Union Dominate New England, Who Remind Us How Good We Have It

Union Dominate New England, Who Remind Us How Good We Have It

The Union ended their long road swing with a 3-0 throttling of a struggling New England Revolution club at Gillette Stadium. The U came out firing and controlled the run of play throughout the first half, beginning with some attacking waves that would earn them a lead they'd hold throughout.

Carlos Ruiz opened the scoring, notching his team-leading sixth goal. His finish was athletic and praiseworthy, but Justin Mapp and Keon Daniel deserve their share of the credit on this one:

Mapp was marked well just outside the box and forced to go to his right foot, yet still put it right on target. Keon was in perfect place to head it back to Ruiz, who went up to get it, yet kept it under the crossbar. El Pescadito played hard early, and it bothered the Revolution, who ran at him a few times yet didn't slow him down at all. More on that in a bit.

While it was Ruiz's 88th career goal, both Carlos Valdes and Sheanon Williams opened their MLS accounts to round out the Union scoring. Full video highlights and a look at the current differences between the Union and the Revolution, whose fans walked out of the game, below.

The Union's second goal came on a set piece where Kyle Nakazawa drilled a perfect ball, Sebastien Le Toux headed down it to Valdes, who buried it from close range.

Look familiar? Great thinking by Le Toux to set up Valdes rather than try to turn it in. Despite being desperate for a goal of his own, Seba was unselfish, and the team went up 2-0 as a result. His 7 assists are tied for third in the MLS.

The Union owned the first half, playing with as much control as we've ever seen from them. The broadcast team of JP DellaCamera, Taylor Twellman, and Bob Rigby all agreed it was their best 45 minutes of the season, even better than their 3-0 first half en route to a 6-2 win over Toronto FC in late May.

In the win over Toronto, the Union conceded two quick goals coming out of the half. On Sunday, the Revs also had a little more fire in the latter 45, generating a few good chances, but they never soiled Faryd Mondragon's clean sheet.

The U kept the pressure on with their second half subs, including an energy injection in the form of birthday boy Danny Mwanga. They played somewhat conservatively late to preserve a lead that was well in hand, yet didn't stop making opportunistic runs. Williams' goal even came in extra time, a great moment for the Boston native.

THE FORT IS ON FIRE
The situation in New England is bleak, and last night their supporters walked out of the game in a statement of their dissatisfaction with ownership. From a joint supporters group statement:

For purposes of the Revolution vs. Union match, supporters in The Fort will protest by wearing black while refraining from standing, chanting, singing, waving flags or drumming for the first fifteen minutes of the match. The protest will conclude in the 16th minute with supporters walking out of the stadium for the remainder of the match, this in recognition of 16 seasons of (as yet) unresolved issues between fans and the Revolution organization.

The whole post and letter linked above is worth a read. Here's video of the walkout (in the background, across the corner):
Not quite the effect of how it might look and sound if the entire River End emptied out, but a statement nonetheless of the situation up there.

I personally haven't joined in the spirit of the Defend The Fort movement, which has taken root in the Sons of Ben as well, including a recent minute of silence at PPL Park (which showed that if the River End is silent, the stadium is a whole different place). Mostly this is because I don't have much interest in getting involved in what goes on between a rival fanbase and its team ownership, particularly over something kind of dumb (a lot of the current strife has to do with fans clashing with cops/security over the "YSA" chant that both the Union and the SoBs are trying to get rid of at PPL Park, although the battle has deeper roots than that).

If it were happening here, with the Union's ownership, I might feel differently. But I'm not going to get too caught up in it when our own gameday experience is so good.

Despite their being a rival though, I do wish things were different in New England. It's not the same as say, if Mets or even Patriots fans were mad at their owners because they'd set the cops on them for cursing in the stands. While on the surface it can be kind of amusing, fans who want soccer and the MLS to continue to grow in the US know it's important for strong fanbases to thrive in MLS markets, particularly those as big as New England. Nothing looks to be going particularly well in New England though, from the relationship of the ownership and its fans to the play on the field.

Aside: Speaking of their poor on-field product, Benny Feilhaber was a joke last night. His overt lack of discipline netted him a pair of yellow cards and the customary early exit that comes with them.

Now we all know Ruiz can flop, but Feilhaber clearly came at him late and basically put a body check on him. Then he petulantly complained as if he hadn't touched him at all. In stark contrast, Union captain Mondragon came across midfield to get his players out of any fracas that might result in a booking.

For the most part, it was easy just to focus on the great effort of the Union on the field. But it was also a good opportunity to take a bird's eye view and see that we have it really good in Philly and Chester so far. The Union are atop the table in mid-July of their second season, already a legitimate title contender. PPL Park is packed. Key members of the Union front office, including Peter Nowak, played in a friendly against key members of the Sons of Ben last week on the pitch at PPL. We're not stuck in a tarp-covered football stadium watching a game on a truncated astroturf surface and feeling the need to walk out for a variety of long-term reasons and a few new sensitive situations.

All is very well, and that's before we even get to the two high-profile international friendlies at home this week, followed by our first ever run at the playoffs. First, Everton comes to PPL Park on Wednesday, then Real Madrid visits Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. Then it's back to the quest for the MLS Cup. This is far more than I expected to happen here so soon. 

FULL VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Photo via the Union's Facebook page.

