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26Jun

Things go from bad to worse as Music City routs Chocolate City

When D.C. United hired Hernán Losada, he was hailed as a young and innovative manager who would introduce the nation’s capital to modern day, offensive-minded soccer. Just 15 months later and only six games into the MLS season, Losada was fired.

“We felt like we should be doing better,” said D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien. “A lot of an organization’s role with players is to inspire them to play their best. We felt like we weren’t getting that. Unfairly or not, sometimes that falls on the manager.”

Firing Losada a month into the season clearly changes the trajectory of the current season for United, but it’s not unfair to question how competitive the squad was going to be this campaign anyway — after the club spent the offseason sending away its best players.

Earlier this year, D.C. United sold talented midfielder Kevin Paredes to German club Wolfsburg for a fee of more than $7 million and traded winger Paul Arriola to FC Dallas in exchange for $2 million in allocation money. Paredes and Arriola were two of the team’s best players last season and, thanks to their time with the U.S. Men’s National Team, were quite possibly the only two assets on the current roster worth the price of admission.

Without them, and without the highly-touted manager who was supposed to stabilize the franchise, D.C. United looks completely lost. Forward Taxiarchis Fountas, who the club acquired from Rapid Vienna, looks to be the real deal, but he’s basically a one-man show these days as the black and red continue to plummet down the MLS standings. After falling to Nashville SC 3-1 in a game that remained competitive for roughly five minutes, it’s clear that this franchise is in need of a serious infusion of talent and money. Until then, D.C. United will continue to be a small market club in a town that is desperate for better.

14Jun

Commanders once again plagued with dust-ups, distractions

Despite Ron Rivera’s best efforts, the Washington Commanders are simply unable to keep their heads down and let the work on the field speak for itself.

Hope springs eternal during the offseason. That holds true in our nation’s capital, as well as countless other cities with mediocre professional sports franchises. With a new name and several new faces, it’d be nice if fans of the burgundy and gold were able to focus on how quarterback Carson Wentz is settling in and/or which rookie is off to a fast start.

Alas, this fanbase can’t have nice things, so all attention is locked in on the handful of players who aren’t on the field for minicamp, including receiver Terry McLaurin (contract concerns), defensive lineman Daron Payne (in attendance, but skipping team drills over his contract) as well as tight end Logan Thomas and defensive end Chase Young (both are recovering from ACL injuries).

And then there’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was fined $100,000 just days before the start of minicamp for insensitive remarks regarding the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building and protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. His ill-advised comments were so tone deaf, it almost made folks long for the quieter days … when ownership was being called to testify on Capitol Hill for improprieties, etc.

So once again, rather than dedicating attention to receiver Curtis Samuel or linebacker Jamin Davis as both try to bounce back from disappointing inaugural campaigns in Washington, all eyes are on the latest off-the-field distraction.

25May

Hope springs eternal during Commanders’ OTAs

It’s not controversial to suggest that, in most NFL cities, hope springs eternal during the offseason. Whatever did or didn’t go your way last season is long forgotten as renewed hope and a few new players pave the way to only the most optimistic outlook for the upcoming campaign.

In related news, the Washington Commanders, led by newly anointed franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, took to the practice field for organized-team activities this week, giving those not employed by the franchise a first look at the North Dakota State product in action. And while much of the news cycle continues to focus on the players who weren’t in attendance, such as Terry McLaurin (contract holdout), Chase Young (recovering from injury) and Montez Sweat (excused absence), there was still an abundance of storylines worthing of time and attention.

Curtis Samuel’s first season in Washington was marred by injuries, so seeing him running routes and catching passes (albeit in shorts and without pads on) was a welcome sight. Antonio Gibson somehow looks both leaner and stronger heading into his third season, which an optimist could see as a positive sign as the talented running back looks to get a grasp on a fumbling problem that marred his sophomore season. And then there is obviously the infusion of new talent that arrived via the NFL Draft, such as wideout Jahan Dotson, running back Brian Robinson Jr. and tight end Cole Turner, each of which has an opportunity to play a central role for the burgundy and gold this year.

18May

Buckcherry at Tally Ho Theater

Buckcherry could absolutely be the poster child for the quintessential rock band, experiencing the highest of highs and lowest of lows that come with living life on the road in such a volatile occupation.

