Why Union fans are frustrated: It's not (all) about the losing

Why Union fans are frustrated: It's not (all) about the losing

We haven't had a ton about the Union here on the Level in the last two weeks. Partly because the team had a bye last week and partly because my friend and fellow contributor Dave Zeitlin had a baby last week (congrats, Dave!).

There is another reason, however, and it's related to the one word that describes the Philadelphia Union this season, especially since the middle of July:

Boring.

The Union -- who travel to Sporting Kansas City tonight (8 p.m. / NBC Sports Network) -- are boring.

There, I said it.

Along with (and largely because of) the boring play, there is also a lot of losing -- or at least not winning. Since the rainy 3-1 win over Chivas USA on July 12, the Union have taken just nine of a possible 27 points in nine league games.

They don't score goals. They don't pass well -- especially in the final third. They have no flash, no style and no "wow" factor. In the team's last game -- a 1-0 loss at home to Houston -- the official boxscore credited the Union with 10 attempts on goal and one shot on target.

Having watched the entire game, both of those numbers seem generous.

Listen (read in Andy Reid voice), there is no realistic, sane, logical Union fan who expected the team to win an MLS Cup this year. In fact, if you had asked me whether the Union would have even a mathematical chance at a playoff spot with five games to go, I would've told you that sounded about right -- and acceptable.

But what soccer fans want, more than almost anything -- often even more than winning -- is to be wowed. They want to "oohh and ahh," jump out of their seats and be entertained.

This is why you'll hear most Union fans pining for names like Kleberson or Roger Torres. We have no idea how those guys have been playing in training sessions. Clearly, they haven't been very impressive, considering Kleberson has played 25 total minutes since May and Torres has logged 37 minutes the ENTIRE SEASON. I have no idea if those two guys can help the Union win, and neither do you. John Hackworth clearly doesn't think so.

But we pine for them because they are shiny red Ferraris on a roster full of beige Honda Accords.

In the little we have seen them, we know these two -- more than any of their teammates -- have individual skills and "imagination" (one of my favorite soccer buzz words). They may not play defense. They may not pass when they should. They may not stay in the right positions. Hell, they might kick puppies behind closed doors at practice (if that turns out to be true, remember where you heard it first). Hackworth may be totally justified and correct in leaving them on the bench.

When Peter Nowak was in charge, fans begged for a consistent starting lineup (not knowing that Nowak chose his starting XI by whoever gave him life in Candy Crush). With Hackworth, people are tired of the losing, sure. But mostly, they've had enough of Keon Daniel (decent, but dull), enough of Michael Farfan (totally lost), and enough of Danny Cruz (incredible effort, very few ball skills). Lately, some of us (read: me) have had enough of Jack McInerney (bad body language, out of sorts).

(Don't say you've had enough of Brian Carroll. Defensive midfielders are supposed to be boring. He's had a solid year, but has no help in the middle).

It's likely we'll see a whole lot of the same in the final five games. And again, it might be justified from a coaching standpoint. Kleberson will likely not be here next year and Torres should demand to be anywhere but here, so it doesn't make much sense to start playing them now.

Whether the Union sneak into the back end of the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference (possible) or miss out entirely (more likely), the 2013 season -- at least on paper -- will end somewhere close to where most fans likely expected it to.

But if the Union want to compete in 2014 -- and if they want to sell the season tickets they're desperately trying to push this fall -- they need to move for an electric yellow sports car or two, and leave the plain white minivans on the bench.

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).