Show Me Something: After 4 years, Union have 17 home games to convince masses to pay attention

Show Me Something: After 4 years, Union have 17 home games to convince masses to pay attention

Sebastien Le Toux, left, and the Union welcome the New England Revolution to town Saturday afternoon (AP Photo)

Last Saturday night, after the Union's 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers, I got a text from a co-worker friend of mine.

Now, this friend is a huge soccer-head. He not only has multiple Liverpool jerseys and listens to multiple Liverpool podcasts (and somehow understands the ridiculous "Scouser" accent), he manually keeps stats in an Excel spreadsheet for a fantasy English Premier League with some friends.

Despite all of those shortcomings, he has never been to an MLS game, and I'm not sure he had ever watched one from beginning to end on TV. He's not an out-and-out soccer snob, like many who turn their noses up at MLS, but says he's just never felt invested in a team or the league or any players.

His text read: "I watched ... I'm in on the Union finally. I saw enough quality for me to buy in, which is good news for next week."

"Good news" since he's tagging along to PPL Park on Saturday as the Union open their home schedule against the New England Revolution (4 p.m. - Comcast SportsNet).

My friend is a perfect example of MLS's largest target audience. But he's also the reason why this season is so critical for the Union, not so much as it amounts to wins and losses, but as it relates to butts in seats and eyeballs on TV.

While I would put the PPL Park match day experience on par with any team in the city, the "Have you been to a Union game yet?" allure is wearing off after four seasons.

That season ticket waiting list the team loved to tout in 2010 and 2011 has disappeared. There are still (a few) tickets available for Saturday's home opener. Season ticket holders this season were enticed with the offer of free parking for the ENTIRE SEASON, which is not a throwaway promotion by any stretch (a season parking pass has a face value north of $300).

I've met plenty of people in the stands who never watched a soccer game before 2010, and still don't know what color Liverpool wears. They love the tailgate scene, the stadium atmosphere, and the affordable season tickets. They'll likely be back (with their favorite local tailgating brews).

There are plenty of people like me who have jumped in with both feet and will likely hang around no matter what happens (to a fault, if it gets that bad).

But my friend is one of the countless people in the greater Philadelphia area (me included) who wakes up early on weekends to watch games between teams they've never seen in person.  These are the people MLS is now marketing to, and the people the Union may lose forever if they turn in a disappointing season.

Whether these people believe that they can't "dumb-down" to an inferior product, or they already have too much emotionally invested in their favorite EPL team is beside the point. The Union don't need to win the MLS Cup this year (though it'd help). They don't even need to send 5 guys to the All-Star Game or win a trophy.

What they do need to do is play an attractive, entertaining and exciting style. They need to show skill beyond the "MLS Standard" and do more than just hang on for 0-0 home draws. They need character, personality and players who are easy to like (something they're already excelling in, based solely on Maurice Edu's Twitter account and Cristian "Chaco" Maidana's Instagram account).

I'm not saying the Union need to jazz up their play at the expense of wins. Philly loves a winner, and if this team wins, people will pay attention. And you're never ever going to convince the ever-dwindling "Soccer is so stupid, there's no scoring!" crowd. MLS thankfully gave up on that a long time ago.

But my friend -- and many others like him -- may only give the Union one or two chances.  He's remarked to me in the past that he was a little turned off by what he felt was a "Look, we have a team, isn't that great?" attitude from the Union front office. And for most of the Union's four years of existence, he wasn't wrong.

But in the past four moths, the front office has pushed its chips to the center of the table with big names, flashy talents, and a full season to build chemistry. Now it's time to see if the payout comes.

Win some games, entertain the masses, and keep providing the best game day experience in town. Then you'll have people lining up to pay $20/game for parking.

...check back tomorrow for more on the home opener and enjoy a beer while you're waiting

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian police charged American swimmer Ryan Lochte on Thursday with filing a false robbery report over an incident during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A police statement said Lochte would be informed in the United States so he could decide whether to introduce a defense in Brazil.

The indictment will also be sent to the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission, the statement said.

The swimmer's publicists and his lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, did not immediately respond to calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Lochte initially said that he and fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi by men with a police badge as they returned to the Olympic Village from a party Aug. 15. However, security video suggested the four actually faced security guards after vandalizing a gas station restroom.

Lochte left Brazil shortly after the incident. Three days later, local authorities took Conger and Bentz off an airliner heading to the United States so they could be questioned about the robbery claim. They were later allowed to leave Brazil, as was Feigen, after he gave testimony. Feigen, who initially stood by Lochte's testimony, was not charged.

