New York City FC -- Another (Richer) New York Rival for the Union

New York City FC -- Another (Richer) New York Rival for the Union

I had originally planned something for today about the Union's 1-0 victory last weekend and HUGE game in Montreal this coming weekend. But that can wait a day or two.

Today's big Major League Soccer news is all about New York -- because when are things not about New York?

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The league announced Tuesday that English Premier League moneybags (and this writer's preferred EPL club) Manchester City are teaming up with the New York Yankees (yes, the Yankees) to own Major League Soccer's 20th team. The team will begin play in 2015. Where they will play is still unknown, although it appears an area near City Field and Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing is the leading candidate. They'll start in a temporary home, which could possibly be Yankee Stadium.

Casual Union fans might be wondering why a league with only 19 teams (now 20) would add a second New York team before the list of other interested cities -- including Miami, Orlando, San Antonio and St. Louis, among others mentioned across the interwebs.

The answer is simple. New York City FC (please don't try to be called just "City") is the first New York MLS team.

Now that doesn't mean the Don't-Call-Me-New Jersey Red Bulls can't be a success (they are decidedly not, right now). They have money, they have the backing of a hugely successful company, and they have what is arguably the best soccer stadium in America. They also have a huge audience nearby in central and northern New Jersey to cater to.

But the Red Bulls have never attracted the attention of the glamorous, Upper West Side audience they seem to need in order to feel special. Not even the arrivals of high-priced stars like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have changed that perception.

The Red Bulls' attendance so far in 2013 is slightly down from 2012 (better-attended summer dates are still to come), although it's safe to safe the butts-in-seats number is nowhere near the current "paid" attendance average of 17,053.

A trip from Manhattan to Red Bull Arena takes 25 minutes by Google Map, 70 minutes by Google Transit, and a lifetime in non-Google reality. Even without a traffic catastrophe, it would be faster to drive from Center City Philadelphia to Red Bull Arena than for a soccer mom to drive there from Long Island. Add gas, parking, Hudson River tolls (which I think are $46 and a first-born at this point) and the chance to spend a day in lovely Harrison, N.J., and the Red Bulls are never going to get the crowd they think they deserve.

And that's just fine -- but only if the Red Bulls put away their ego. There are PLENTY of soccer fans in central and north Jersey, and the greater New York area is plenty large enough for two teams. NYCFC (little clunky acronym, no?) does not necessarily spell doom for the Red Bulls. But without a change of mindset, it might.

What does NYCFC mean for Union fans? Nothing but good things.

Aside from an excuse for a fun road trip weekend into the Big Apple, nothing bad can come from another driveable/transitable local rival. Games at PPL are more fun when the visiting fan section is full, and the Manchester City bank vault (which makes the Yankees look like hobos, by the way) can only serve to bring more big-name stars into the league.

People like to argue that the "rich" clubs in MLS are driving us closer to repeating the history of the North American Soccer League, where a few big-money teams drove the rest of the league into the ground. MLS is established. 20 teams, most with their own stadiums, and a single-entity structure, where, in its simplest terms, the entire league technically owns the rights to and signs the paychecks of every player.

So if you're a New York Red Bulls fan (where are you, first of all?), you might want to be a little bit worried about your new not-so-nearby-neighbor.

If you're a fan of the Union or any other MLS team, the biggest problem with New York City F.C. is that you might see John Rocker on the 7 Train to Flushing.

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

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The Associated Press

Phillies' clubhouse reflects on life of Marlins' Jose Fernandez

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worse shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worse shutout loss in modern era to Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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