Union-Red Bulls Rivalry Is Great, But You Can Have too Much of a Good Thing

Union-Red Bulls Rivalry Is Great, But You Can Have too Much of a Good Thing

More than any other sport, rivalries are what define soccer.

From the very beginning – even before the team played its first game in 2010 – the Union have had no bigger rival than the New York Red Bulls, even if the cornerstone MLS franchise thinks it has bigger fish to fry than a fourth-year club.

Sadly, Major League Soccer is trying its best to reduce the power of some of its greatest rivalries. How?

By having the teams play more often.

Bear with me here. In the Union’s first two seasons, all MLS teams played a straight home-and-home schedule. Everyone in the league, once home and once away.

The two games against New York in 2010 and 2011 were massive occasions. The matches at PPL Park had a tension and edge that has not been present since, and the away games at Red Bull Arena were events not to be missed. The 2011 game in Harrison, N.J., with playoff seeding and positioning on the line, was one of my favorite sporting events I’ve ever attended in person.

The Sons of Ben filled multiple sections in the upper deck at RBA (the only sold-out sections in the entire stadium), and begrudgingly filed onto busses for the ride home after a 1-0 New York win.

It was an event not be missed.

But as the league has expanded in recent years, MLS has abandoned the round-robin schedule in favor of an unbalanced slate that limits trips out west and increases the frequency of conference rivalries.

The Union will play New York three times this season, beginning today on national television at Red Bull Arena (3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network). In most cases, fans would argue for more rivalry games, not less. Hell, the NHL has gone solely to conference games during this lockout-shortened season.

But something is lost today by knowing that the Union will return to Harrison in August. It doesn’t feel like the same event it once was. The annual Eagles-Cowboys game at the Linc is one to circle on your calendar. If there were a second one or a third one, things just wouldn’t feel the same.

With additional expansion planned, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll ever return to a straight-up round robin in MLS. And that is a shame.

Today’s Game
New York Red Bulls (0-2-2, 2 points) vs. Philadelphia Union (2-1-0, 6 points)
3:30 p.m., Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J. — TV: NBC Sports Network

Today’s Opponent, in Haiku Form
Wins? Red Bulls have none,
Henry is likely to sit.
Seats still won’t be filled.

Real Facts About Today’s Opponent
The Red Bulls – yet again – have been disappointing out of the gate. They have no wins in four games, including a crushing loss in San Jose in which they led in the final minutes, only to lose, 2-1, thanks to the stupidity of Roy Miller.

Thierry Henry and new signing Fabian Espindola are likely out today due to injury, while Australian star Tim Cahill also is a question mark due to a long flight back from international duty.

New head coach Mike Petke is trying to right the ship in New York (or New Jersey), but a Union win (or even a draw) today in Harrison could send New York fans searching for that panic button.

They should know where it is by now.

A Real Fact About Today’s Opposing City (thanks, Wikipedia!)
Harrison, N.J. is a suburb of Newark, not New York City. Newark’s Branch Brook Park is the oldest county park in the country, and – much to the dismay of those in Washington D.C. – is home to the nation’s largest collection of cherry blossom trees (4,300).

The Player Most Likely to Doop
I’m still hopeful of some day getting to see Conor Casey on the field for the Union. John Hackworth said this week that Casey was finally 100 percent healthy. So I’m going to go out on that limb.

I’m sure that means Casey will never leave the bench.

Prediction Sure to be Way Off
The Union win over New England was the first time I predicted the right result this season (even if not the right score). So things are looking up. I think the Union really get it together today and turn New York’s early-season woes into a real cause for concern in Red Bull-land.

Union 2, Red Bulls 1

Carson Wentz talks Derek Barnett, that Cowboys hat and crazy Eagles fans

Carson Wentz talks Derek Barnett, that Cowboys hat and crazy Eagles fans

Carson Wentz has had a whilrwind few days in Philadelphia as the city hosts the 2017 NFL draft.

He took some time between posing for selfies with Eagles fans and messing with Dallas Cowboys fans and hitting trick shots on live TV to talk about his busy week with CSNPhilly's Danny Pommells.

