MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

MATCHDAY: Union kick off season at home for the first time as they host Sporting K.C.

More than any team in this town, aside from probably
the Eagles, Union games have become an all-out event for most fans.

There is very little “going to the game.” 
By that I mean the guy who says, “Eh, I’m going to the game,” 
then heads out the door, parks his car and finds his seat.

Plans are made well ahead of time, themed tailgates
are created (I plan on crashing one of these in Lot A – stop
by and say hi), supplies are purchased and entire schedules are altered.

Off the top of my head, via my Union fan-heavy Twitter
feed, I can think of fans who travel for most or all Union games from
the following locations: Central Pennsylvania, Long Island, Maryland,
Delaware, Allentown, North Jersey, the Poconos and Rhode Island. Yes,
Rhode Island.

Unlike Eagles tailgates – which can often feel exactly
like the macho, beer-chugging, fist-fighting stereotype Bradley Cooper
made famous in Silver Linings playbook – the lots at PPL are very
family friendly.

So this is my one and only request that before you
rip the sport for being stupid, the team for being amateur, the league
for being sub-par or the fans for being weird, find a few friends and
plan a tailgate. Or better yet, park your car, whip out a case of beer,
and share it with the group parked next to you.

While you’re there, maybe watch a soccer game.

* * *

Hoping to keep the gameday posts relatively light
this year. A few predictions, a few facts. We’ll save the analysis
for midweek. Today you get the added benefit of some season-long predictions
sure to fail.

So without further ado.

Today’s Game:

Philadelphia Union (0-0-0, 0 pts) vs. Sporting Kansas
City (0-0-0, 0 pts)

4 p.m., PPL Park – TV: 6ABC

Today’s Opponent, in Limerick Form:

There once was a team called the Wiz

With the worst
uniforms in the biz

They changed their name to sound Euro

Now their style is anything but a bore-o

Their goalie sorta looks like The Miz

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent:

The Sons of Ben will mock goalie Jimmy Nielsen (they’re
chanting “BRIG-ITTE NIELSEN”) and might even sing a
song about manager Peter Vermes’ DUI arrest
. But
make no mistake, this is a VERY good team.

Despite losing Kei Kamara to Norwich City of the English
Premier League, Sporting KC is solid on both ends. They attempted more
shots than any team in MLS last year (granted, Kamara led the league
in that category) and midfielder Graham Zusi is one of the few MLS players
who is considered for a United States starting lineup when a full-strength
roster is available.

Nielsen is still one of the league’s better goalies,
and 2012 all-star Aurelien Collin proved to be one of its most efficient
central defenders. The addition of Ike Opara from San Jose only further
bolsters the backline.

In so many words, while Union fans will want a win
on Saturday when they think with their hearts, bu they should gladly
take a draw if using their heads.

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City (from visitkc.com):

“KC ignored Prohibition during the 1920s, leading
to an abundance of jazz clubs, brothels and gambling halls. This earned
KC the moniker ‘The Paris of the Plains’ after one journalist wrote
‘If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and head to Kansas City.’

The Player Most Likely to “Doop”

Since Union goals are now more rare than Red Bull
sellouts, Rev’s “Player Most Likely to See Red” will be adjusted,
at least until the Union score more often than not. (Although Saturday’s
official is Mark Geiger, who may hand out a card before the national
anthem).

I’m going to go with the obvious choice, Sebastien
Le Toux. The ovation he will get Saturday will be something to remember,
and the Frenchman has a flair for the dramatic (see: hat trick
in first-ever Union home game at the Linc
).

Lineup We Might See:

Macmath

Williams – Parke – Soumare – G. Farfan

Cruz – Carroll
– Okugo

         
M. Farfan – Casey – Le Toux

Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

I think the Union come out flying and get the first
goal as they open their season at home for the first time, before Sporting
gets a second-half equalizer. I’ll be generous and predict that’s
all they get.

Union 1, Sporting K.C. 1

BONUS Prediction Sure to be Way Off:

It’s hard to know what to expect from this team.
I think they will be more cohesive and more offensive-minded, but Hackworth
must find a semi-regular lineup he can count on.

I predict 47 points and at least a chance at a playoff
berth as October nears.

In these parts, that might be seen as something to
build on.

Follow Steve Moore on Twitter @smoore1117.

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

Sixers-Warriors 5 things: At home, can Sixers hang with NBA's best again?

The Sixers (22-36) host the NBA-best Golden State Warriors (49-9) at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Bummer at the buzzer
Apparently one good last-second shot deserves another.

