closer to us. Its a little bit of a different sports team mentality than what currently exists. And were really proud of it.

It certainly is a different mentality, as evidenced by all the coaches around the country (primarily at the college level) that care more about banning Twitter use among their players then starting their own account. But the Union have always used the social media device to break news, provide team insight and interact with fans, something Nowak hopes he can now accomplish himself as well.

The Union manager has definitely hit the ground running, with over 100 tweets to his name and around 3,000 followers reading them. (He even had a conversation in Polish with his abrasive alter ego Fake Peter Nowak, who subsequently resigned from Twitter but not before calling himself the luckiest fake man on the face of the Earth.)

Its been an interesting couple of days, Ill tell you that, Nowak said. Its something new for me. We always felt when the time is right that we need to go toward our fans, to give them more inside info. Some things of course will stay close to the team, close to the vest. But I think the fans and the people that follow me embrace that pretty well. There werent too many tough questions anyway.

Nowak said he decided not to follow anyone mainly so his players didnt think he was monitoring them and also noted that he expects some criticism and harsh words directed at him. But as long as the coach remains thick-skinned and careful, his newfound appreciation for the online world should do less harm than good.

Were smart guys, said Sakiewicz, noting he no plans to start an account of his own. We know what to say and when to say it and how to say it, so were going to try to measure our words as we always do. Its part of bringing the technical staff closer to the fans.

On Wednesday night, fans didnt need a smart phone or a computer to ask questions just a microphone. And they certainly made their voices heard, peppering mainly Sakiewicz and Garber on a wide range of issues from stadium expansion to officiating problems to the definition of success for the Union in their second year of existence.

Some questions were probably answered to their liking while others were not. But all of the fans seemed grateful to get the opportunity to interact with club officials and team members on a personal level. Of course, that kind of synergy between the club and the Sons of Ben has always been ingrained in the fabric of the franchise; the Union, as Sakiewicz noted throughout the evening, often come to their supporters before making big decisions.

Its particularly unique here, in many ways, because the core fan base existed before the club did, Garber said.

And speaking of Twitter

The most criticism I get on social media is from the Sons of Ben because they care the most about their club, the commissioner continued. And Im a guy in a suit living in New York making a decision they may or may not agree with.

Perhaps Nowak can expect that same kind of online vitriol the future. But for now, the Union manager is simply excited to give back to the fans, in new and different ways.

The more we do toward the fans, the culture were trying to create lets continue do to that, Nowak said. Lets expand it. Lets make it better.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com and writes a weekly Union column for CSNPhilly.com. You can e-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.

NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs respond to destroy Raptors in Game 5

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND -- Back home, the Cavaliers were not hospitable.

They rudely roughed up the Raptors again.

LeBron James scored 23 points then sat the fourth quarter, Kevin Love scored 25, and Cleveland unleashed tenacious defense on Toronto to regain control of the Eastern Conference finals with a 116-78 rout of the Raptors in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

On their court in front of 20,000-plus screaming fans following two straight losses in Canada, the Cavs opened a 34-point lead in the first half and never slowed while taking a 3-2 series lead.

They can clinch their second straight conference title and trip to the NBA Finals with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Toronto.

"We ought to be able to transfer that on Friday," James said. "Playing in that beast of an arena that we're going to we got to be composed, we got to be tough and we got to be sharp."

The Raptors, who came in with momentum and confidence after winning Games 3 and 4, left Quicken Loans Arena shaken and one loss from having their deepest playoff run stopped.

"They kicked our butts, bottom line," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "That's been all three ballgames."

James had eight assists and six rebounds in 31 minutes before checking out late in the third quarter with the Cavs up 37. He spent the fourth quarter resting on the bench while Cleveland's reserves finished the romp.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points and he, James and Love outscored the Raptors 43-34 in the first half. Cleveland has won its three games in the series by a combined 88 points.

"They are a different team here," Casey said. "We came in here with a chance to do something special and we didn't get it done. They pushed us around and took what they wanted."

DeMar DeRozan scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 13 for the Raptors, who were overwhelmed from the start. Bismack Biyombo had just four rebounds after getting 40 the past two games. The only positive for Toronto was center Jonas Valanciunas, who returned after missing eight straight games with a sprained right ankle. He scored nine points in 18 minutes.

Playing defense as if every possession was the game's last, Cleveland held Toronto to 34 points in the opening half while building a 31-point halftime lead -- the largest in conference finals history. Since their expansion arrival in 1993, the Raptors had never been down by 30 before in any game -- regular or postseason -- at halftime but they have rarely seen a defense like this either.

