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.

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State's Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he's not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

Kerr said: "As of right now I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air." He said that by Game 1, he might make a decision on his status.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year, still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak, addressed the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

He joked: "I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies."

Brown has been coaching the team since Game 3 of the first round at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games.

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.