Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

Union Travel North of the Border to T.Dot

The appetizer to your Memorial Day Soccer Saturday kicks off at 12:30 on Comcast SportsNet. It was such an amazing sentence to read that I couldn't resist lifting it directly from the MLS.com game preview..."Toronto FC remain home to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field".

Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union. It even feels strange to type that. Yes, they are tied with New York (who has a game in hand) for first place, and technically are listed second in the standings thanks to goal differential, but the fact remains that ten games into the season the second year Union sit atop the table. Fairly remarkable, no?

In the course of preparing to write this I took a quick look at the Union's road record this season. Thus far they are 1-3-0 on the road. I wanted to compare their road futility with the other teams in the league to see how they stacked up away from home. What I saw was stunning.

If you had to guess how many of the 18 MLS teams had a winning record on the road what would you say? The answer? Three teams, LA 3-2-3, Real Salt Lake 2-1-1,and Chivas USA 2-1-2, are (barely) over .500 on the road.

How is that possible? What explains that? Honestly, I have no idea aside from the conventional soccer wisdom that road teams play more conservatively on the road in the hope of escaping with a point. Is the travel that rigorous? Are the home crowds that important? I mentioned this is an earlier post, and I have zero documentation to back it up, but I'd venture to say that those road numbers are even worse for teams traveling cross-country. Yes, I am making wild claims based on zero empirical evidence. Go with it.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, perhaps we should temper our expectations when the Union are away from PPL Park. Now, Toronto is not an elite MLS team. They currently sit in sixth place in the East, tied with D.C. United, with 12 points from 12 games. They bring a -6 goal differential into the match.

They are coming off a game where their leading scorer, Maicon Santos (3 goals on the season), came off the bench in the 60th minute. Similarly, in their last game they started an entirely new midfield. This is a team trying to figure out who they are and who can play where.

Yes, BMO Field used to be a very difficult place to play, but if the Union are going to earn some much needed road points this may be the spot to do it. This is particularly true considering that TFC just played a rain shortened game against Vancouver on Tuesday night as part of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship.

The Union are riding high after their offensive explosion (sarcasm) last week. For the first time all season they scored more than one goal in a game. Both goals came off of dead ball situations. Michael Farfan flawlessly executed a textbook training ground corner kick. Carlos Ruiz put the Union ahead in style with that ridiculous golazo. It's wonderful that they executed on set pieces, but now the challenge will be to actually, you know, score some goals from the run of play.

The defense, playing in front of Faryd Mondragon, continues to be this team's strength. Although I hate to make yet another baseball comparison in a Union pregame post the fact remains that defense, like good pitching, will keep you in games and give you a chance to win each time out.

I'd imagine the first five names on Peter Nowak's team sheet each week are Mondragon, Williams, Califf, Valdes, and Harvey. The sixth is obviously Sebastien Le Toux, who along with Mondragon and Valdes, has played every minute of every game thus far. Le Toux = fitness.

You'd have to guess that after last week Ruiz is also going to be penciled into the lineup. Which brings us to the midfield, where there has been the most flux this season. Justin Mapp, Kyle Nakazawa, Amobi Okugo, Brian Carroll, Roger Torres, Keon Daniel, Stefani Miglioranzi, the Farfan brothers...take your pick. No one has really put a stranglehold on a position. Last week it was Michael Farfan, Carroll, Okugo, and Mapp. This week? I have no idea. Perhaps coming off of a win this group will start together again.

Here’s the lineup I hope we see today: Mondragon, Harvey, Valdes, Califf, Williams, Torres, Okugo, Carroll, Farfan, Le Toux, Ruiz.

Final Score Prediction: Just like pimpin' winning on the road aint easy. I see this one ending 1-1.

The Toni Stahl Memorial Union Player Most Likely To See Red: Let's go with Ruiz. It would be so him to follow up on that ridiculous goal from last week with a red card this week.

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

Best of NHL: Canadiens rally past Lightning for 6th straight win

MONTREAL -- Max Pacioretty scored the tiebreaking goal in Montreal's three-goal third period as the Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth straight win.

Alex Galchenyuk and Torrey Mitchell also scored to help Montreal improve to 7-0-1. Carey Price made 29 saves to win for the fourth time in four starts this season.

Alex Killorn scored the lone goal for the Lightning, who lost against an Eastern-Conference opponent for the first time this season. Ben Bishop stopped 23 shots.

With the scored tied 1-1, Pacioretty got the go-ahead goal at 10:23 by beating Bishop glove-side. Blown coverage by the Lightning left the Canadiens' captain all alone on the edge of the face-off circle, and Bishop couldn't see the shot with Andrew Shaw posted firmly in front of goal.

Montreal remains the only NHL team still undefeated in regulation (see full recap).

Crosby's late goal gives Penguins win over Islanders
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored the tiebreaking goal late in the third period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 4-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

Patric Hornqvist, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel also scored -- each getting his third of the season -- to help the Penguins win for the third time in four games and improve to 5-0-1 at home.

Crosby, playing for the second straight game after missing the first six with a concussion, scored with 2:25 left as he caught a pass from Scott Wilson at the top of the crease and quickly turned to his forehand to put the puck behind Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak.

Kessel added a power-play goal to cap the scoring 32 seconds later.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 shots while starting for the eighth straight game.

