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.

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

MLB Notes: Aroldis Chapman rejoins Yankees on 5-year, $86 million deal

OXON HILL, Md. -- Aroldis Chapman found a spot in a most familiar bullpen -- a very rich spot, too.

The hard-throwing closer reached agreement to return to the New York Yankees on Wednesday night with the highest-priced contract ever for a relief pitcher, an $86 million deal for five years.

A person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that the contract was pending a physical. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet complete.

Once it's done, the 28-year-old lefty whose fastballs routinely top 100 mph would shatter the previous richest contract for a reliever -- that was the $62 million, four-year deal Mark Melancon signed with San Francisco just a couple days ago during the winter meetings.

Chapman was acquired by New York from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, then missed the first 29 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension from Major League Baseball. The Cuban was traded to the Chicago Cubs in late July and helped them win the World Series, becoming a free agent when it was over.

Chapman went 4-1 with 36 saves and a 1.55 ERA in a combined 59 games for the Yankees and Cubs. He struggled some in the postseason as the Cubs beat Cleveland for their first championship since 1908.

With the Yankees this season, Chapman teamed with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in one of the most dominant bullpens in baseball history. Miller was later traded to Cleveland, but Betances is still with New York.

Earlier this week, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team was interested in both Chapman and fellow free agent closer Kenley Jansen. The Yankees had already made one deal at these meetings, signing slugger Matt Holliday, before paying a lot more to bring Chapman back to the Bronx.

Fox Sports first reported the agreement.

Rangers: Gomez reaches deal to stay with team
OXON HILL, Md. -- Carlos Gomez is staying with the Texas Rangers.

The outfielder agreed to an $11.5 million, one-year contract, a deal subject to a successful physical.

"Many of the objectives of the Rangers for Carlos go beyond one year," his agent, Scott Boras, said Wednesday. "Certainly Carlos really enjoyed the team and the environment and feels he's got a great chance to win. So I think both parties' objectives were met by that deal."

Gomez, who turned 31 last weekend, figures to play center as general manager Jon Daniels structured an outfield that includes Shin-Soo Choo in right and Nomar Mazara in left. Ian Desmond left Wednesday for a $70 million, five-year deal with Colorado.

Gomez batted just .210 with five homers in 85 games this year for Houston and was released by the Astros in August. He signed with Texas and hit .284 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 33 games. An All-Star in 2013 and '14 with Milwaukee, Gomez has a .257 average and 116 home runs in 10 big league seasons.

"J.D. was very clear from the onset about them wanting Carlos back, and we've had communication since the season's end to pursue that," Boras said. "So it was something in our minds and in their minds. It was just a constant dialogue."

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Red Sox: Sale not worried about being ace
BOSTON -- New Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale says he isn't worried that he might not be the ace of the pitching staff after being traded from the White Sox to Boston.

The 27-year-old lefty told reporters on Wednesday, "We play for a trophy, not a tag."

Sale was traded to the Red Sox on Tuesday at the baseball winter meetings. He was the top starting pitcher on the market, and the Red Sox gave up touted prospect Yoan Moncada as part of a package to land him.

Sale has been an All-Star for five straight seasons and finished in the top six of the Cy Young Award voting each time. He joins a staff that already includes 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and '12 winner David Price (see full story).

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

Best of NBA: Cavs ride Big 3 to huge win over Knicks at MSG

NEW YORK -- LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also surpassed 20, and the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the New York Knicks 126-94 on Wednesday night.

James had nothing to say Wednesday morning about Knicks President Phil Jackson and not much more about his decision to not stay with the team in a Donald Trump-branded hotel, but he and the Cavs made a loud statement at Madison Square Garden.

It was their second straight win after a three-game skid, and they did it easily in handing the Knicks their worst loss of the season. Irving led Cleveland with 28 points and Love scored 21, 16 in the first quarter.

Brandon Jennings scored 16 points for the Knicks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the just the third time in 10 games. He started for Derrick Rose, who missed his first game of the season with lower back pain.

Tristan Thompson grabbed 20 rebounds for the Cavs. They played without guard J.R. Smith, who returned to Cleveland for additional testing after hyperextending his left knee Monday in Toronto (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo drops triple-double in Bucks’ win
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo got his second triple-double of the season to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Portland Trail Blazers 115-107 on Wednesday night.

Antetokounmpo had 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his seventh career triple-double -- second-most in franchise history -- and is the only NBA player averaging at least 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals this season.

Jabari Parker added 27 points for Milwaukee, which rebounded from a one-point home loss to San Antonio on Monday to win for the fifth time in six games.

The Bucks entered holding opponents to a NBA-best .311 shooting percentage from 3-point range, but Portland drill a season-high 17 of them.

Damian Lillard made five of them and scored a team-high 30 points to go with seven rebounds and six assists.

C.J. McCollum added 23 points, including four 3-pointers, as the Blazers continued a nine-game stretch of playing eight times on the road (see full recap).

Streaking Rockets roll over Lakers
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon made a career-high eight 3-points and scored 26 points to help the Houston Rockets cruise to a 134-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

James Harden added 25 points in three quarters for the Rockets. They scored a season high and extended their winning streak to a season-best four games.

The Rockets were up by 12 in the third quarter, then had a 22-6 run to make it 96-68 and put the game out of reach with about 3 minutes left in the quarter. Houston made four 3-pointers and got a nifty one-handed dunk from Clint Capela in that run to pad the lead.

Gordon already had four 3-pointers seven minutes into the first quarter after making each of his first four attempts. It was his seventh straight game with at least four 3-pointers, which is a franchise record.

Houston's winning streak is its longest since taking five straight in January.

Lou Williams led the Lakers with 24 points. They have lost four in a row, their longest skid of the season (see full recap).