Watch: Things Get Ugly in Union-United Draw

Watch: Things Get Ugly in Union-United Draw

Just
a few days after the Union and DC United exchanged a pair of players in
the trade of Lionard Pajoy for Danny Cruz, there was little in the way
of pleasantry exchange when the teams met in a Eastern Conference match
with playoff implications. The three points on the line were critical to
the Union's chances at a playoff run, but at the very least, they
wanted to leave DC with a draw. In large part due to a very visible
second half by referee Mark Geiger, the match was marked by
score-altering calls, bookings, and activity at the penalty stripe. Some
were justified and tough calls to make, but Geiger, who was a ref at
the Summer Games in London, sent off three players and disallowed a pair
of United goals in a calamitous second half. 

The Union would escape with a point in the 1-1 draw,
but no individual on the field featured more prominently than the man
wearing bright yellow. 

Getting started, each
team deployed its new attacker, with Pajoy up top alongside Dwayne De
Rosario for United and Danny Cruz handling the right side of a forward
trio including regulars Freddy Adu and Jack McInerney in the Union's
4-3-3. 

The Union struck early, converting on an Adu
freekick that pinballed across the line of United keeper Bill Hamid. The
long service by Adu was perfect, dropping into the box right in front
of the net, where Amobi Okugo was far forward and put a head on it.
Fellow centerback Carlos Valdes got a piece of the ball too, but his
attempt was blocked by a United defender. It took a fortunate carom, and
Brian Carroll got just enough to guide it into the net. 

Exactly how they drew it up… 
That lead
would hold until the 72nd minute, when Okugo was again on the receiving
end of a freekick in the box. Unfortunately, Okugo was "credited" with a
score on the play, charged with an own goal on a miscommunication
between the CB and his goalkeeper. Branko Boskovic had come on as a
second half DC sub for Pajoy, and he laced a strong service into the box
that the Union once again could not handle. One of these days… 

While the ball found the net behind Zac MacMath
twice more in the half, neither would count. Before the goal on the
freekick, DC had a goal disallowed due to a foul called on Hamdi Salihi.
United played skillfully in getting the ball into the Union third, with
nice leading passes and a dummy ball execution. Boskovich and De Ro
sliced through the Union defense with quick one-touches, and De Ro put a
sharp shot on MacMath. The Union keeper stopped it, but he couldn't get
it under wraps. Salihi more or less fell over the curled up MacMath,
not really making any attempt to brace himself away while going limply
to the ground, but not exactly slamming into him either. Gabe Farfan
tried to clear the ball, swiping it out of the reach of MacMath, but it
wound up on the foot of DC's Nick DeLeon, who put it on the open target.
The goal was disallowed due to referee Geiger's belief that Salihi
interfered with MacMath, and the Union dodged a major bullet. It
wouldn't be the last. 

More often than not, a well-dressed Roger Torres can
be found in the Stadium Club at PPL Park during home games. He has
rarely seen the field since returning from injury, but he dressed Sunday
and was brought on as a sub for Jack Mac in the 80th minute. The
skillful playmaker gets his name in the game coverage for an unfortunate
reason though, as a clear foul on Chris Pontius in the box during the
85th minute led to penalty kick that could have meant a loss for the
Union. Instead, it sparked an odd series of events that would see a goal
disallowed and a United player sent off. 

The dangerous Dwayne De Rosario lined up for the
kick, and buried it. However, Geiger whistled United for encroachment
and ordered the kick retaken.

 In the confusion immediately following the first
PK, there were some physical exchanges as the heat escalated. Players
from both sides pled their cases to the crew in yellow, and Geiger went
to his pocket. DC's Boskovich, who tussled with Torres, drew a red card
from Geiger while Garfan and Torres each got a yellow. 

When De Ro lined up to take the second attempt, he skied it. 
Though the crisis was over, the chaos wasn't yet through. 
In
extra time, two more bookings would come. You know how when you're
playing FIFA and you feel like you're getting robbed by the computer
side or your buddy is just taking it to you and it's late in the game?
Mmmmaybe you just start hitting that foul button despite the obviousness
of your tactic? That's what it looked like when DC's Emiliano Dudar
tackled Antoine Hoppenot in the 91st minute. Again, Geiger went to the
card, dismissing Dudar from the match. 

The Union will be without a player in their next
match as well though. Sheanon Williams had drawn a yellow for delaying
on a throw in during the first half, and he got another in the 95th
minute when he was booked for what was actually a brilliant ball-first
tackle. Geiger was fooled by the angle, which saw Williams make the play
from behind on a sprinting player. It looked cleanly done, but perhaps
at spot that was tough for a running ref in real time to accurately
call. 

More pushing and shoving ensued, and Bill Hamid was the next to draw yellow. 
After
the match, a clearly and understandably frustrated United side started
pushing each other. A surreal night in DC ended with a fortunate point
for Philadelphia. 

Notes:Ray Gaddis will likely start in place of Sheanon on Friday night, when the Union host Real Salt Lake. 
Hoppenot
is a force. Rev pointed out to me that the supersub has now drawn as
many red cards (2) as he has scored goals in his rookie season. 

Both sides had some thrilling chances in a
well-contested first half. The second half devolved quickly, first for
the Union, who saw the lesser end of play, but then United for all the
reasons detailed above. The Union were lucky to escape with the draw. 

I only plucked a video or two from the many that
exist over at MLSsoccer.com. Every play described above and more are
available there, and here's the full video recap. Pretty entertaining in
short form. 

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

Soul's ArenaBowl chances hinge on slowing Rattlers' potent offense

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The postseason accolades and awards are nice, but Soul defensive back Tracy Belton has a much higher goal.

Named as the Arena League Football Defensive Player of the Year during an awards ceremony Friday, Belton, considered the passion and spirit of the Soul defense, is more than comfortable putting aside individual honors and pushing his teammates to greater heights.

