Messi shines as Argentina cruises to convincing victory over Guatemala

The Argentina national team, which claimed victory at the 2022 World Cup and 2021 Copa America, is as stacked and star-studded as any squad in the sport. They’ve got Emi Martinez in net. Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Mac Allister controlling and patrolling the midfield. Angel Di Maria, Julian Alvarez and Lautaro Martinez providing more than enough offensive prowess and firepower. Oh, and they’re still captained by the immortal Lionel Messi.

Messi and Martinez each scored twice in a comfortable 4-1 victory over Guatemala at Commanders Field. With his 108th international goal, Messi tied Iran’s Ali Daei for second-place all-time on the men’s international goal-scorers list.

Guatemala jumped out to an early lead, thanks to a Lisandro Martinez own goal in the fourth minute. But Messi evened the score just eight minutes later when he intercepted an errant pass by Guatemala goalie Nicholas Hagen and walked it into an empty net for one of the easiest goals of his illustrious career.

After 19-year-old forward Valentin Carboni was taken down in Guatemala’s box, Martinez converted the penalty kick to give Argentina a 2-1 lead. Martinez struck again in the 66th minute, slotting home from close-range after a deft pass from Messi. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner closed out the scoring 11 minutes later, with an assist from Di Maria.

As Messi and friends aim to claim a second consecutive Copa America, this tune-up went about as smoothly as possible. And although Messi turns 37 this month, the superstar is showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, Messi has scored 50 of his 108 international goals since turning 30, which should serve as notice to the rest of the field.


Colombia dominates U.S. Men’s National Team

In preparation for the upcoming Copa America tournament, the U.S. men’s national team hosted Colombia at Commanders Field.

Roughly two weeks before the 16-team, South American tournament kicks off, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and friends visited our nation’s capital for a friendly match. It did not go as planned for the gentlemen in red, white and blue. Colombia scored early and often, soundly drubbing the hosts 5-1 in the pre-tournament tune-up. Prior to this “friendly” thrashing, the last time the USMNT conceded five goals in a match was 2009.

At times during the beatdown, the enthusiastic crowd of more than 55,000 was heard chanting: “USA, Colombia es tu papá.” Yes. That translates to: “Colombia is your daddy.”

“We’re actually framing it as a wake-up call,” Berhalter said, when asked for his thought after the team’s worst defeat since 2016. “Really poor performance against a top team, and if you give a team like that the opportunities we gave them, you’re going to have no chance to win. It’s never going to happen.”

Colombia wasted no time taking the lead, as midfielder Jhon Arias scored in the sixth minute and forward Rafael Santos Borré converted an acrobatic overhead attempt in the 19th minute. Even after U.S. forward Tim Weah scored 12 minutes into the second half, it never really felt like Colombia’s lead was in doubt. Goals by Richard Ríos, Jorge Carrascal and Luis Sinisterra in the final 15 minutes turned the game into a rout.

For the first time in USMNT history, all 11 starters play for clubs in the top five — England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France — European leagues. Unfortunately that did not translate against Colombia.

“Unacceptable, disappointing,” said goalie Matt Turner. “It’s frustrating because we knew what we were getting into and then we didn’t take care of our business. There’s a way to lose, and that is definitely not the way.”

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for Team USA, who next face a powerhouse Brazil squad in a final exhibition match to conclude preparation for Copa America.


Offense goes missing as Nationals fall to Twins

When things have gone well for the Washington Nationals this season, their starting pitchers have limited mistakes and lasted deep into games. There hasn’t been much in the way of firepower in the Nats bats, but they goal is to make up for it with timely hitting and aggressive baserunning. Realistically, this team is still a year or two away from being deep enough to win consistently, but the scrappiness and resilience of the current squad is admirable.

To that end, starter Jake Irvin had a respectable showing, striking out six Minnesota batters while allowing five hits and two earned runs over six and a third innings, but got zero support from Washington’s batters. The two runs allowed by Irvin came courtesy of solo homers by right fielder Max Kepler and shortstop Carlos Correa, but the Nats went zero for eight with runners in scoring position.

Designated hitter Joey Meneses homered off of Twins closer Jhoan Duran in the ninth inning, but it was too little, too late for the Nationals who fell 3-2, and have now lost seven of their last eight games. If the Nationals are to remain semi-competitive this season, they’re going to need the current crop of batters to step things up or perhaps infuse the roster with additional talent. If only they had a highly-touted power hitting outfielder in the system …


Nationals shutout Orioles in Beltway Series opener

The Baltimore Orioles are loaded with young, affordable talent. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson and catcher Adley Rutschman are already considered two of the best and brightest at their respective positions. Ace Corbin Burnes is one of, if not the best, pitcher in the American League. Simply put, this is a loaded franchise with an incredible foundation and championship aspirations.

And then there’s the Washington Nationals, who have been an afterthought in their own town since before the pandemic. With little investment from ownership, the on-field product has been largely unwatchable. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto, Trea Turner are long gone, and now locals are stuck waiting for the likes of MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Keibert Ruiz and CJ Abrams to (hopefully) usher in the next generation of franchise cornerstones.