Travis Hamonic and Shane Prince scored for the Islanders, and Halak finished with 31 saves (see full recap).

Streaking Red Wings win marathon shootout vs. Blues
ST. LOUIS -- Henrik Zetterberg scored in the eighth round of a shootout to give the Detroit Red Wings a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night.

Zetterberg's goal gave the Red Wings a six-game winning streak.

In the shootout, St. Louis' first shooter, Alexander Steen, scored but then Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Perron, Nail Yakupoc, Robby Fabbri, Patrick Burgland and Dmitrjij Jaskin all came up short.

Gustav Nyquist scored on Detroit's second attempt but Frans Nielsen, Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheehan and Darren Helm all missed.

St. Louis had the better chances in overtime. Center Jaden Schwartz missed a wide-open net early in the extra session. Jori Lehtera was stopped on a breakaway midway through the period by Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek (see full recap).

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

Flyers Hall of Famers return to toast Ed Snider, 50th anniversary

There were times when Rod Brind’Amour didn’t quite feel like a part of the Flyers’ family anymore.

Following eight years rich with memories and victories in a Flyers' jersey, Brind’Amour, a beloved player who changed the franchise on and off the ice, was stunningly traded to the Hurricanes less than a month into the 1999-00 season.

He went on to win two Frank J. Selke trophies (NHL’s best defensive forward) and a Stanley Cup in Carolina before landing an assistant coaching job within the organization.

“You get traded, you automatically think, ‘Well, I’m not what I thought I was,’” Brind’Amour said. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Especially once his phone rang and it was Ed Snider on the other line.

“I got a great phone call before Mr. Snider passed and him telling me what he thought I meant to this team,” Brind’Amour said. “That meant a lot. I really feel connected to the Flyers’ organization again and I’ll take any chance I can to get back and be a part of it.”

A year after being inducted in the Flyers’ Hall of Fame, he was among the orange and black greats on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center to toast the team’s 50th anniversary with Flyers Heritage Night. Snider, the Flyers’ fearless and compassionate founder who died in April, would have been all smiles on Thursday night as a pregame ceremony at center ice honored the legends that played a role in fulfilling his vision.

Fourteen Flyers Hall of Famers were on hand as Bill Barber, Brind’Amour, Bob Clarke, Ron Hextall, Mark Howe, John LeClair, Reggie Leach, Eric Lindros, Bernie Parent, Brian Propp, Dave Poulin, Dave Schultz, Joe Watson and Jim Watson came out one by one. Family members of Snider, Gene Hart, Barry Ashbee, Rick MacLeish, Keith Allen and Joe Scott were also present.

The evening was all about family, just like Snider.

Poulin, who captained the Flyers for parts of six seasons (1984-90) and two Stanley Cup Final appearances (1985, 1987), said these are can’t-miss events to reminisce and remember.

“There’s a lot of demands on your time, a lot of different things, it’s busy for everybody and everybody’s got different things going on in their life, but when this call comes in from Brad Marsh (former Flyers player, team’s current director of community development), you’re marking it on the calendar and you’re coming,” Poulin said during the first intermission of the Flyers’ 5-4 loss to the Coyotes (see Instant Replay). “This is pretty special to be out there with this group tonight.”

Since retiring, Poulin, a 1986-87 Selke winner with the Flyers and two-time NHL All-Star, has coached, worked in front-office roles and is now an analyst for TSN. He’s always around hockey and talking hockey.

Outsiders frequently mention the Flyers, one reason why Poulin calls the organization “unique.”

“Still to this day, I have conversations with people that played a long time in the NHL that are incredibly envious of the Flyers,” Poulin said. “I had one as recently as Monday night. I was at a book signing for Darryl Sittler, who has a new book out, and we were teammates here. And I had a great conversation with Syl Apps Jr., who was an original Pittsburgh Penguin. And the first thing he wanted to say was, ‘What about those Flyers, what about that Philadelphia, what about that?’ Guys that never experienced it from the inside were always envious of what they saw, and to a man.”

Poulin said that’s a testament to Snider.

“It was Ed Snider, it was the continuity of a leader that through 50 years — which is unheard of in any industry, any business, let alone a professional sports team — kept it like it was,” he said. “And then everybody assimilated into that. Everybody became a part of it, everybody understood the importance of it.”

During the tribute, Brind’Amour gave Lindros a big hug, to the surprise of many.

“I haven’t seen him in forever,” Brind’Amour said. “It was just fun, when we got out there we just said, ‘It’s nice to be back on the ice again.’ It’s been a long time, I haven’t seen him. I saw [LeClair] last year obviously. But it’s just nice to catch up with these guys and relive some stories. We had a lot of great times, it was nice to see [Lindros].”

Brind’Amour was asked how so many former Flyers from different eras, with families and separate agendas, make such reunions possible.

He found his answer before the question even finished.

“It’s Philadelphia,” he said. “This means a lot to me. To be honest with you, I was out of it, I was doing my own thing and last year, when they did that whole ceremony for me, it just kind of brought me into the fold, that this is important and that they really did appreciate what I did here.”

And Snider, never forgetting any, made that clear with a phone call.

“I think there was a time there where I just didn’t really think that was the case, so it’s meant a lot to me to be back here and be in the fold,” Brind’Amour said. “I love the alumni. … Any chance to get to reconnect with these guys, it just means the world to me.”