Reaching the ArenaBowl against the Arizona Rattlers Friday in the Gila River Arena (7 p.m./ESPN) the prize is out there, and Belton has his blinders firmly affixed. The focus and concentration is not in question, so the task ahead remains paramount.

“I want that ring, I need that jewelry,” Belton said during media day Friday. “Oh yeah, it would definitely be nice to get that ring.”

To obtain that shiny piece of hardware, Belton and his defensive teammates have the task of trying to shut down the most potent offense in the league.

Guided by quarterback Nick Davila, the AFL’s Most Valuable Player, the Rattlers are averaging 80.3 points per game. From an offensive standpoint, Arizona led the AFL in many offensive categories, including scoring, total offense, rushing, third-down conversion and fourth-down conversion.

To complement the offense, the Arizona defense ranked first in the league in defensive scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions, turnover ratio and sacks allowed.

In a league which glorifies offense, the task ahead for the Soul defense is considered a challenge. After all, these teams each finished with a 13-3 mark and each defeated the other team on their home turf.

“To win this game, we hope they make mistakes,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “They are very explosive, but our secondary is playing at a high level. For us, we need to limit our mistakes.”

If Davila, who is the first player in AFL history to win the MVP award three times, is to be challenged, the Soul’s offense need to be proficient. Coming into the ArenaBowl, the Soul averaged 59.0 points per game. That was good enough for fourth in the league, but quarterback Dan Raudabaugh put up better numbers, in certain categories, than Davila.

In head-to-head competition, Raudabaugh tossed more touchdown passes (14 to 13), passed for more yards (541 to 431), completed more passes (48 to 32) and averaged more yards per game (270.5 to 215.5) through the air. Yet, the Rattlers’ offense is swift, quick, efficient and lethal.

“In this league, the quarterback is the most important position,” Davila said. “You have to make decisions quickly, and facing a defense like Philly, that’s the challenge for us. It’s about limiting mistakes. The team which makes fewer mistakes is the team that usually wins.”

Notes
Since the Phoenix Mercury are scheduled for a home game in Talking Stick Arena in downtown Phoenix Friday night, home site for the Rattlers, the title game was switched to home of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes. … Among league leaders this past season for the Soul, Belton was fourth in tackles, Jake Metz led in sacks, Darius Reynolds was sixth in receiving and Jeramie Richardson was second in rushing. … In comparison of QBs, Raudabaugh was second in the league in passing (101 TDs, 63.3 passing percentage) and Davila placed third (110 TD passes, 69.6 passing rating). … This is the third league title meeting between these two teams. The Soul dropped the previous two championship games, 72-54 in 2012 and 48-39 in 2013.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

CLEVELAND -- Barkevious Mingo never really fit in with the Browns.

The Patriots will try to find an ideal spot for him.

A major disappointment in Cleveland, Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft was traded to New England on Thursday.

The Browns received a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft for the linebacker.

Mingo, a former LSU standout, has recorded just seven sacks in three seasons and spent much of last season on special teams.

Mingo's size -- 6-foot-4, 240 pounds -- and speed have made him intriguing, but Cleveland's coaching staff couldn't find the best way to utilize him. The Browns moved the 25-year-old Mingo from outside linebacker to inside earlier this summer.

Cleveland declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Mingo's rookie contract in May. With the trade of Mingo, left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert are the only first-round selections by Cleveland from 2007 to 2014 that are still with the team (see full story).

NFL: Harrison, Matthews and Peppers talk with PED investigators
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Green Bay Packers defensive players Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers met this week with NFL investigators looking into allegations linking them to performance-enhancing drugs, the players' union said Thursday.

Matthews and Peppers met with league representatives on Wednesday, while Harrison did so on Thursday, according to the NFL Players Association.

Last week, the league threatened Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and free agent Mike Neal with indefinite suspensions if they did not meet with investigators. All of them were mentioned in an Al-Jazeera television interview with Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic. In the December report, Sly made claims of PED use by several athletes, including Harrison, Peyton Manning and the three others, but later recanted his claims.

The since-retired Manning was cleared after a separate NFL investigation in which he granted interviews and provided all records sought by league investigators.

The league's deadline for cooperation from the four current players was Thursday. The NFL first notified the four on Jan. 11 about the investigation into the Al-Jazeera report (see full story).

Dolphins: Team intensifies efforts for Zika control at stadium
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins say they've intensified mosquito-control treatments at their stadiums because of the Zika virus.

The Dolphins' stadium is more than 10 miles from the nearest area of the virus outbreak. Even so, the Dolphins say they decided weeks ago to undertake additional treatments as a precaution.

Construction workers are at the site daily completing the latest phase in a $500 million renovation. The first home preseason game is next Thursday against Tennessee.

The Marlins and Miami-Dade County have stepped up spraying in and around Marlins Park "in an abundance of caution," team president David Samson said Thursday. Treatments targeting the mosquito that transmits Zika are being used even though the Marlins play most of their home games indoors under a retractable roof.

Marlins Park is about 2 miles from the nearest area of virus outbreak.

Treatments at the 265-acre Dolphins stadium site include the parking lot and follow recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those treatments are expected to continue through the football season and beyond.

Vikings: New stadium sells out for inaugural season
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have sold out their new stadium for the inaugural season.

The team announced on Thursday that they've started waiting lists for tickets and suites. The official capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium will be 66,655, with more than 60,400 seats committed for the entire season and the remaining single-game seats also sold out.

Returned tickets from visiting team allotments typically make a small number of seats available the week of each game.

The Vikings host San Diego on Sunday in an exhibition game, their first action at the $1.1 billion venue. The regular-season opener is on Sept. 18 against rival Green Bay.