17Jul

The day the season died

Historically speaking, All Star weekend serves as a fitting moment for baseball clubs to pause, assess the situation and choose the best course of action for the remainder of the season. While Juan Soto turned heads during a strong showing in the home run derby and Max Scherzer once again took the mound as the National League’s starting pitcher, this season has not been particularly kind to the Washington Nationals.

Injuries and inconsistencies up and down the roster have resulted in a disjointed and disappointing campaign thus far, putting general manager Mike Rizzo in the unenviable position of having to prepare for multiple scenarios during the second half of the season as his ball club sits in fourth place with a 42-47 record. 

If the Nationals were to wake up and realize that they’ve wasted the first 89 games of the season, then Rizzo could strategically add a player or two before the MLB trade deadline in hopes of a late-season division title run. Or, in the event that the final sprint to the finish line is more of the same, the conversation could turn much darker with the Nats becoming sellers as they give up today in hopes of a better tomorrow.

Exactly one game into the second half of the season, a 24-8 thumping at the hands of the San Diego Padres, the Nationals made let Rizzo off the hook. There are no more difficult decisions to make. Soto aside, this team doesn’t have the offense, defense or pitching to compete in a watered down NL East.

After allowing San Diego (which doesn’t even have a football team anymore) to score three touchdowns and a field goal, Washington has officially concluded the competitive portion of the 2021 season. Sure, an optimist might say, “It’s only one game.” But that optimist would be wrong. It’s been 90 games. And none of them have shown anything other than the fact that these Nationals, as currently constructed, simply aren’t good enough.

So enjoy these players while you can. Chances are, a few of them won’t be around much longer.

12Jul

As England falters, D.C. United rises to the occasion

While millions worldwide turned their attention to the European Championship as England battled Italy in the finals, our nation’s capital hosted an international soccer tournament of its own — with D.C. United taking on Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in the 2021 Capital Cup finals.

When the inaugural tournament was originally announced last month, it was intended to be a four-team event. Unfortunately, due to health and safety protocols, both Alianza FC (El Salvador) and Club Puebla (Mexico) were unable to participate, so the “tournament” became a two-game tie between the remaining parties.

After D.C. United scored a 1-0 victory over Alajuelense via midfielder Felipe Martins’ free kick in the 87th minute Wednesday, the black and red entered Sunday’s finale with the narrowest of leads.

While both teams had several chances throughout an entertaining matchup, it was forward Jovanny Bolivar’s 68th-minute tally that ensured D.C. United won the 2021 Capital Cup over Costa Rica’s Alajuelense (2-0 on aggregate).

Forward Kairou Amoustapha appeared to score for the home team three minutes later on a link-up play with Bolivar, but the would-be goal scorer was deemed to be offside on the play. 

Although Gareth Southgate and the Three Lions were unable to “bring it home” in the Euro 2020 finals, Bolivar’s goal and several key saves by goalie Jon Kempin ensured D.C. United avoided a similar fate and actually earned some hardware during one of the most soccer-crazed weekends of 2021.

20Jun

As Gonzalo Higuain goes up in flames, D.C. United smokes Inter Miami

It’s probably a good thing Inter Miami owner David Beckham is currently focused on the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship because his club is a bit of a disaster on and off the pitch these days.

After making a name for himself playing for some of the heavy hitters in world soccer — including Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus — Inter Miami striker Gonzalo Higuain made a business decision to take his talents to South Beach last year.

“I thought I would come here and play with a cigarette in my mouth and, instead, it is difficult,” Higuain said of Major League Soccer last week.

“It is a tough league,” he added.

In related news, Inter Miami coach Phil Neville opted to leave his team’s highest-paid player home until Higuain improves his fitness. Considering the 33-year-old is the third highest paid player in MLS at $5.79 million, showing up in shape and ready to contribute shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.

Thanks to Higuain’s bloated paycheck, Inter Miami tops the league in salary spending this season (at $17.8 million), while D.C. United ranks 20th ($10.3 million). And yet, for the second time in three weeks, the black and red easily dispatched Inter Miami — this time 1-0.

