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

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Opportunity for a rare 4-game win streak

Phillies (33-61) vs. Brewers (52-47)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

For the first time since they won four straight from June 3-6, the Phillies have a three-game winning streak going. On Friday night, they were carried by the arm of Aaron Nola, who is on a roll since early June (see story). Going for the Phils' fourth straight win, Jeremy Hellickson toes the rubber Saturday against rookie lefty Brent Suter.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Gone streaking?
A winning streak! The Phillies have put together one of their better stretches of the season over the last week, winning four out of five beginning with the final game of their set in Milwaukee. 

While the offense has picked up its play in that span (6.2 runs per game in the last five), the pitching needs to be mentioned first. The staff has come together well and looks much more like what the team expected in the spring. Fitting, the three-game streak began with six quality innings from Vince Velasquez. This season has been a struggle for the righty, who came off the disabled list in the win.

On Wednesday, Nick Pivetta allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, but the bullpen held the Marlins scoreless. And then there was Nola on Friday. He looked sharp from the get-go and found a second gear when the lineup turned over. The second time through the lineup, he struck out seven batters in the midst of retiring 10 straight batters.

Now to the offense. Going into Friday's win, the Phillies were ninth in team OPS in July. Nick Williams has 10 hits in his last six games, picking up where Aaron Altherr left off. Maikel Franco has a five-game hit streak and has raised his average to .233, the highest it's been since the Phillies' opening series in April.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are ice cold. They've lost six straight and have a tenuous hold on their division with the red-hot Chicago Cubs on their heels. They're only a game up on the Cubs and are one behind in the loss column. They're only 2.5 games ahead of Pittsburgh and 3.5 up on the Cardinals. The clock may have hit midnight on baseball's first-half Cinderella.

2. Hellickson at home
In his last time out, Hellickson had the Brewers off balance for most of his outing. He was cruising into the fifth inning with a 1-0 lead, but the righty made one big mistake, leading to a home run by Brett Phillips that put Milwaukee up.

While the Phillies won the game, it ended Hellickson's day. It was the first time in his last five starts that he had failed to complete at least six innings.

The righty has been on a mini-roll since he was roughed up by the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park last month. In his last five appearances, he has a 3.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings. He's allowed only 30 baserunners in that period and held batters to a .227 average. 

Looking at Hellickson's season as a whole, he has similar numbers away from CBP in 2017 compared to last year. However, he's faltered at home. He had a 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 innings at CBP last year with a 4.55 K/BB ratio. This year, it's a 4.59 ERA with a 1.59 K/BB ratio while his home run rate has ballooned. It's not a great look for a pitcher the Phillies would like to trade.

3. Brewers turn to the rookie
With their division lead evaporating, the Brewers are turning to Suter, a rookie making just his 12th appearance and fifth start of the season after making 14 and two last year. 

And the lefty has looked good in limited action. In 32 innings, he has a 3.09 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks. He's allowed 32 hits and just one home run.

The 27-year-old lefty has had success despite his four-seam fastball topping out in the upper 80s. He still throws it 70.3 percent of the time working in his mid-70s slider and low-80s changeup with some success. He'll rarely throw his curveball. 

One may wonder how a lefty who doesn't touch 90 mph can handle RHBs. Believe it or not, Suter actually has a reverse split for his career, holding righties to a .680 OPS while LHBs hit .803 off him.

Suter has made three starts in July and has held hitters to a .254/.294/.317 slash line in 17 innings, striking out 15 and walking four.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Speaking of lefties, Odubel Herrera has had better command of the strike zone recently. He's drawn a walk in four consecutive games and has five walks to go with nine hits since the All-Star break.

Brewers: Eric Thames has cooled off considerably since his hot April, but he still leads the Brewers with 23 home runs this season and has a .774 OPS since May. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies haven't won back-to-back series since sweeping Atlanta and Miami April 21-27. They've lost every home series since taking two of three from the Giants on June 2-4.

• In five career starts against the Brewers, Hellickson is 3-1 with a 2.89 ERA over 28 innings. 

• Mark Leiter Jr. took a loss for Triple A Lehigh Valley on Friday, but Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery hit their 21st and fifth home runs for the IronPigs, respectively.

With off-the-charts command, Kyle Young aims to become tallest MLB pitcher ever

With off-the-charts command, Kyle Young aims to become tallest MLB pitcher ever

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — Phillies prospect Kyle Young is aiming to become the tallest pitcher in MLB history.
 
The 7-foot left-hander out of Long Island has become the staff ace in Short-Season Class A Williamsport, with a 1.59 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 34 strikeouts and just seven walks in 28 1/3 innings this season. Those numbers would be impressive for any 19-year-old pitcher, but when you consider his size, Young’s command is off the charts.
 
His coaches attribute that ability to an athleticism rarely seen in taller pitchers.
 
“The amazing thing with him is the coordination he brings to the table,” Crosscutters pitching coach Hector Berrios said. “It’s been off the charts for a guy his size to be able to repeat his delivery and not only do it with one pitch, he does it with all three pitches.”
 
Right now, those three pitches include a fastball that reaches the low 90s, a changeup and an off-speed pitch that Young calls a “slurve.” And he believes that his height gives him an additional weapon.
 
“Not even just because of the intimidation or anything, but also just the downward plane that I can get on the ball with my fastball," Young said. "I think that really helps induce groundballs. I know they’re going to hit it, everybody hits fastballs, but just try to get weak contact. That's the main goal.”
 
“He hides the ball fairly well in addition to the release point being a tad bit closer to the plate, which matters,” said Crosscutters manager Pat Borders, who you might remember as the starting catcher for the Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series. “If you get a release point that's a foot closer, it's like adding some velocity. He's a kid now physically. In a couple years, you're going to have somebody that's throwing harder and already has the mindset and physical skills to do some damage.”
 
The Phillies selected Young in the 22nd round last year, and a $225,000 bonus swayed him to turn pro rather than accept a scholarship to Hofstra. Early in his professional career, it looks like money well spent by the Phillies.

You can see more on Young, 2017 first-round pick Adam Haseley and 18-year-old power-hitting sensation Jhailyn Ortiz on the next episode of Phillies Clubhouse, which airs Saturday (11 p.m.) and Sunday (12:30 p.m., 6 p.m.) on CSN.