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. 

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

Matt Klentak: Trade was about doing the right thing for Carlos Ruiz

The Phillies’ decision to trade beloved catcher Carlos Ruiz to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday was ultimately made by Ruiz himself.

“This was about doing the right thing for Carlos because he has meant so much to this organization,” general manager Matt Klentak said Thursday night.

“Once Carlos cleared trade waivers last week, we started thinking about it. The Dodgers expressed some interest. Pete [Mackanin] and I talked to Carlos over the weekend. We discussed whether he wanted to finish the year with us or get the chance to chase another championship ring.

"He took a few days to discuss it with his family and got back to us Wednesday in Chicago and said that he'd be interested in exploring the opportunity and we finalized things with the Dodgers today.”

As a veteran of 10 seasons in the majors and five consecutive with the same team, Ruiz, 37, could have vetoed the deal. He chose to accept the deal because he wanted another chance to play in the postseason. He will serve as a backup to catcher Yasmani Grandal with the Dodgers, but is expected to get playing time. Ruiz's .368 on-base percentage from the right side of the plate could be a nice complement to the lefty-hitting Grandal.

The Phillies acquired the Dodgers’ backup catcher, veteran A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitching prospect Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later in the deal. The Phils will not decide on the player to be named until after the minor-league season ends in mid-September. The Phils also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Dodgers. Ruiz is owed about $2 million in the form of salary and a contract buyout for 2017. Ellis, 35, is finishing up a one-year deal that pays him $4.5 million.

"This deal was not motivated by cash,” Klentak said. “It was about doing the right thing for Carlos, giving him the chance to get another ring.”

Klentak said he was "adamant" about getting Ellis back in the deal. The Phillies have two catching prospects in the upper minors in Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, but the club would like to see them finish their minor-league seasons.

“Carlos has been such an important leader for so long, we knew we had to fill a role on and off the field,” Klentak said. “There is a reasonably good chance one of our young catching prospects will be in the big leagues before the season is over. Both our Double A and Triple A teams are in pennant races and we believe it's important for them to continue to get meaningful at-bats and play in meaningful games.”

Ellis is expected to join the Phillies in New York this weekend. It’s not easy going from a first-place team with legitimate World Series hopes to a rebuilding club.

“I talked to A.J. this afternoon,” Klentak said. “He is a true professional. It's never easy for a guy who has been in one place his whole career to be told out of the blue that it's time to go. A.J. is determined and excited about contributing to the Phillies.”

Bergjans, a 23-year-old right-hander, pitched at Haverford College. He was an eighth-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2015 and is 3-13 with a 4.98 ERA for Single A Rancho Cucamonga this season. He has 133 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 130 innings.

"Tommy was an excellent college performer,” Klentak said. “He has controlled the strike zone well in a tough league. We're always looking to add starting pitching and we had a chance to do it. He strikes out better than a batter an inning and limits walks which was appealing.”

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

Sources: Phillies shake up amateur scouting department

The Phillies have undergone massive changes on the field and off over the last couple of seasons.
 
Those changes have reached the club’s amateur scouting department.
 
According to major league sources, the club recently fired three longtime members of that department, including Mike Ledna, a high-ranking coordinator and national cross-checker. Ledna was the No. 2 man under former scouting boss Marti Wolever, who was let go two years ago and replaced by Johnny Almaraz.
 
Almaraz has overseen the last two drafts with a staff of mostly holdover scouts. He has clearly begun to put his stamp on the department with his recent shakeup. Ledna’s firing was preceded by the club’s decision to part with Steve Cohen and Paul Scott. They covered the talent-rich state of Texas.
 
It is not clear whether more changes on the scouting staff are coming. Over the last year or so, the Phillies have hired a new club president (Andy MacPhail), general manager (Matt Klentak) and manager (Pete Mackanin). The playing roster has also been churned, most recently with Carlos Ruiz being traded to the Dodgers on Thursday (see story). His parting leaves Ryan Howard as the lone member of the 2008 World Series championship team still with the club.

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.