Union Fire Up Home Crowd, Silence the Sounders

Union Fire Up Home Crowd, Silence the Sounders

It seemed somewhat fitting that Sounders FC would be in town for the Union's PPL Park inaugural game. The Union played their first ever match in Seattle, and a budding long-distance rivalry began. At least that's the way some of us fans saw it. Seattle is the high-water mark for new franchises and their fans. The Sounders' W-L record this season may not show it, but their attendance mark does. Throw in a few dives by their star player in that season opener and our sights were set.

The Union's showing at Lincoln Financial Field was spectacular, but we've been waiting to see what the atmosphere would be like at their permanent home, PPL Park in Chester. Yesterday we finally got that opportunity. 

The following is a random compilation of thoughts on the game and the stadium atmosphere. 

Enrico, Gootman, and I made our way to the Chester waterfront at about 3, and the tailgating was well underway. I was a little mindful about traffic and the overall parking situation, but we didn't run into any glitches, pulling right into Lot A and opening the cooler. Holy hell was it hot down there yesterday. I wondered how it might affect the game and the crowd's energy. On our way inside, we walked under the Commodore Barry Bridge, which provides a great man-made landscape backdrop for the stadium. 
One gripe I had was that I wasn't allowed to bring bottled water inside with me. Enrico and Goot got in with theirs, but security told me it wasn't allowed. With $4 bottles in the stadium on a mid-90s day, water should be allowed... 

Inside, Enrico pointed out that the park had a collegiate feel. The architecture is simple, with broad walls and walkways under the seating. We were stopped just before getting to our section, and temporary fences were put in place right in front of us for the players to come out of the locker room and onto the field. I would have liked to have made it to our seats for that, but it was pretty cool seeing them run out underneath. They were amped. 

Our seats in the supporters section were sun-drenched, but we knew going in that'd be the case. The field looked great, and it's impossible to overstate how close the seats are to it. The Barry Bridge behind the webbed metal "roof" to the sidelines was a great sight, and from a few rows above ours, you could turn around and see the river.
There wasn't much wind yesterday, but I'm looking forward to sitting at the breezy end for future games this summer.

The fans around us were all friendly and full of energy despite the heat. We're toward the corner, so the singing wasn't as loud away from the main SoB guys, but the chants were pretty good. Most of the songs are OK, but I'd add two to the mix: Under The Bridge and Down By The River Take Me To The River (Neil's song is great, but kind of a bad fit aside from the title. Al Green/Talking Heads fits a lot better). 

As far as the game is concerned, what more could we ask for? The Union romped the Sounders, even more than the decisive 3-1 result would indicate. They controlled the possession and tempo of the game, and perhaps inspired by USA's showing in the World Cup, they were able to come from behind after letting up a first half goal. 

We got to see the best possible outcomes from penalty kicks. Sebastien Le Toux absolutely buried his, and Chris Seitz set the place on fire by making the rare save on a PK. Seitz had a rocky start to his Union career, but his confidence has been on the rise, and he was a major force in yesterday's game. The crowd was enthralled with him, chanting for every save and challenge. So great to see the kid playing bold but smart in the box. 

Danny Mwanga got the start, and we thought he had a brilliant goal buried in the top right corner in the first half. Turned out it went just wide, hitting the pole that pinned the net up; the visual effect of it ricocheting down behind the goal looked to us at the river end like it was in. Danny would get, and take advantage of, another opportunity in the second half though, taking a Le Toux feed and sending the supporters section into a frenzy. Fred, frequently seen with a beaming smile on this day, also scored for the Union. When he was subbed off late in the game, the place went nuts for him. 

Is it any wonder the Union scored all three of their goals while shooting on the goal that sits below the supporters? 
After the game players from both sides gave respectful claps to the fans, who remained in the stands for a while to celebrate the win. The Union players made their way around the pitch, grabbing the outstretched hands of their supporters, and enjoying every second of it. After they made their way into the tunnel, the supporters section was still full and loud, and the players came back out for more. They'd earned it, and so had the fans. I don't remember ever seeing players in any sport so happy after a regular season game, and it was a great move to share that feeling with the fans rather than in the locker room. 

Can you tell I had a great time? Writing this thing like a fifth grade report on My Trip to the Soccer Stadium... We'll have more on the park itself in future posts. This time we just wanted to go in and get a little crazy, not think about anything but what's right in front of us. 

Oh, and Freddie Ljunberg got booed to no end. We'll take pride in that, thank you very much. The fans displayed the trademark Philly vitriol, but also the knowledge of the game, remembering Ljunberg's intolerable diving act in the season opener out in Seattle. He definitely heard about it. The Ro-gaine chants for Kasey Keller were kinda lame though.

After a huge letdown to our soccer weekend from the US side on Saturday, the Union pulled us back up and gave us an idea of what we can expect down by the river this summer and in the years ahead. Think they like playing at home? Two of their three wins have come in Philly, with their only other home game ending in a dramatic tie (yes, there is such a thing).  

I'm probably forgetting a lot (you can probably figure out why), and my "recap" of the actual game action leaves a lot to be desired. I recommend checking out Dave Zeitlin's account, Judah Levine's, and this amazingly shot gallery at the Union's FB. 

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.

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian police charged American swimmer Ryan Lochte on Thursday with filing a false robbery report over an incident during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A police statement said Lochte would be informed in the United States so he could decide whether to introduce a defense in Brazil.

The indictment will also be sent to the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission, the statement said.

The swimmer's publicists and his lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, did not immediately respond to calls and emails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Lochte initially said that he and fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi by men with a police badge as they returned to the Olympic Village from a party Aug. 15. However, security video suggested the four actually faced security guards after vandalizing a gas station restroom.

Lochte left Brazil shortly after the incident. Three days later, local authorities took Conger and Bentz off an airliner heading to the United States so they could be questioned about the robbery claim. They were later allowed to leave Brazil, as was Feigen, after he gave testimony. Feigen, who initially stood by Lochte's testimony, was not charged.

Lochte has since acknowledged that he was highly intoxicated and that his behavior led to the confrontation. It is not clear from the video whether a gun was ever pointed to the athletes.

Under Brazilian law, the penalty for falsely filing a crime report carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison. Lochte could be tried in absentia if he didn't return to face the charge.

The United States and Brazil have an extradition treaty dating back to the 1960s, but Brazil has a long history of not extraditing its own citizens to other nations and U.S. authorities could take the same stance if Lochte is found guilty.

That is currently the case of the head of Brazil's football confederation, Marco Polo del Nero, who faces charges in the wide-ranging scandal entangling international soccer's ruling body, FIFA. He has not travelled outside Brazil for more than a year to avoid being arrested by U.S. authorities somewhere else.

The charges in Brazil raise questions about the future for Lochte, who is planning to take time off from swimming but wants to return to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He has 12 Olympic medals, second only to Michael Phelps among U.S. male Olympians.

Lochte lost four major sponsors early this week over the controversy, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren. But on Thursday he picked up a new sponsor -- Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops. Pine Bros. said people should be more understanding of the swimmer and said he will appear in ads that say the company's product is "Forgiving On Your Throat."