Obviously that pesky Cowboys' fan was a topic of interest.

"He was coming up and was getting booed. I was like, 'I can't take this picture.' So I nicely took his hat off and set it down and took the picture. He was cool with it. It was all in fun," Wentz said.

Carson also spoke about the record-setting Philly crowd and impressive atmosphere on Day 1 of the draft

"It was crazy. I didn't know what to expect being at the Draft Experience. The fans just kind of all circulated, it was nuts. That's Eagles fans. So much passion."

As for the Birds' first round pick Derek Barnett? Wentz had to look him up just like many Eagles fans.

"I watched some film of him. He's a dynamic player. He can really turn that corner and bend around that corner. I'm happy he's on our team I'll tell you that."

"I've heard he's a hard-working kid so that will serve him well," Wentz said.

The NFL Draft Experience continues on Friday and Saturday and is free for all fans.

Sixers 2016-17 Player Evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Sixers 2016-17 Player Evaluation: Richaun Holmes

Richaun Holmes

Position: Center

Status for 2017-18: Under contract for $1,471,382

Holmes in 2016-17
This year very well could have been a lost season for Richaun Holmes. The 23-year-old center was fourth on the Sixers' depth chart to begin the season, sitting behind top-10 picks Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Cracking the lineup, even with Embiid not playing back-to-backs and Noel hurt to start the year, was a daunting task.

Early in the season, Holmes provided solid minutes when he received them, reeling in 12 rebounds in a win vs. the Pacers on Nov. 11 and picking up 11 points and eight boards against the Nuggets on Dec. 5. However, Holmes was sent to the D-League soon after and with centers excelling ahead of him, it seemed his time in Philly may be numbered.

But then Embiid got hurt. This opened the door for consistent playing time for the former second-round pick and he shined. He averaged 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in 17.9 minutes during February, then shot up to 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds over 26.4 minutes in March after Noel was traded. He put up 14 games with double-figure scoring despite eclipsing 30 minutes only four times. 

In all, Holmes proved himself to be a force off the bench for the Sixers, as well as when he got into the starting lineup. In 57 games, he started 17 and averaged 9.8 points and 5.5 rebounds, both increases from his rookie season. He upped his field goal percentage to 55.8 percent and became a viable three-point threat, shooting 35.1 percent, up from 18.2 percent as a rookie. Holmes finished the year with five straight games in double figures as he was one of the only healthy players left on the roster.

Signature game
Soon after returning from the D-League in January, he put up 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting against the Clippers in a win. He also had a double-double against the Wizards in late February after the trade deadline.

However, his signature game is one of two. He had 24 points, 14 rebounds and five assists against the Magic on March 20, giving a tremendous effort over 42 minutes. Nine days later, he had 25 points — a career-high — while facing off against Dwight Howard and the Atlanta Hawks, earning the praise of the veteran center (see below).

Looking ahead to 2017-18
It may have seemed unlikely in early January, but Holmes is likely a rotation piece for the Sixers next season. Noel is gone, Okafor may follow soon and Embiid may have trouble with back-to-backs again next season, although president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has indicated otherwise. That opens the door for a lot of playing time, including more starts, for the Bowling Green product. 

The Sixers may bring in veteran help at center if Okafor is dealt, but it likely won't deter the 6-foot-10 forward in securing a role for next season. He proved too valuable at the end of the season. The energy Holmes provides is a necessary element to a second-unit and something the Sixers will gladly take next season.

On Holmes
"He's a kid that I remember the first time he stepped on the court with me, he was just like excited. He kept saying, 'Wow, I'm on the floor with Dwight Howard.' He just kept saying he was excited. Just to see his growth from that moment, he plays with such passion, it's great to see especially from a young guy like him. I'm proud of him."
- Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard

"He just sat there and accepted whatever we gave him: go to the D-League, sit there and clap, start, play behind Joel — whatever it was, he accepted. And he did it where it didn't diminish his work ethic, it didn't diminish his ability to coexist within a team. He found ways to improve individually, and he did it with a great level of maturity."
- Sixers head coach Brett Brown