PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

PPL North: Union Close Out the Regular Season in U York

A perfect storm of soccer story lines will converge at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey tonight as the Union face the New York Red Bulls (8PM/ESPN2).

Playoff spots, playoff positioning, a suspended superstar, a heated regional rivalry, and ESPN's cameras combine to make this must watch TV.

Oh, and the plot is thickened considerably thanks to the potential 1,000 Union fans who are making the trip up I-95. No, that’s not a typo. Early indications are that between 750-1,000 Union supporters will be there tonight.

Quick tangent - it's phenomenal for the league that so many Union fans are traveling to the game. I want to say it was Sir Alex Ferguson who pointed out during one of Manchester United's trips to the U.S. that one of the challenges MLS faces is the sheer size of the United States.

What did he mean by that? If you're a Tottenham fan living in London, you can hop on a train to Manchester to see Spurs play Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in about two hours. That's the case pretty much across the board in the Premier League. It's easy to travel to away games.

Here? Not so much. I don’t know too many fans who are willing or able to travel from Philly to Portland to see the Union play the Timbers. A regional rivalry is one of the great things about sports. The league and the game need these sort of rivalries to thrive, which makes the fact that an estimated 1,000 Union fans are going to wreak havoc tonight all the more fantastic.

Ok, tangent over.

So, what's on the line tonight? Win, and the Red Bulls are in. Lose, and New York will need some help. You know there's nothing Union fans would like more than to deliver a near-fatal blow to New York's playoff chances.

The Union clinched a playoff spot by virtue of their tie with Toronto on Saturday. They can take a step towards clinching first place in the East with a win.

The second step towards clinching the East is contingent upon what happens with Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. If the Union win tonight, and SKC ties or loses on Saturday against D.C. United, then the Union win the East.

If the two teams end up tied in points then the first tie-breaker is goal differential (both teams have a +9 differential right now), followed by total goals scored (SKY has scored 49 goals to the Union’s 44).

Ok, so the actual on the field stuff? Right. Red Bulls leading scorer Thierry Henry will miss the game due to a red card suspension. New York will obviously miss Henry, but they boast a number of other dangerous goal scoring threats.

Luke Rodgers has scored 9 goals, Joel Lindpere has 7, Dane Richards 6, and Juan Agudelo, who will likely start in place of Henry, also has 6. NYRB is tied with SKC for second in MLS in goals for with 49 (Seattle is first with 53).

On the flipside, New York is vulnerable defensively. Look no further than the game these two teams played earlier in the season when New York center back Tim Ream played an atrocious ball right to Union forward Danny Mwanga. Mwanga simply found and fed Roger Torres the ball for the only goal of the game.

Between Ream's shakiness, and Rafa Marquez' complaining about the quality of his teammates, the NY back line is a bit of a mess right now.

Another Red Bull weakness is their inability to defend set pieces. The Red Bulls have conceded 10 goals from corner kicks this season, most in MLS. Sixteen of the 44 goals allowed by the Red Bulls have come directly from set pieces, also the most in the league.

The Union simply need to continue what they've been doing. They are unbeaten over the their last eight. They welcomed Faryd Mondragon back into the lineup Saturday against Toronto. Aside from Veljko Paunovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury, they are healthy. Things are coming together at the right time.

Aside from perhaps protecting Sebastien Le Toux down the stretch of this game, I cannot imagine Peter Nowak changes much in terms of his approach. Make no mistake, the Union want to win this game. The fact remains that they can still finish anywhere from first to fourth in the East.

They desperately want to avoid falling the fourth, where they'd be forced to play a wildcard playoff game against a Western Conference opponent.

Yeah, so there's a lot on the line tonight.

Lineup I'd Like to See Tonight: Mondragon, Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Sheanon Williams, Brian Carroll, Amobi Okugo, Freddy Adu, Michael Farfan Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga.

Final Score Prediction: I am basing my prediction on nothing other than the fact New York seems to be a cursed organization. They've been in MLS since its inception, and have failed to win a trophy (be it an MLS Cup, or a US Open Cup). If something can go wrong, it will. With that in mind, I like a goal at the death by 75th minute substitute Jack McInerney to crush the Red Bulls playoff chances. Union win it 2-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Player Most Likely to See Red: I am going with a big fan N/A tonight. If anything, I'll predict Luke Rodgers gets sent off, if for no other reason than karma's a bitch.

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

NBA Playoffs: Warriors sweep their way to 3rd straight NBA Finals

BOX SCORE

SAN ANTONIO -- Stephen Curry scored 36 points as the Golden State Warriors closed out the Western Conference Final against the injury-ravaged San Antonio Spurs with a 129-115 victory Monday night, becoming the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0.