Striker Ola Kamara converted a penalty kick in the 72nd minute for D.C., while Miami was forced to finish the match with just nine players after midfielder Gregore picked up a second yellow card and defender Ryan Shawcross earned a straight red card for his overzealous goonery in the second half.

With the win, D.C. United improved to 4-5-0 on the season, while Inter Miami dropped to 2-5-2 after being shut out for the fifth time in seven matches.

15Jun

Fighting till the battle’s won, the Nationals go rolling along

As the U.S. Army celebrated its 246th birthday, the Washington Nationals found themselves in a battle with the rest of the NFC East. Injuries and inconsistencies have marred the team’s 2021 campaign, leaving them seven games behind the division-leading New York Mets.

Late-inning heroics by newly-promoted leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber, who launched his team-leading 13th home run into the right field stands in the bottom of the seventh, paved the way to a 3-2 victory over the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates in the series opener.

While starter Jon Lester has yet to earn his first win as a member of the Nationals, the 37-year-old soldiered through a respectable outing — allowing two runs over 5 1/3 innings pitched — as Washington won for the third time in four games.

Reliever Kyle Finnegan picked up the win and closer Brad Hand earned his 12th save of the season, thanks in large part to Schwarber’s fourth homer in three games.

23May

Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison pace Nats bats to continue O’s woes

First baseman/face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman has long been one of the most beloved players in Washington Nationals’ history. His three-run homer in the fourth inning helped Washington battle back from an early five-run deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles 12-9. 

As if that wasn’t enough, after scoring the 948th run of his storied career two innings later, Zimmerman surpassed Hall of Famer Tim Raines for the franchise lead. All of which was a welcome distraction from the fact that starting pitcher Jon Lester was rocked early and often – giving up a grand slam in the first inning before most fans had even taken their seats. 

The Nats offense, which has been inconsistent at times this season, responded with 15 hits and 12 runs, thanks largely to Zimmerman and Josh Harrison’s first grand slam. Daniel Hudson picked up the win and Brad Hand earned the save as Washington improved to 19-23 on the year. 

17May

New-look D.C. United shows signs of life in loss to Orlando City

For more than two decades, Ben Olsen was the heart and soul of D.C. United. After spending 11 seasons in the nation’s capital as a player, Olsen became the team’s coach in 2010. When D.C. United and the 44-year-old parted ways last fall, it meant the club would need to establish a new identity. 

Meet Hernán Losada. The 38-year-old Argentine was clearly not a household name before he was announced as Olsen’s successor, but his arrival signaled an absolute changing of the guard in D.C.  

No longer will D.C. United sit back and go passively into the night. Losada’s brand features a high-pressing, high-energy style of play that will definitely make the black and red more fun to watch … once his current players are up to speed with the system and the front office adds a few more pieces to the roster.  

In the meantime, frustrating matches like this one – where D.C. United had the bulk of possession, a 10-2 advantage on corner kicks and outshot Orlando City SC 13-6, but lost 1-0 – are bound to happen. Optimistic fans should remain hopeful that better days are ahead for one of the original titans of Major League Soccer. 

17May

Rookie camp brings new faces, hope to Washington

While an unexpected division title and playoff berth was a welcome distraction, head coach Ron Rivera and the rest of the Washington Football Team brain trust knows there’s plenty more work to be done before the franchise can be considered a regular contender. 

That’s why something as simple as 16 youngsters donning burgundy and gold while taking the practice field for the first time is so noteworthy for coaches and fans alike. Everyone from the team’s 2021 first-round draft pick, Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis, to an undrafted free agent like running back Jaret Patterson represents hope of better days. 

One of these players could become a future franchise cornerstone or a Pro Bowler. Perhaps there is a hidden gem or a future team captain in the mix. Optimism reigns supreme in most NFL cities this time of year, but really, after two decades of mediocrity, maybe we should cut WFT fans a little slack and let them dream a little dream. 

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