The Anaheim band, led by frontman Josh Todd, was created in 1995, saw its self-titled debut album earn gold status in ’99 and then, thanks to internal issues, Buckcherry broke up in 2002. And yet, two decades later, the band is touring in support of their ninth-studio album, Hellbound, which was released last June.

With a sound that, at times, has been referred to as sleaze rock, Todd, along with Stevie D. and Billy Rowe on guitar, bassist Kelly LeMieux and drummer Francis Ruiz, are still going strong. Yes, they still roll out their smash hits, like “Crazy Bitch” and “Lit Up,” but newer tracks such as “Hellhound” are worth your time as well.

17May

Blacktop Mojo at Tally Ho Theater

Although they’ve only been around since 2012, it feels like Blacktop Mojo has been around much longer.

Maybe it has something to do with their throwback sound, which has been described as a cross between Soundgarden and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Maybe it’s the soulful sounds that emanate from frontman Matt James’ pipes when he bellows out the lyrics along with the musical stylings of guitarist Chuck Wepfer, bassist Matt Curtis, drummer Nathan Gillis and touring guitarist Malcolm Booher. Whatever the case, the boys from Palestine, Texas continue to produce music I cannot get enough of.

From those uninitiated, might I suggest the band’s amazing cover of “Dream On,” by Aerosmith, which, at last count, had more than 23 million views. From there, be sure to check out “Where the Wind Blows” and “Tail Lights.” And if Blacktop Mojo happens to come to your town, you’d be wise to see them live. Because they definitely know how to put on one helluva performance.

15May

Panthers rally (again and again), Caps eliminated (again)

The Washington Capitals have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for a fourth consecutive season. 

The Caps, who held a two-games-to-one series lead over the Florida Panthers, had numerous chances throughout the series, but simply failed to rise to the occasion when given ample opportunities. Washington held a lead in Game 4, 5 and 6, but the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers were able to battle back in all three contests and will now advance to the second round while the Capitals are once again faced with difficult decisions after a hasty exit.

“You have to shut down teams,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “I don’t know what else to say. It’s obviously on us. It’s disappointing.”

Priority number one for general manager Brian MacLellan this offseason needs to be upgrading the goaltending situation. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are both restricted free agents and either could be a solid backup next season. But neither has shown they can be the unquestioned starter for a veteran team in ‘win-now’ mode.

Beyond the netminders, MacLellan has difficult choices to make with the top half of the roster as well. Backstrom clearly wasn’t himself this season as he battled through a hip injury. T.J. Oshie broke his foot early in the season, tried to play through it and ended up dealing with lingering back issues because of it. Alex Ovechkin entered the postseason with a left shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final three games of the regular season. Tom Wilson suffered a significant knee injury in the opening minutes of the playoffs and would not have been cleared to return to action even if Washington had been able to advance to the second round.

Will each of these core players be able to fully recover and remain productive for an aging Capitals team desperate to make one final run at glory? Or is this franchise in dire need of a more radical overhaul if the goal is to do anything more than simply qualify for the postseason at this point?

08May

Caps crush Cats, cruise to convincing win

Considering how the Washington Capitals limped into the postseason — losing five of their final six regular season games — reasonable hockey fans had doubts about the team ability to magically flip a switch come playoff time.

Watching the team’s defensive struggles down the stretch and erratic goaltending all season long made even the most optimistic of individuals admit that this likely wasn’t Washington’s year.

Naturally, the Caps welcomed the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers to town with an emphatic 6-1 victory to take a two-games-to-one series lead in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

During the regular season, the high-flying Panthers scored an impressive 340 goals while allowing just 246 goals against. Through three playoff game though, Florida is having a tougher time generating consistent scoring chances thanks to Washington’s improved play in the neutral zone. By getting back quickly and limiting odd-man rushes, the Caps are doing to the Panthers what stymied Alex Ovechkin and the Young Guns in their early run-and-gun days.

Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov, who sat out the first five periods of the series, started Game 3 and, much like he’s done throughout his 39 starts this season, immediately allowed a soft goal in the opening minutes of this matchup. Fortunately for the home team, the young netminder settled down afterwards and finished the night with 29 saves. With Samsonov having one of his strongest showings in recent history, all four lines in front of him played with a confidence and ease that hasn’t been seen all that often this season. Add in two power play goals and a perfect night for the penalty killing unit and this was the rare home playoff game that didn’t induce a panic attack for Caps fans.

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