Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

Union Kick Off 2012 Home Schedule: Five Things We're Looking Forward To

The Philadelphia Union are set to open their third season this afternoon, hosting the Colorado Rapids in a 4PM start. The faithful are preparing their tailgating gear or already on their way to Lot A or B, depending on how banged up they got celebrating a certain saint's feast day.
Rev has an in-depth preview of today's on-field action, and here are five parts of the fan experience we're looking forward to as the home schedule begins. 
5. Meet the New Kids
If there's one thing we've learned in our two seasons of MLS fandom, it's that we probably shouldn't get terribly used to the idea of individual players being around forever. MLS rosters endure a lot of turnover, and as we saw this off-season, it's not just the scrubs or mid-level players who come and go. 
This isn't strictly an MLS or Union thing, but the player shelf lives seem more transient because we know so little of them coming in (if anything), and there's not much time to get to know them before they're headed out in some cases. We did just have a clear example of what we might expect from a local team making some significant personnel changes though. Before the Flyers began their current season, no one had any idea what to expect from this year's team. Many of the guys we knew were gone. They weren't particularly old, but they were replaced by even younger players in most cases. So far, few would argue that the team has disappointed compared to last season's iteration. 
Will the same be true of the Union after allowing captain and goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon head home and trading face of the franchise Sebastien Le Toux against his (and the fans') wishes? It's impossible to say at this point. There are signs the team could be more versatile and better built for the long-term, but also indications that long-term growth could come at the expense of contention this season. As we saw on Monday, there will be growing pains as this group gets to know each other. 
For now, as fans, it's time to turn the page and get to know the new guys and the players who will get more PT as a result of the roster changes. 

4. The MLS All-Star Game Comes to Chester
Growing up just outside of Chester and playing soccer as a young Delco kid, I never once imagined a soccer-specific stadium sitting beneath the Commodore Barry Bridge. Now, we drive down Kerlin Street every other week to the greenest patch of grass for miles. Because of the reception the MLS has received in the Philadelphia area since before they hung their shingle, the league has already awarded PPL Park an All-Star Game. We don't yet know what the sides will be, but we know that the league's focus will be on PPL Park this July 25 at 8PM. 
It's a telling acknowledgement of the fans and the franchise by a league looking to replicate this success in future expansion cities, as well as current MLS cities with weak or waning support and no soccer-specific stadium. 

3. Tailgating (and a note on parking changes)
The Union's schedule is mercifully weekend-heavy, making tailgating in the lots adjacent to the stadium ideal for us working stiffs. A change in the way parking is handled for 2012 could pose some challenges, with Lots A and B now reserved for only season-ticket holders who have requested and paid for full-season parking passes. The change here is that you can no longer park in these lots on a game-by-game cash basis. So, if you're a Lot A or B group, your friends without season tickets will have to park in Lot C, which is the southernmost lot and quite a hike from Lot A if they want to walk down and join you. 
The Union had to limit access to Lots A and B because demand from season ticket holders was high (season passes for them are sold out). As a Lot A resident, I can understand that. We would have been pretty upset if we weren't able to get our Lot A request filled. But, at least two carloads of our friends today will have to park in C and hoof it to A. That sucks, for sure, but it's nothing we haven't done a thousand times at the sports complex in South Philly either.  Admittedly, I'd be more upset if I were the one having to get in and out of Lot C, then drag a wheelie cooler halfway to New Hope. Private lots are also springing up around the stadium, but they are not run by the Union, and the team has been clear that they can't guarantee safety or acceptable conditions in lots they don't run. The Union lots are well-staffed and secure, in our experience. We don't know anything about the private lots yet, particularly where they fall on the Jetro-to-Scary Vacant Lot in Chester spectrum. 
Anyway, this was supposed to be about tailgating, not parking. But tailgating doesn't need much explanation. Battery-powered audio. Small grills. Kicking the ball around, throwing the frisbee, some ladders, washers… Gotta hurry up and finish this, get down there! 

2.  The Feeling of High Expectations 
A playoff berth in 2011 means only one thing—anything less will be considered a disappointment. Sound unreasonable? This is Philly sports. What's reason have to do with anything? 
After riding the wave at the top of the table a few times in 2011 and making that playoff appearance, the U have given us a glimpse at the potential for this to be a dominant franchise in the league. We didn't have to endure a long expansion process, or so we hope. The feeling of walking into the building expecting a win is something we've come to enjoy in Philly lately, but most of us know all to well the other end of it. Today, we'll get our ticket cards scanned and scream our way to the River End. 
Of course, with high expectations comes great fury when they aren't met. The Union got to see what the fanbase looks like when it's angry after Le Toux was traded away, and it wasn't pretty. But that energy can be quickly rerouted with the usual panacea—winning. 
It's now put-up time, when Peter Nowak and Company show us the fruits of their personnel plans. If not, the choruses will continue, but they won't be in such constant support as the franchise enjoyed in its first two seasons. We expect a winner now. 

1.  Getting the Band Back Together
Ten years out of college, life is very different. I work all week, don't go out on school nights nearly as often, feel the effects of long nights for more hours the next day than I'd like, and put a whole lot more stock into quieter nights at home and weekend afternoons with the family. It's increasingly easy to turn down plans to go out, and I don't even mind admitting it. 
But with that, you start to lose touch with good friends, and the gaps between meet-ups get longer every year. For this reason, getting season tickets to the Union was one of the best decisions I've made. Two tickets in 2010 meant that me and one of my oldest soccer-fan friends could enjoy a few beers and some rowdiness not far from home on a regular basis. Friends started to join us on a game-by-game basis, people who had never followed soccer and others who kept up with the National team during World Cup play and maybe some English Premier League. In 2011, a few had become season t
icket holders as well, and our group's size increased with more people coming to their first, second, third… Union games, buying individual tickets along the way. In the second year, Union home games became meeting places for a group of guys that always has fun together, but otherwise might not get together half as much without a set time and place when it's understood we'll all be there. 
This year, our group has again grown, with new full and partial season ticket holders, spouses, and family. My brother-in-law just called to arrange where to meet up when he walks with my 8-year-old nephew down from their first ever Union tailgate in Lot C to meet us in Lot A for a bit. 
The home opener is a bigger beast than the regular home schedule, which spans from now til the leaves turn. But every other week or so, we'll meet in the lot under the Barry Bridge, have a couple beers, make fun of each other for a few hours, and walk in. What happens after that doesn't make or break the day, but the more DOOP the better... 

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).