Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

The Philadelphia Union are set to open their third season this afternoon, hosting the Colorado Rapids in a 4PM start. The faithful are preparing their tailgating gear or already on their way to Lot A or B, depending on how banged up they got celebrating a certain saint's feast day.
Rev has an in-depth preview of today's on-field action, and here are five parts of the fan experience we're looking forward to as the home schedule begins. 
5. Meet the New Kids
If there's one thing we've learned in our two seasons of MLS fandom, it's that we probably shouldn't get terribly used to the idea of individual players being around forever. MLS rosters endure a lot of turnover, and as we saw this off-season, it's not just the scrubs or mid-level players who come and go. 
This isn't strictly an MLS or Union thing, but the player shelf lives seem more transient because we know so little of them coming in (if anything), and there's not much time to get to know them before they're headed out in some cases. We did just have a clear example of what we might expect from a local team making some significant personnel changes though. Before the Flyers began their current season, no one had any idea what to expect from this year's team. Many of the guys we knew were gone. They weren't particularly old, but they were replaced by even younger players in most cases. So far, few would argue that the team has disappointed compared to last season's iteration. 
Will the same be true of the Union after allowing captain and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon head home and trading face of the franchise Sebastien Le Toux against his (and the fans') wishes? It's impossible to say at this point. There are signs the team could be more versatile and better built for the long-term, but also indications that long-term growth could come at the expense of contention this season. As we saw on Monday, there will be growing pains as this group gets to know each other. 
For now, as fans, it's time to turn the page and get to know the new guys and the players who will get more PT as a result of the roster changes. 

4. The MLS All-Star Game Comes to Chester
Growing up just outside of Chester and playing soccer as a young Delco kid, I never once imagined a soccer-specific stadium sitting beneath the Commodore Barry Bridge. Now, we drive down Kerlin Street every other week to the greenest patch of grass for miles. Because of the reception the MLS has received in the Philadelphia area since before they hung their shingle, the league has already awarded PPL Park an All-Star Game. We don't yet know what the sides will be, but we know that the league's focus will be on PPL Park this July 25 at 8PM. 
It's a telling acknowledgement of the fans and the franchise by a league looking to replicate this success in future expansion cities, as well as current MLS cities with weak or waning support and no soccer-specific stadium. 

3. Tailgating (and a note on parking changes)
The Union's schedule is mercifully weekend-heavy, making tailgating in the lots adjacent to the stadium ideal for us working stiffs. A change in the way parking is handled for 2012 could pose some challenges, with Lots A and B now reserved for only season-ticket holders who have requested and paid for full-season parking passes. The change here is that you can no longer park in these lots on a game-by-game cash basis. So, if you're a Lot A or B group, your friends without season tickets will have to park in Lot C, which is the southernmost lot and quite a hike from Lot A if they want to walk down and join you. 
The Union had to limit access to Lots A and B because demand from season ticket holders was high (season passes for them are sold out). As a Lot A resident, I can understand that. We would have been pretty upset if we weren't able to get our Lot A request filled. But, at least two carloads of our friends today will have to park in C and hoof it to A. That sucks, for sure, but it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times at the sports complex in South Philly either.  Admittedly, I'd be more upset if I were the one having to get in and out of Lot C, then drag a wheelie cooler halfway to New Hope. Private lots are also springing up around the stadium, but they are not run by the Union, and the team has been clear that they can't guarantee safety or acceptable conditions in lots they don't run. The Union lots are well-staffed and secure, in our experience. We don't know anything about the private lots yet, particularly where they fall on the Jetro-to-Scary Vacant Lot in Chester spectrum. 
Anyway, this was supposed to be about tailgating, not parking. But tailgating doesn't need much explanation. Battery-powered audio. Small grills. Kicking the ball around, throwing the frisbee, some ladders, washers… Gotta hurry up and finish this, get down there! 