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

Best of NHL: Sabres snap Blues' 6-game winning streak

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robin Lehner stopped 16 shots in the third period and 37 overall, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped the St. Louis Blues' six-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Evander Kane and minor-league callup Nicholas Baptiste each had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's third straight win, matching a season best accomplished three times. Ryan O'Reilly also scored for the Sabres (26-23-10), who have three more wins than losses for the first time since closing the 2011-12 season 39-32-11.

Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis, which lost for the first time since a 4-1 defeat to Pittsburgh on Feb. 4 (see full recap).

Jets spoil Julien's return to Montreal
MONTREAL -- Patrik Laine and Mathieu Perreault each had a goal and an assist, and the Winnipeg Jets spoiled Claude Julien's return to Montreal with a 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday.

Joel Armia also scored for Winnipeg (27-29-5), and Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots. The Jets had dropped five of six.

The Canadiens fired coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hired Julien in hopes of getting their season back on track. Julien also coached Montreal from 2003-2006.

But Julien's first game back was more of the same for the first-place Canadiens (31-20-8), who have lost three in a row and seven of eight (see full recap).

Senators top Leafs to gain on Canadiens
TORONTO -- Mark Stone had a goal and four assists, Derick Brassard scored twice in the third period and the Ottawa Senators recovered after blowing a two-goal lead to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 on Saturday night.

The Senators pulled within two points of Montreal for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa led 2-0 after one period but trailed 3-2 in the third before getting a tying goal from Mike Hoffman and a power-play goal from Brassard. Stone and Brassard added empty-netters, and Chris Wideman and Ryan Dzingel also scored for the Senators.

Ottawa has won four of five overall and three of four against the Leafs this season. Craig Anderson stopped 34 shots.

Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri and William Nylander scored and Auston Matthews had two assists for the Maple Leafs. Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 40 shots (see full recap).

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NBA All-Star Saturday: Glenn Robinson III dunk champion; Eric Gordon wins 3-point contest

NEW ORLEANS -- Glenn Robinson III is the NBA's new dunk king, with an assist to Indiana teammate Paul George, the Pacers' mascot and a Pacers cheerleader.

Robinson leaped over all three, snagging the ball from George along the way before finishing with an emphatic, two-hand, reverse jam, giving him a perfect score -- and the title -- on his final dunk.

Robinson edged out Phoenix's Derrick Jones Jr., who was done in by his failure to complete his difficult first dunk of two in the final round.

Jones still managed a perfect score on his second dunk, when he received a bounce-pass in the paint, put it between his legs and threw down a left-handed jam. But Robinson made sure it wasn't enough.

In the 3-point contest, Houston's Eric Gordon dethroned Golden State splash brother Klay Thompson. Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks won the Skills Challenge.

Both dunk finalists delighted the crowd with soaring slams over teammates and others that showcased the explosive spring in their vertical leaps.

Robinson had one dunk in which he leap-frogged one man sitting on another's shoulders, grabbed the ball from the elevated man's hands and slamming it home.

Jones jumped over four teammates including Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss in the first round. He also drew roars from the crowd when he took a pass off the side of the backboard from Booker with his right hand, put the ball between his legs to his left for a round-house jam.

The dunk that cost him was a bold one. He tried to leap a friend and the Suns' gorilla mascot, grab the ball on the way over, put it between his legs and then finish with a windmill. But he couldn't get the dunk to go down in his allotted three attempts.

DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers and Aaron Gordon of Orlando were unable to emerge from the first round. Jordan dunked over DJ turn tables and Gordon dunked after receiving a bounce pass from a drone that had flown over the court with the "Star Wars" theme music playing.

Eric Gordon got his win in New Orleans, where he played the previous five seasons before leaving last summer in free agency.

Gordon's score of 21 in a final-round tiebreaker defeated Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, the 2013 winner who had 18. The pair had each finished with a score of 20 in the final round, meaning they each had to shoot 25 more balls to decide it.

"I wasn't really concentrating on how many I made," Gordon said. "It's all about just knocking down the shot. I never counted in my head or anything. I just go out there and just shoot the ball."

Thompson was stunningly eliminated in the first round, missing a final shot from the corner that could have put him through ahead of Kemba Walker.

Big men reigned supreme for a second straight year in the skills competition, with the 7-foot-3 Porzingis beating Utah's Gordon Hayward in the final round.

Those vanquished in earlier rounds included guards John Wall of Washington and Isaiah Thomas of Boston, both because they couldn't make their initial 3-pointers required to close out the course before Hayward did, even though Hayward had trailed each of them dribbling down the court by a considerable margin before hitting his clinching shots.

Porzingis emerged from the big-men's division that included the Pelicans' Anthony Davis and Denver's Nikola Jokic.

"It's a good feeling that I'm able to showcase my skill with my size and show to the kids that you're capable of doing that even if you're tall and lanky like me," Porzingis said. "I think a lot of kids now growing up will improve those perimeter skills just seeing guys like -- I don't want to mention myself, but big guys with perimeter skills that can do it."

Porzingis and Hayward were neck-and-neck until the end of the course, but Porzingis hit his 3 first to end it.

The three-round, head-to-head obstacle-course competition tests dribbling, passing, agility and shooting skills.

Earlier on Saturday, Rollie Massimino, who coached Villanova to the 1985 NCAA championship, and Chris Webber were among the 14 finalists for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Others include NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include point guard Tim Hardaway, record-setting high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU national champion Wayland Baptist University.

Enshrinees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. The induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are Sept. 7-9.