Union Dominate New England, Who Remind Us How Good We Have It

Union Dominate New England, Who Remind Us How Good We Have It

The Union ended their long road swing with a 3-0 throttling of a struggling New England Revolution club at Gillette Stadium. The U came out firing and controlled the run of play throughout the first half, beginning with some attacking waves that would earn them a lead they'd hold throughout.

Carlos Ruiz opened the scoring, notching his team-leading sixth goal. His finish was athletic and praiseworthy, but Justin Mapp and Keon Daniel deserve their share of the credit on this one:

Mapp was marked well just outside the box and forced to go to his right foot, yet still put it right on target. Keon was in perfect place to head it back to Ruiz, who went up to get it, yet kept it under the crossbar. El Pescadito played hard early, and it bothered the Revolution, who ran at him a few times yet didn't slow him down at all. More on that in a bit.

While it was Ruiz's 88th career goal, both Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams opened their MLS accounts to round out the Union scoring. Full video highlights and a look at the current differences between the Union and the Revolution, whose fans walked out of the game, below.

The Union's second goal came on a set piece where Kyle Nakazawa drilled a perfect ball, Sebastien Le Toux headed down it to Valdes, who buried it from close range.

Look familiar? Great thinking by Le Toux to set up Valdes rather than try to turn it in. Despite being desperate for a goal of his own, Seba was unselfish, and the team went up 2-0 as a result. His 7 assists are tied for third in the MLS.

The Union owned the first half, playing with as much control as we've ever seen from them. The broadcast team of JP DellaCamera, Taylor Twellman, and Bob Rigby all agreed it was their best 45 minutes of the season, even better than their 3-0 first half en route to a 6-2 win over Toronto FC in late May.

In the win over Toronto, the Union conceded two quick goals coming out of the half. On Sunday, the Revs also had a little more fire in the latter 45, generating a few good chances, but they never soiled Faryd Mondragon's clean sheet.

The U kept the pressure on with their second half subs, including an energy injection in the form of birthday boy Danny Mwanga. They played somewhat conservatively late to preserve a lead that was well in hand, yet didn't stop making opportunistic runs. Williams' goal even came in extra time, a great moment for the Boston native.

THE FORT IS ON FIRE
The situation in New England is bleak, and last night their supporters walked out of the game in a statement of their dissatisfaction with ownership. From a joint supporters group statement:

For purposes of the Revolution vs. Union match, supporters in The Fort will protest by wearing black while refraining from standing, chanting, singing, waving flags or drumming for the first fifteen minutes of the match. The protest will conclude in the 16th minute with supporters walking out of the stadium for the remainder of the match, this in recognition of 16 seasons of (as yet) unresolved issues between fans and the Revolution organization.

The whole post and letter linked above is worth a read. Here's video of the walkout (in the background, across the corner):
Not quite the effect of how it might look and sound if the entire River End emptied out, but a statement nonetheless of the situation up there.

I personally haven't joined in the spirit of the Defend The Fort movement, which has taken root in the Sons of Ben as well, including a recent minute of silence at PPL Park (which showed that if the River End is silent, the stadium is a whole different place). Mostly this is because I don't have much interest in getting involved in what goes on between a rival fanbase and its team ownership, particularly over something kind of dumb (a lot of the current strife has to do with fans clashing with cops/security over the "YSA" chant that both the Union and the SoBs are trying to get rid of at PPL Park, although the battle has deeper roots than that).

If it were happening here, with the Union's ownership, I might feel differently. But I'm not going to get too caught up in it when our own gameday experience is so good.

Despite their being a rival though, I do wish things were different in New England. It's not the same as say, if Mets or even Patriots fans were mad at their owners because they'd set the cops on them for cursing in the stands. While on the surface it can be kind of amusing, fans who want soccer and the MLS to continue to grow in the US know it's important for strong fanbases to thrive in MLS markets, particularly those as big as New England. Nothing looks to be going particularly well in New England though, from the relationship of the ownership and its fans to the play on the field.

Aside: Speaking of their poor on-field product, Benny Feilhaber was a joke last night. His overt lack of discipline netted him a pair of yellow cards and the customary early exit that comes with them.

Now we all know Ruiz can flop, but Feilhaber clearly came at him late and basically put a body check on him. Then he petulantly complained as if he hadn't touched him at all. In stark contrast, Union captain Mondragon came across midfield to get his players out of any fracas that might result in a booking.

For the most part, it was easy just to focus on the great effort of the Union on the field. But it was also a good opportunity to take a bird's eye view and see that we have it really good in Philly and Chester so far. The Union are atop the table in mid-July of their second season, already a legitimate title contender. PPL Park is packed. Key members of the Union front office, including Peter Nowak, played in a friendly against key members of the Sons of Ben last week on the pitch at PPL. We're not stuck in a tarp-covered football stadium watching a game on a truncated astroturf surface and feeling the need to walk out for a variety of long-term reasons and a few new sensitive situations.

All is very well, and that's before we even get to the two high-profile international friendlies at home this week, followed by our first ever run at the playoffs. First, Everton comes to PPL Park on Wednesday, then Real Madrid visits Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. Then it's back to the quest for the MLS Cup. This is far more than I expected to happen here so soon. 

FULL VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Photo via the Union's Facebook page.

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

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Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

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Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.