2.  The Feeling of High Expectations 
A playoff berth in 2011 means only one thing—anything less will be considered a disappointment. Sound unreasonable? This is Philly sports. What's reason have to do with anything? 
After riding the wave at the top of the table a few times in 2011 and making that playoff appearance, the U have given us a glimpse at the potential for this to be a dominant franchise in the league. We didn't have to endure a long expansion process, or so we hope. The feeling of walking into the building expecting a win is something we've come to enjoy in Philly lately, but most of us know all to well the other end of it. Today, we'll get our ticket cards scanned and scream our way to the River End. 
Of course, with high expectations comes great fury when they aren't met. The Union got to see what the fanbase looks like when it's angry after Le Toux was traded away, and it wasn't pretty. But that energy can be quickly rerouted with the usual panacea—winning. 
It's now put-up time, when Peter Nowak and Company show us the fruits of their personnel plans. If not, the choruses will continue, but they won't be in such constant support as the franchise enjoyed in its first two seasons. We expect a winner now. 

1.  Getting the Band Back Together
Ten years out of college, life is very different. I work all week, don't go out on school nights nearly as often, feel the effects of long nights for more hours the next day than I'd like, and put a whole lot more stock into quieter nights at home and weekend afternoons with the family. It's increasingly easy to turn down plans to go out, and I don't even mind admitting it. 
But with that, you start to lose touch with good friends, and the gaps between meet-ups get longer every year. For this reason, getting season tickets to the Union was one of the best decisions I've made. Two tickets in 2010 meant that me and one of my oldest soccer-fan friends could enjoy a few beers and some rowdiness not far from home on a regular basis. Friends started to join us on a game-by-game basis, people who had never followed soccer and others who kept up with the National team during World Cup play and maybe some English Premier League. In 2011, a few had become season t
icket holders as well, and our group's size increased with more people coming to their first, second, third… Union games, buying individual tickets along the way. In the second year, Union home games became meeting places for a group of guys that always has fun together, but otherwise might not get together half as much without a set time and place when it's understood we'll all be there. 
This year, our group has again grown, with new full and partial season ticket holders, spouses, and family. My brother-in-law just called to arrange where to meet up when he walks with my 8-year-old nephew down from their first ever Union tailgate in Lot C to meet us in Lot A for a bit. 
The home opener is a bigger beast than the regular home schedule, which spans from now til the leaves turn. But every other week or so, we'll meet in the lot under the Barry Bridge, have a couple beers, make fun of each other for a few hours, and walk in. What happens after that doesn't make or break the day, but the more DOOP the better... 

CSN's NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys surging, Eagles continue to fall

CSN's NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys surging, Eagles continue to fall

With Week 13 behind us, it's clear that there is major separation at both the top and the bottom of the league, led by the surging Cowboys and anchored by the lowly Browns. However, With just a quarter of the season remaining, the race for the Wild Card is closer than ever. 

After taking in all the action from this past week, here's CSN's NFL Power Rankings for Week 14, compiled by Derrick Gunn and John Boruk.

1. Dallas (11-1)
While others in the conference struggle, Dallas continues to glide through its schedule and became the first team in the league to clinch a playoff spot. - Gunn (1)

Impressively, the Cowboys beat the Vikings despite just 13 first downs and 264 total yards. - Boruk (1)

2. New England (10-2)
If the Patriots get home field advantage in the AFC, I’d bet on them to win the conference even without Gronk. - Gunn (2)

Best first quarter team in the NFL. Easy to win when you make your opponent one dimensional. - Boruk (2)

3. Oakland (10-2)
The Raiders can get physical or play the finesse game. Their six-game win streak and overall record are no joke. - Gunn (3)

They dominate the trenches.  Oakland has allowed 13 sacks, fewest in the NFL. - Boruk (3)

4. Seattle (8-3-1)
The loss of Earl Thomas for the season will hurt, but this team is so good at dealing with adversity. - Gunn (4)

The loss of Earl Thomas will be huge to that secondary.  He covers up a lot of their flaws. - Boruk (4)

5. Kansas City (9-3)
The Chiefs' last two wins over Denver and Atlanta were quite impressive and set the stage for a huge showdown Thursday with Oakland. - Gunn (5)

Safety Eric Berry has been one of the top-five defensive players in the league. - Boruk (5)

6. Detroit (8-4)
The Lions' defense was a weakness but now is a strength. In their last four outings, the Lions haven’t allowed more than 83 yards rushing in a game and have held their last six opponents to 20 points or less. - Gunn (6)

Detroit’s offense is 100 percent in the red zone this season – a TD or FG on every drive. - Boruk (7)

