Led by Pepi, U.S. Men’s National Team outlasts El Salvador

After an eight year absence, the U.S. Men’s National Team returned to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and performed admirably. 

Boasting one of the youngest squads in the tournament, with an average age of 25, the USMNT advanced through the group stage and to the Round of 16 before being eliminated by the Netherlands, 3-1. 

The hope moving forward is this collection of young talent comes into its own in the next four years and excels in the 2026 World Cup, which will conveniently take place here in the states. 

With that in mind, the Americans — led by Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna — hosted El Salvador in a Nations League match in Orlando, Florida. Interim manager Anthony Hudson utilized a lineup that leaned heavily on the Americans’ most recent World Cup experience, but it was striker Ricardo Pepi who proved to be the difference maker. The talented 20-year-old, who didn’t make manager Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man World Cup squad, scored two minutes after entering the match against El Salvador to spark a 1-0 victory for the USMNT. 

From midfield, McKennie initiated the play with a beautifully crafted through ball perfectly placed in the path of Pepi, who calmly held off the defender and chipped the ball over the helpless El Salvador goalie, Mario González, in the 62nd minute for his third goal in two games for the U.S.

With the win, the USMNT advances to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas this June, where they attempt to defend their title after defeating Mexico in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final 3-2 in 2021.


Caps’ playoff hopes dealt devastating blow in loss to Blues

With Jordan Binnington suspended two games for acting like a crazy person, the St. Louis Blues turned to 22-year-old goalie Joel Hofer. The emergency call-up responded by stopping 32 of 34 shots in his season debut and dealt the Washington Capitals a demoralizing 5-2 loss on St. Patrick’s Day.

While Hofer was clearing seizing the moment on one end of the ice, the Capitals too often hung their veteran netminder, Darcy Kuemper, out to dry on the opposite side of the rink. Washington allowed a goal on the first shot attempt allowed, less than two minutes into the contest and never recovered. Amazingly, the Caps have now allowed a goal on the first shot they’ve faced in three-straight games.

The team’s struggles aren’t just about starting slowly, however. Thanks to a bevy of missed assignments, defensive miscues and breakaways allowed, St. Louis jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the second period concluded, all but killing any lingering hopes of sneaking into the postseason. Defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who has looked great offensively and has provided a spark on the power play since joining the Capitals at the trade deadline, was on the ice for four Blues goals on the night.

Third-period goals from defenseman Martin Fehervary and center Nicklas Backstrom made the final score line look closer than the game actually was, and the Caps now finds themselves in a situation where they need to essentially win their final 12 games of the regular season to have any real chance to qualify for the playoffs.

That sobering reality killed the buzz in what should have been a festive atmosphere at Capital One Arena. Even the most optimistic fans are going to have trouble keeping the faith after this loss.


Devils deliver baptism by fire to new-look Capitals

In a refreshing moment of honesty and self-reflection rarely seen in professional sports, the Washington Capitals shipped away five key veterans from an over-the-hill and underperforming lineup in an attempt to restock and retool on the fly.

After weeks of speculation over whether the Capitals fancied themselves buyers or sellers as the regular season winds down, general manager Brian MacLellan made the difficult decision to part with a number of good guys and fan favorites as Washington was one of the league’s busiest teams at the trade deadline.

The Capitals moved on from defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson, as well as forwards Garnet Hathaway, Marcus Johansson and Lars Eller, which essentially killed any of the admittedly diminished hopes of sneaking into the postseason as a wild-card team. Now, the front office will spend the rest of the season evaluating what the roster has, and just as importantly, what the roster lacks.

While MacLellan has his eyes on the future, Washington still has weeks of games remaining on the schedule. Capitals coach Peter Laviolette’s task down the stretch is to keep the locker room focused and motivated. Included in that mix are defenseman 23-year-old Rasmus Sandin, acquired from Toronto, and 33-year-old forward Craig Smith, acquired from Boston. A trio of young blue-liners — Vincent Iorio, Gabriel Carlsson, Alexander Alexeyev — have also been thrust into action thanks to trades and injuries. 

With so many changes, it’s probably a good thing that everyone wears their names on their sweaters. Getting to know a half dozen new teammates and developing chemistry with new linemates won’t happen over night, but that’s okay. Might as well throw all of the kids into live action and see if they’re able to sink or swim. On this night, the Caps lost to the New Jersey Devils via shootout, 3-2. But the hope is that a few of these fresh, new faces will ultimately usher in another era of respectability.


WWE lays the SmackDown on Washington, D.C.