The Sixers stormed back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Saturday. Jahlil Okafor capped off his monster night with what appeared to be the game-winner at the time when he scored in the lane with nine seconds remaining.

That was until Carmelo Anthony drained a clutch jumper over Robert Covington with 0.3 ticks left on the clock to give the Knicks a 110-109 victory. Call it payback for T.J. McConnell's buzzer-beater against New York last month.

While the Sixers didn't get the win, they had to be pleased with some of the efforts they received on the second night of a back-to-back set. 

Okafor finished with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Dario Saric added 19 points and 15 boards.

2. So much splashing
The Sixers will need those type of performances and then some if they hope to keep up with this potent Warriors team.

In case you've been lost at sea since the summer, former league MVP Kevin Durant bolted Oklahoma City for Golden State in free agency to turn the "Splash Brothers" of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson into an entire splash family.

Already dominant offensively, the Warriors have been even better this season with Durant. They rank No. 1 in a slew of offensive categories, including points per game (118.2), field goal percentage (50.0), assists per game (31.0), fastbreak points per game (23.5), offensive rating (114.1) and true shooting percentage (60.4).

If that weren't enough, Durant's length has also impacted the Warriors' defense too. They are first in the league in steals (9.6), blocks (6.7) and points off turnovers (19.2) per game.

Simply put, the Warriors are scary good. 

3. The wild card
Every family has that one person that you're just not sure about at times. They can make gatherings the best night ever or a downright miserable experience.

Enter Draymond Green. 

Green has been on the miserable side of the Warriors' gatherings lately. He shot 1 of 10 for five points and was benched for long stretches in Golden State's win over Brooklyn on Saturday. In the game prior to that against the L.A. Clippers, he picked up a technical foul, trash talked Paul Pierce and went to his preferred kick move on Blake Griffin.

Overall, Green has been his usual solid self on the court. He's averaging 10.0 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists a night while providing lockdown defense.

The Sixers are fully aware of Green's versatility. The veteran forward averaged a triple-double against them in the two meetings last season with 11.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists.

It will be interesting to see Green lock horns all game with the surging Saric.

4. Injuries
Joel Embiid (knee), Tiago Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Warriors have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost six straight games to the Warriors.

• With their 112-95 win over the Nets on Saturday, the Warriors became the first team to clinch a playoff berth. It marked the earliest a team has clinched a postseason spot since the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.

• Covington is averaging 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in February.

• Thompson averaged 36.0 points on 54.7 percent shooting from the field and 45.8 percent from three-point range against the Sixers last season.

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning suspended 2 games for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning was suspended two games for his illegal hit to Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel during Saturday's 4-2 loss in the Stadium Series game at Heinz Field.
 
Manning's shoulder made contact with Guentzel's head.
 
Manning wasn't surprised and even admitted to reporters that he fully expected "one or two" games because he hit a player who didn't have control of the puck yet.
 
Strangely, there was no penalty on the play for interference, yet the NHL's explanation on Monday afternoon specifically cited "interference" as the reason for the suspension.
 
This is Manning's first NHL suspension.
 
The hearing was conducted on the phone Monday with Stephane Quintal, senior vice-president of NHL Player Safety. Manning will forfeit $10,833.34 in salary.
 
"It was late," Manning said of the hit. "He didn't touch the puck after it hit his skate. Which I thought he was going to do. They do their whole breakdown by time frame."
 
Manning said he caught Guentzel's shoulder first, then his head "on the follow through" because Guentzel is shorter than him.  The 6-foot-1 Manning has two inches on Guentzel.
 
Guentzel, who had two assists in the game, was not injured.
 
"Looking at it, [the hit] is a little late," Manning admitted. "I thought he was going to touch the puck. Usually, when a puck hits your skate, you pick it up, and he kinda left it ... The hard part is, there was no penalty called on it."
 
Manning said he had to make a hit or face an odd-man rush.
 
"There were two players there and if I don't play my guy there, it’s a 3-on-1 the other way," he said. "You're giving up scoring chances. Fortunately, he wasn't hurt. He finished the game and that's always the good thing."
 
Mark Streit, sitting on the bench at the time, said he saw the hit and was shocked at the suspension.
 
"It was a great hit," Streit said. "You look at the replay and everything looks different. You can slow down every hit and talk about it. I guess it was a little late …"
 
Manning's suspension likely means Michael Del Zotto will play against Colorado on Tuesday.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Manning has been a "solid piece" for the club this season.
 
"He brings that physical edge, he's been reliable, and he's been a staple for our lineup," Hakstol said. "That's a hole we'll have to fill over next couple of games here."
 
Manning will also miss Thursday's game against Florida.