6. Denver (8-4)
The Broncos are solid everywhere, but quarterback play could hold this team back. - Gunn (7)

Denver has been bad against the run.  How will they stop DeMarco Murray/Derrick Henry? - Boruk (6)

8. Baltimore (7-5)
The Ravens stopped the Dolphins' win streak at six and control their own playoff destiny. - Gunn (8)

Have won four of their last five, lead the AFC North and as of today, they’re 43-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. - Boruk (8)

9. Pittsburgh (7-5)
When the Steelers' offense is on point it can be lethal. - Gunn (9)

11-1 over their last 12 December games. Can Ladarius Green follow up on his performance against NYG? - Boruk (9)

10. N.Y. Giants (8-4)
G-men have potential to be really good, but last four games vs. Dallas, vs. Detroit, at Eagles and at Washington are not an easy road to travel. - Gunn (10)

Steelers snapped the Giants' six-game winning streak. Allowed 24 points for the first time since Week 4. - Boruk (11)

11. Atlanta (7-5)
Falcons have lost two of last three. - Gunn (11)

They found ways to win earlier this season.  Now, the Falcons are finding ways to lose games. - Boruk (12)

12. Tampa Bay (7-5)
During their current four-game win streak, the Bucs have beaten the Chiefs, Seahawks and Chargers. - Gunn (13)

Four-game winning streak. Defense has stepped up and allowed just 53 points during the streak. - Boruk (10)

13. Washington (6-5-1)
Will Jay Gruden chewing out his guys after a second straight loss wake the Skins up? Time will tell. - Gunn (12)

Defense has allowed 62 points in a two-game losing streak. Should bounce back against Eagles. - Boruk (13)

14. Minnesota (6-6)
The Vikings are 1-6 over their last seven games. An Adrian Peterson return could save their season. - Gunn (14)

One win over their last seven games. They get Jacksonville this week to remain in the playoff chase. - Boruk (17)

15. Miami (7-5)
Getting smacked by the Ravens wounded the Dolphins. Key players are banged up. - Gunn (16)

There goes that six-game winning streak. Completely manhandled by the Ravens on both sides. - Boruk (15)

16. Indianapolis (6-6)
In a three-way tie with Houston and Tennessee in the AFC south. If Luck stays healthy, I look for the Colts to win that division. - Gunn (18)

A healthy Andrew Luck certainly goes a long way. They’ve scored 311 points and have allowed exactly 311 points. - Boruk (14)

17. Green Bay (6-6)
Rodgers says the pack can run the table. So far, two in a row and counting. - Gunn (15)

WRs aren’t usually this consistent, but Jordy Nelson has a TD and at least 90 yards in five of his last six weeks. - Boruk (22)

17. Buffalo (6-6)
QB Tyrod Taylor holds the Bills back. - Gunn (21) 

Tough loss for the Bills who were leading 24-9 midway through the third quarter before losing to Oakland 38-24. - Boruk (16)

19. Tennessse (6-6)
Marcus Mariota has really improved. He has 5th best passer rating (101.9), and it helps to have the No. 2 rusher DeMarco Murray behind him. - Gunn (19)

We’ll see if the Titans can benefit from a Week 13 bye with the Broncos coming to Nashville. - Boruk (20)

19. San Diego (5-7)
If only the Chargers could stop turning the ball over. Tied for the league lead with 25. - Gunn (20)

Shocking...Chargers blow another fourth quarter lead. Haven’t been at .500 since Week 2. - Boruk (19)

21. Houston (6-6)
How is this team at .500? Offense has scored more than two touchdowns in a game just once this year. - Gunn (22)

Still in the AFC South race with three of their final four games against divisional opponents. - Boruk (18)

21. Arizona (5-6-1)
The Cardinals team that just beat Washington... where’s that team been all season? - Gunn (17)

Love watching David Johnson play. The Cards' RB is on pace for 2,300 yards from scrimmage. - Boruk (23)

23. Cincinnati (4-7-1)
Had to move Bengals ahead of Eagles for obvious reasons. - Gunn (23)

Dismantled the Eagles at one point, leading 29-0 just 34 minutes into the game. - Boruk (24)