It’s admittedly a low bar, but the Nationals over .500 for the first time since 2021. Simply having more wins than losses, courtesy of an 18-17 record, is a noteworthy milestone for a rebuilding franchise that hasn’t been remotely competitive since gutting their 2019 World Series winning roster.

Starter Trevor Williams was brilliant against the Orioles — allowing just two hits and striking out eight over five scoreless innings — and is now 4-0 with an impressive 1.96 earned run average this season. Washington still struggles to score runs consistently, but when they get such high-quality outings from starters like Williams, the Nationals are able to overcome the problem.


No Messi no problem for Luis Suarez and Inter Miami

The moment Lionel Messi joined Major League Soccer, he became the most sought-after ticket in American sports. With the global icon closer to the end of his storybook career than the beginning, ticket prices for Inter Miami matches continue to skyrocket on the secondary market.

Season-ticket holders in every MLS market suddenly find themselves in a position where they can potentially witness greatness from one of the most decorated and celebrated athletes on the planet or sell their tickets for enough extra cash to potentially cover the cost of the entire season. It’s safe to say a wave of hype bordering on hysteria follows Inter Miami each and every time they hit the road.

Sadly, a midweek hamstring strain prevented Messi from participating in the highly anticipated matchup against DC United. Fortunately for those who paid exorbitant sums of money to attend the game, a trio of Messi’s former Barcelona teammates — Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez — featured in the match at Audi Field, although Busquets was the only one who started.

During roughly 30 minutes of game time, Suarez scored two second-half goals in a 3-1 win over previously unbeaten DC United at Audi Field. Suarez’s first goal was not without controversy as a handball in the box by Inter Miami defender Tomas Aviles wasn’t given and, while DC United players protested, Inter Miami countered and scored the eventual game-winner. The 37-year-old striker then chipped the goalie seven minutes later to seal the win for the visiting team.

DC United forward Christian Benteke returned to action after missing the last two games due to a groin injury, and midfielder Jared Stroud scored his first goal of the season — and first for the club — with a beautiful strike from the edge of the box at the 15-minute mark and an otherwise forgettable afternoon for the black and red.


Benteke hat trick lifts DC United over Revolution in season opener

DC United’s 29th season opener was easily the most unique in the storied franchise’s history. In his debut, manager Troy Lesesne was banned from the sidelines due to a red card in his final match as interim coach of the New York Red Bulls. An ongoing labor dispute meant that replacement referees were utilized in all Major League Soccer matches during opening weekend. And DC United’s supporters groups sat quietly — refusing to play the drums and/or participate in organized songs or chants — in protest of the team’s preseason trip to Saudi Arabia.

All of which combined for a quieter-than-usual atmosphere and a disjointed match that lacked any real flow. Fortunately for the black and red though, forward Christian Benteke is still the face of the franchise. The bruising Belgian provided the necessary firepower — netting a hat trick to lead his team to a 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution in the season opener at Audi Field.

Revolution forward Giacomo Vrioni received a second yellow card in just the 25th minute, forcing New England to play a man down for the bulk of the game. From there, Benteke took over, scoring a series of goals from around and within the six-yard box — utilizing his head and his feet to provide the necessary offense on a cold and rainy evening. Benteke has now scored 17 goals since the start of last season, second most in MLS.


Slow start dooms Capitals in disappointing loss to Canadiens

The midpoint of the season provides a perfect opportunity for players and front offices to review what’s gone right and what needs to improve. Brutally honest assessments are vital, both on and off the ice, for the good of the franchise.

To that end, the 2023-24 Washington Capitals have proven to be a limited bunch. The offense struggles to score consistently (only two teams in the league have scored less this season), the defense has been erratic and the goaltenders remain streaky. With an aging roster that too often relies on razor-thin margins, each game further solidifies that Washington is not a true contender and that simply qualifying for the postseason might be a difficult achievement.

Nicklas Backstrom ($9.2 million this season) played just eight games before stepping away from the team thanks to a chronic hip injury. Evgeny Kuznetsov ($7.8 million) did not return after the All-Star break, having entered the NHL’s player assistance program. T.J. Oshie ($5.75 million) remains productive when healthy, but “when healthy” is a substantial disclaimer for the oft-injured winger. Alex Ovechkin’s ($9.5 million) pursuit of the NHL’s all-time scoring record is in serious jeopardy after a less-than-stellar first half of the season.

For Washington to be truly competitive this season, they need much more from their core players. With the trade deadline one month away and the Caps currently on the outside looking in at likely playoff teams — Moneypuck gives them a 1.5 percent chance of qualifying while The Athletic puts the odds at five percent — the next few weeks will decide general manager Brian MacLellan’s course of action.

Sadly, Washington’s start to the second half of the season wasn’t any better than their first half showing, as Montreal cruised to a relatively straightforward 5-2 win at Capital One Arena. Goalie Charlie Lindgren was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots and the competitive portion of the evening concluded before the game was even 12 minutes old.

Ovechkin scored his 10th goal of the season and 832nd of his NHL career, on an otherwise forgettable night for the home team. Ovechkin is now 62 goals away from Wayne Gretzky’s record, while his Capitals are currently mired in a season-long five-game winless streak.

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