The Cavs were all over the court, swarming and stifling DeRozan and Lowry, who combined for 67 points in Game 4.

A courtside doctor might have stopped this one in the first half.

Love found his shooting touch after it went missing during the lost weekend in Toronto, where he went just 5 of 23 and was benched for the fourth quarter of Game 4. He finished 8 of 10 from the field, a confidence-boosting performance that should temporarily quiet his critics.

"Kevin Love being Kevin Love," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "He had two bad shooting games and we made a big deal out of it. Nothing he does amazes me. We gotta keep him aggressive all the time."

The Cavs made a point of getting Love the ball right away and he responded by making all four field goal attempts, dropping a 3 late in the first quarter that pushed the Cavs to a 37-19 lead.

"He was just locked in," James said. "We saw that and just wanted to keep giving him the ball. The easiest one he had tonight, he missed."

Cleveland's onslaught continued in the second quarter, and when James got free for an easy two-handed dunk, Cavs fans could relax and begin making TV viewing plans for Friday.

These looked more like the Cavaliers who opened the postseason with 10 straight wins, obliterated the Raptors by a combined 50 points in Games 1 and 2 and given a chance to beat whomever survived in the West.

Center of attention
Valanciunas hadn't played since May 7. He scored two quick baskets in the first quarter when the Raptors were still close.

Tip-ins
Raptors: Dropped to 2-7 on the road in this postseason. ... Played a game every other day since April 29, going 7-7. . Biyombo and Valanciunas are the only teammates with at least 120 rebounds this postseason.

Cavaliers: Trumped their 31-point win in Game 1, which was the previous most lopsided playoff victory in team history. ... James played in his 191st career postseason game, moving him ahead of Magic Johnson for 12th place on the all-time list. ... James (1,320) is tied with Kobe Bryant (1,320) for the second-most free throws in postseason history. Michael Jordan made 1,463. ... Improved to 7-0 at home in these playoffs.

Up next
Game 6 is Friday night in Toronto.

Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

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Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford singled in Matt Duffy with two outs in the 10th inning, and the surging San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 4-3 Wednesday for their 13th win in 14 games.

Duffy singled off Brad Hand (1-2) with one out, pinch-hitter Hunter Pence popped out, Duffy advanced on a wild pitch and Crawford hit a 1-2 offering over center fielder Jon Jay as Duffy scored standing up.

Crawford also singled and scored after some alert baserunning in the second inning. Duffy and Denard Span drove in runs for the NL West-leading Giants.

San Francisco completed a three-game sweep, extended its winning streak to five and improved to 9-0 against the Padres this season. The Giants' two walkoff wins in the series were against Hand (see full recap).

Arrieta moves to 9-0 in Cubs' win over Cards
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs (see full recap).

Bradley extends hit streak to 29 in BoSox victory
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his major league-best hitting streak to 29 games, Xander Bogaerts homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

Travis Shaw had three RBIs and Boston moved to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Red Sox have scored eight or more runs 10 times in their last 14 home games.

Steven Wright (4-4) had another solid outing, giving up three runs, two earned. He has now given up three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Chad Bettis (4-3) held the Red Sox scoreless through three innings but was responsible for seven runs over the next two innings before getting pulled.

The Rockies have lost six of their last seven -- all on the road (see full recap).

Ken Tribbett's 1st MLS goal helps Union salvage draw vs. Orlando City

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Ken Tribbett's 1st MLS goal helps Union salvage draw vs. Orlando City

BOX SCORE

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ken Tribbett scored his first career MLS goal in the 75th minute and the Union tied Orlando City 2-2 on Wednesday night.

Tranquillo Barnetta started the scoring in the 52nd minute on the Union's first shot on goal. Chris Pontius outjumped his defender to win a diagonal cross and headed it to the back post for an unmarked Barnetta.

Then the game opened up with three goals in a 7-minute span.

Kevin Molino tied it in the 68th -- one minute after entering as a substitute. Cyle Larin collided with two defenders and the goalkeeper while battling for a long ball and Molino knocked the loose ball into an empty net.

Three minutes later, Larin gave Orlando City a lead on a questionable goal. Kaka played a ball across goal, Larin chested it off the goalkeeper and the Union's Fabinho appeared to clear it off the line.

Tribbett evened it for the Union (5-3-4) when goalkeeper Joe Bendik dove to get a touch on a cross and Tribbett slotted home the rebound.

David Mateos was given a straight red card for Orlando (3-3-6) in the 93rd minute for a studs-up tackle just outside of the box. But Barnetta's free kick sailed harmlessly over the crossbar.