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

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

Highly ranked 2018 recruit Brandon Slater verbally commits to Villanova

The future of Villanova basketball just got brighter.

Brandon Slater, a 6-foot-6 wing and highly touted 2018 recruit, told Scout.com on Wednesday night that he has verbally committed to the Wildcats.

He later made the announcement on Twitter.

Among the 2018 recruiting class, Slater, a product of Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, Virginia, is ranked in the top 30 by Scout.com and top 50 by ESPN.com. He's slated as a four-star talent by both media outlets.

Per ESPN, Slater had offers from Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse, USC and Virginia Tech. He is Villanova's first commitment for 2018.

"Going up there it just feels like a second home," Slater said, via Evan Daniels of Scout.com. "It gives me a good vibe. It's nothing like all the other schools. I just feel like a Villanova guy. It feels like PVI. It's already home."

Slater and Villanova head coach Jay Wright expressed their excitement on Twitter.

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

Pete Mackanin maintains positive outlook even though Phillies now have worst record in majors

BOX SCORE

On the surface, it might appear that the Phillies were done in by one bad inning on Wednesday night. After all, they suffered a 7-2 loss at Citizens Bank Park and the visiting Colorado Rockies scored all of their runs in one hellacious burst in the third inning (see Instant Replay).

But there was more to the loss than just one poor inning by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The Phillies came to the plate in nine innings against the Rockies pitchers and managed hits in only two of them while finishing the game with just three. It was the third time in the last four games -- all losses -- that the Phillies have mustered just three (expletive deleted) hits. Through the first seven innings in this one, they were out-hit, 11-1.

"Well, once again, three hits," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward. "Not a whole lot of good to talk about."

No, there wasn't. Hasn't been for a while. The Phillies have lost five in a row, 9 of 10 and 20 of their last 24 games. Wednesday night's loss left them with the worst record in the majors at 15-29.

"There's a lot of baseball left, and I know we're better than this," Mackanin said. "We just have to have some kind of spark to get out of it. Win a couple in a row and it could put us on a winning streak."

It’s not going to be easy to start the winning streak in Thursday's series finale against Colorado. The Rockies have the best record in the National League at 31-17 and they have outscored the Phillies, 23-5, in the first three games of the series.

That's a serious beating.

"They have some really good hitters in that lineup and it’s a deep lineup, too," Hellickson said. "There are no easy outs."

Conversely, there have been many easy outs in the Phillies' lineup in this series. The Phils did not get their first hit Wednesday night until Andrew Knapp singled with two outs in the fifth inning. The Rockies’ starting pitchers in this series have held the Phils to two runs in 20 innings. And two of those pitchers were rookies, Jeff Hoffman and German Marquez. Tyler Chatwood pitched seven shutout innings Wednesday night.

The Phillies’ starting pitching in the month of May has been brutal. Phillies starters have a 6.39 ERA in the month, second worst in baseball over that span.

The team is 4-17 in the month.

"It's been kind of surprising," Mackanin said of the rotation's problems this month. "I know they're better than that. We're going to put something together. I believe that. "

Hellickson went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April. He's been a different pitcher in May. His ERA in the month is a hefty 7.30 in five starts. The difference in the months: Hellickson located his finesse repertoire down in the strike zone in April. He's been up in the zone in May. On Wednesday night, Rockies hitters fought off his middling fastball and didn’t miss his soft stuff because it was up. Carlos Gonzalez had the big hit against Hellickson in the Rockies' seven-run third. He jumped out of his shoes to hack at a 2-1 changeup and hit it for a three-run home run.

"He had poor command of his changeup," Mackanin said. "He was yanking his changeup, not locating it. That's his out pitch. He didn't have it tonight.

"He’s had a lot of good starts for us. When he doesn’t locate, he gives up a run here or there, but he kind of gets it back. For that one inning, it fell apart on him."

Hellickson allowed eight base runners on six hits and two walks in the Rockies' seven-run third inning. He gave up a double, a triple, a homer and three singles in the frame.

"I beat myself that inning by falling behind and walking too many," the pitcher said. "When I did make a good pitch, they found a way to get hits off those, too."

This is the third straight season that the Phillies have endured a 4-20 stretch.

"It's not easy," Hellickson said. "It’s not fun. It's just something you deal with. It’s not fun."

During this stretch, Mackanin has benched his cleanup hitter, Maikel Franco. Otherwise, he has kept his sanity.

"I remember when I took over in '15, the team was scuffling, really not playing well," Mackanin said. "Then something clicked and we started beating teams. Last year, we had a good first part of the season and then kind of scuffled at the end. Sometimes one little thing clicks and you get better.

"In a long season, these things sometimes happen. I remember Atlanta, the first half last year, was terrible. They had a real good second half. I believe we just need to get something going. We're going to put something together. I believe that."