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.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).