Golden State led by as many as 22 points in cruising to its third straight NBA Finals. The Warriors await a possible third straight championship matchup with Cleveland, which leads Boston 2-1 in the East finals.

"It's great to be one of the last two teams standing, we'll see how it goes," said Kevin Durant, who had 29 points and 12 rebounds.

San Antonio's only lead came on the opening possession when Manu Ginobili tossed in a left-handed scoop shot. The Spurs started Ginobili in what could be his final game with the team. The 39-year-old had maintained he will not ponder whether to retire or return until after the season.

Unsure if the beloved veteran will return, the crowd serenaded Ginobili with "Manu, Manu" chants as the game came to a close.

"An amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him," Durant said of Ginobili. "He was phenomenal this series."

Kyle Anderson scored 20 points to lead the Spurs, who were without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and David Lee. San Antonio didn't go down without a fight despite the injuries.

Anderson dove on the court for a loose ball that the Spurs had tipped away defensively, pushing the ball upcourt to Patty Mills who fed Ginobili for a 3-pointer that pulled San Antonio to 108-94 with 7 minutes remaining.

The effort made Spurs coach Gregg Popovich smile and clap at times, but the Warriors' depth and talent proved too much for short-handed San Antonio.

Golden State shot 56 percent and were 14 for 39 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had 16 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for the Warriors.

Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge closed out a disappointing series with his second eight-point effort against the Warriors.

Ginobili finished with 15 points in 32 minutes.

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

Phillies held to 3 hits again, pounded by Rockies in return home

BOX SCORE

The loudest noise made by the Phillies' offense on Monday night was the thud — clearly audible above the small crowd — that Odubel Herrera created when he smashed his batting helmet on the dirt infield after grounding out to third base to end the seventh inning.

Herrera's frustration spoke for an entire team. The Phillies were hammered, 8-1, by the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay). They were out-hit, 13-3. The loss was the Phils' 18th in the last 22 games and they have been outscored 126-89 over that span.

The loss left the Phils at 15-27 for the season, matching their worst 42-game start since 2000 when they finished 65-97 in front of tiny crowds at Veterans Stadium in Terry Francona's last season as skipper.

Over the last two games, both losses, the Phils have just six hits.

"Three hits today, three hits yesterday," manager Pete Mackanin said. "You're not going to win a lot of games getting three hits."

Aaron Altherr had two of the Phillies' hits, both doubles against Colorado rookie Jeff Hoffman, who was very impressive with seven walk-free innings and seven strikeouts.

Herrera went hitless in three at-bats and is hitting just .200 in the month of May and .232 overall -- not what the front office expected when it signed him to a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension in the offseason.

"It's very frustrating because I feel like I am being selective and waiting for my pitch, but when I make contact things don't happen," Herrera said. "I feel like I'm swinging the bat well, but I'm just missing."

Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff gave up nine hits, seven of which were singles, and four runs over six innings. Four of the hits that Eickhoff allowed came in the third inning when the Rockies scored three times. Two of the runs scored on a flare double and the other on a groundball through a drawn-in infield.

"I executed a lot of good pitches," Eickhoff said. "I got a lot of the contact I wanted. The ball just didn't land in the gloves."

Eickhoff did not walk a batter. He struck out four.

Despite being 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA in nine starts, the right-hander believes he has made strides his last two outings. He gave up three runs (two earned) over six innings in his previous outing at Texas. Prior to that start, he worked on fixing a mechanical flaw in his delivery.

"These past two have been night-and-day different," he said. "I felt great today in and in Texas and I'm going to keep that positivity going."

Finding other things to be positive about with this team is becoming difficult.

This Phillies team was not expected to contend; it is still in a rebuild. But things weren't supposed to be this bad, either.

"I’ll tell you what, I’m getting frustrated, too," general manager Matt Klentak said before the game. "This team is better … There is more talent on this team than we’ve shown in terms of our record.

"We’ll pull out of it. We will. That’s what talented players will do. I’m not going to tell the fans they shouldn’t be frustrated. We’ve gone through a tough stretch.

"But I’m not ready to call it regression. I think there’s been a lack of consistency on our team in general, with some players more than others. There’s been a lack of consistency, but especially for young players, two months is a relatively small sample size to categorize it as regression."

At 29-17, the Rockies have the best record in the National League. They have 16 road wins, which is one more than the Phillies have overall. The Rockies are in town for three more days. This ugly start could get even uglier.