24. New Orleans (5-7)
Drew Brees' record streak of home TD passes in 60 games has ended. - Gunn (26)

When was the last time Drew Brees didn’t throw a TD pass at home? It had been nearly 8 years. - Boruk (21)

25. Carolina (4-8)
How the mighty have fallen. The defending NFC champs are at the bottom looking up in NFC South. - Gunn (25)

A piece of advice for Cam Newton...wear a tie. Don’t show teammates the rules don’t apply to you. - Boruk (25)

25. Eagles (5-7)
Can't sustain drives. Can't get to the QB. Can't defend the pass. Can't get off the field on third down. Can't win! - Gunn (24)

Defense allowed five passing plays over 20 yards in Cincinnati’s first six possessions, and that’s an offense without A.J. Green. - Boruk (27)

27. L.A. Rams (4-8)
Rams Head coach Jeff Fisher says his team is close. I ask close to what!? - Gunn (27)

Rams managed just 25 yards in the first half, the fewest by a team in a game this season. Forget about having Eric Dickerson on the sideline, get him in the game. - Boruk (26)

28. Chicago (3-9)
When the Bears beat the 49ers, it was first time this season they held an opponent to single digit points. - Gunn (28)

Jordan Howard, a Fifth-round pick from Indiana, just another example why you don’t draft RBs early. - Boruk (29)

29. N.Y. Jets (3-9)
I Wish I could rank them lower after their embarrassing performance against the Colts. It’s the Bryce petty show for the rest of the season. - Gunn (30)

Jon Gruden’s dissection of the Jets' defensive line mailing it in was some of the best analysis I’ve seen this season. - Boruk (28)

30. Jacksonville (2-10)
The Blake Bortles era has been brutal. Could be coming to an end. - Gunn (29)

Jaguars fans deserve some sort of a refund on their tickets this season. Just dreadful to watch. - Boruk (30)

31. San Francisco (1-11)
The positive this season for chip Kelly is...thank goodness the Browns are worse. - Gunn (31)

Colin Kaepernick was sacked more times (5) than he had passing yards (4). - Boruk (31)

32. Cleveland (0-12)
If rumors are true that RG3 could be returning, does it enhance the Browns' chances of winning a game? - Gunn (32)

Battle of Ohio. Putting it out there: Browns get their first win of the season this week. - Boruk (32)

Do the Sixers get a week off now?

Do the Sixers get a week off now?

It's been an exhausting four games in five nights for the Philadelphia 76ers -- for us watching, and likely for those playing -- and last night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the team made it four losses out of four, stretching their losing streak to a season-high eight games. They held tight for almost all of this one, capturing a lead in the game's final minutes, but predictably ran out of gas at the end and bowed out to the tougher Grizzlies in Memphis. Final score: Grizz 96, Sixers 91. 

Frankly, that they even got that close was a small miracle. Sure, Memphis was playing with only about 2/3 a team themselves, as Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Vince Carter all rode the pine, but that's nothing compared to the Sixers' short-handedness, who were missing not only their usual Bayless/Simmons/Noel trio, but also Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington. They needed 23 and 17 (!!) from Ersan Ilyasova and another 17 and 7 from Dario Saric off the bench just to have a shot in this one. 

But missed free throws sank Philly in this one -- they were just 13 of 26 from the line -- and the main culprit was a now officially frozen Sauce Castillo, who went just 5-10 at the stripe. Of course, he deserves credit for attacking enough to get there 10 times, but the way Nik's shot has deserted him over this four-game stretch (7-34 FG, 4-24 3PT) is truly disturbing — the streakiness of his productivity really is Turner-esque. Who knows if it's general exhaustion, or difficulty with filling in as a starter (as he's had to with Covington out) or just natural regression to the mean, but his PER is now dipping back below the Mendoza Line at 9.9. -- the same as Dario, actually, on his way up. Guess it's too much to ask for both guys to be good at the same time. 

Anyway, no real shame in losing like this to the Grizzlies -- beating lousy teams by a couple points in the final seconds is what they do, regardless of who's on the floor -- but we're getting dangerously close to a double-digit losing streak now, which we'd be really well to avoid if possible. We'll have an OK chance on Thursday against New Orleans with JoJo -- and hopefully RoCo as well -- but at 4-18 on the season, we're back to being underdogs in every game until proven otherwise.