Lochte has since acknowledged that he was highly intoxicated and that his behavior led to the confrontation. It is not clear from the video whether a gun was ever pointed to the athletes.

Under Brazilian law, the penalty for falsely filing a crime report carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison. Lochte could be tried in absentia if he didn't return to face the charge.

The United States and Brazil have an extradition treaty dating back to the 1960s, but Brazil has a long history of not extraditing its own citizens to other nations and U.S. authorities could take the same stance if Lochte is found guilty.

That is currently the case of the head of Brazil's football confederation, Marco Polo del Nero, who faces charges in the wide-ranging scandal entangling international soccer's ruling body, FIFA. He has not travelled outside Brazil for more than a year to avoid being arrested by U.S. authorities somewhere else.

The charges in Brazil raise questions about the future for Lochte, who is planning to take time off from swimming but wants to return to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He has 12 Olympic medals, second only to Michael Phelps among U.S. male Olympians.

Lochte lost four major sponsors early this week over the controversy, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren. But on Thursday he picked up a new sponsor -- Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops. Pine Bros. said people should be more understanding of the swimmer and said he will appear in ads that say the company's product is "Forgiving On Your Throat."

There aren't enough Chooch pillows for every Philadelphian

chooch-pillow.jpg

There aren't enough Chooch pillows for every Philadelphian

Carlos Ruiz has been traded to the Dodgers and it is sad.

Not in the sense that it's a move that remotely affects anything about the current state of the Phillies. It's sad simply because Chooch -- lovable and awesome and wonderful Chooch -- is no longer a Phillie.

Chooch will be remembered for catching Roy Halladay's perfect game and no hitter and that little dribbler down the line in Game 3 of the 2008 World Series. And, of course, dropping to his knees in celebration with Brad Lidge making them World Effin Champions.

But mostly he'll just be missed. What a guy to have aroud for so long.

Roy knows how hard it is not to have him around. I guess Chase won't need his any longer since the two will be reunined with one last chance of glory in L.A.

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Jimmy Rollins. Then Chase Utley. Now Carlos Ruiz.

Thursday closed another chapter of the Phillies' golden era.

Ruiz, the Phillies' catcher since 2006 and arguably the most impactful in franchise history, has been traded to the Dodgers (along with cash) for catcher A.J. Ellis, right-hander Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later.

Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers in December 2014. Utley, still with Los Angeles, was traded to the Dodgers in August 2015.

Ryan Howard is now the lone leftover from the Phillies' 2008 world champion club.

In 11 big-league seasons — all with the Phillies — Ruiz has hit .266 with a .352 on-base percentage and has been lauded for his game-calling abilities. This season, the 37-year-old is batting .261 with a .368 OBP, three home runs and 12 RBIs in a reserve role. Ruiz joined the Phillies' organization in 1998 when the team signed him as an amateur free agent. In 2016, he was playing out his final season in red pinstripes, the final year of a three-year, $26 million deal.

"I met Chooch in 2009 for the first time and immediately sensed that he was a special player," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "But more importantly, over the years I grew to know that he is a special person. I'll miss him."

Ruiz has caught the fourth-most games in Phillies history with 1,029, behind only Mike Lieberthal (1,139), Red Dooin (1,124) and Bob Boone (1,094).

"Carlos not only was — and is — a good teammate, he [also] learned how to become the leader he needed to be behind the plate running a pitching staff," former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer said. "As a teammate, he always had that Ruiz smile that we all have come to love!"

Ruiz caught Cole Hamels' no-hitter in July of last season, marking the catcher's fourth no-no behind the plate, tying him for most in MLB history with Jason Varitek.

"He’s a tremendous catcher and it just shows," Hamels said after no-hitting the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 25. "If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be catching this many no-hitter, perfect games. All of us have been fortunate enough to have him."

The Panama native, beloved and known by the Delaware Valley as "Chooch," quickly became a fan favorite. He was the staple behind home plate of the team's five-year run from 2007-11, in which it won five National League East titles, two NL pennants and, of course, the World Series championship in 2008.

"They are my favorite fans in the world," Ruiz said in February, "and we have some good memories together."

And many of them.

He became Roy Halladay's all-time favorite battery mate, catching the right-hander's perfect game and postseason no-hitter in 2010.

He played a career-high 132 games in 2011, while handling the Phillies' vaunted rotation en route to a franchise-record 102 wins.

He put together an All-Star season in 2012, hitting .325 with a .394 OBP, 16 homers and 68 RBIs.

The most cherished, though, came on the chilly night of October 29, 2008 — being under the dogpile on the Citizens Bank Park infield after catching Brad Lidge's World Series-winning strikeout.