On the road to WrestleMania, the biggest names in WWE visited our nation’s capital for an episode of Friday Night SmackDown at Capital One Arena, March 3. The sellout show in Washington, D.C., came just weeks before the company’s biggest event of the year, WrestleMania 39 — a two-night extravaganza in Inglewood, California, April 1-2.

Before the television cameras started rolling, those in attendance were treated to an untelevised match in which the Brawling Brutes (Butch and Ridge Holland) defeated Hit Row (Ashante “Thee” Adonis and Top Dolla w/ B-Fab). Prior to joining the WWE, Top Dolla was known as University of Maryland and Washington Redskins defensive lineman A.J. Francis, so it made sense that he kicked off the night by berating the locals while referring his “close and personal friend Daniel Snyder.” He hasn’t been in the world of sports entertainment for very long, but Top Dolla clearly knows what buttons to push to get instant heat in D.C.

With the warm-up match complete, SmackDown kicked off with a face-to-face meeting between champion Roman Reigns and challenger Cody Rhodes, who earned a shot at Reigns’ WWE and Universal championships by winning the Royal Rumble. The Rock’s cousin and the son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes did a fantastic job of hyping their upcoming headlining match and set the tone for an action-packed episode.

Rhea Ripley (w/ Dominik Mysterio) defeated Liv Morgan and then Dominik Mysterio (w/ Rhea Ripley) defeated Santos Escobar. As members of the Judgement Day faction, Ripley and Mysterio, are two of the bigger “bad guys” on the roster. That means they’re more than willing to bend the rules, from time to time. In related news, Ripley won her match against the much-smaller Morgan and then tipped the scales in favor of Mysterio.

Shayna Baszler (w/ Ronda Rousey) defeated Tegan Nox (w/ Natalya) in a match that barely lasted longer than it took me to type this sentence. In a much more compelling segment, the All Mighty Bobby Lashley came out to the ring to confront Bray Wyatt but was attacked from behind by a mysterious masked man named Uncle Howdy instead.

In the main event of the evening, Solo Sikoa (w/ Jimmy Uso) defeated Sami Zayn in a physical and highly-entertaining match. For months, Zayn was a loyal member of the Bloodline for months, but after turning on Reigns at Royal Rumble, the Tribal Chief has ordered Sikoa and The Usos to take out Zayn once and for all. While Sikoa was able to exact some revenge in this match, the feud remains alive and heated as ever.

After the TV cameras stopped rolling, the WWE treated fans to two additional dark matches. In the first bout, Women’s SmackDown champion Charlotte Flair defeated Sonya Deville, followed by Cody Rhodes besting Finn Balor in a pair of matches designed to send everyone home happy after a downright enjoyable evening.


Caps continue to stumble at worst-possible time

With their season on the line and playoffs hopes rapidly fading, the Washington Capitals have gone cold at the worst-possible time. After no-showing the outdoor game, the Capitals returned home and showed many of the troubling signs that have plagued the franchise since the all-star break. 

For the fifth-consecutive game, Washington allowed the first goal and spent the rest of the evening in an uphill battle. And for the fifth-straight game, they were unable to overcome that early deficit and lost in regulation. With the trade deadline just days away, it’s difficult to see the team’s front office realistically viewing the Capitals, in present form, as capable of qualifying for the postseason — let alone being competitive in a seven-game series with the league’s elite.

If that’s the case, then general manager Brian MacLellan could find himself as a seller at the trade deadline for the first time, which could result in many aging veterans, underperforming players and/or pending free agents being shown the door. That could pave the way to center Lars Eller, ring wing Anthony Mantha and any defenseman not named John Carlson leaving town in the next few days, which would radically alter the Caps as presently constructed.

While potentially losing key contributors to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup winning season would be difficult for many, losing five-straight must-win games should open the door to some serious soul searching. And if/when MacLellan reaches the conclusion that this current group of players is no longer good enough to get the job done, he owes it to everyone involved to make the necessary changes.


No Ovechkin, no defense, no chance of victory versus Panthers

In their final tune-up before a highly-anticipated outdoor matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals allowed six different skaters to score in a disappointing 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. 

While many individuals in and out of the organization might have been focused on the upcoming spectacle of playing in an outdoor venue for the fourth time in franchise history, the Panthers represented a much more immediate threat — especially with both teams neck-and-neck in the standings as they battle for a spot in the playoffs.

With the win, Florida pulled even with Washington at 62 points, erasing an 11-point deficit since New Year’s Day. While that speaks volumes for the Panthers, it also highlights a worrying trend for the Caps, who continue to struggle with consistency in 2023.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin missed the game after flying home to be with his family as they deal with the passing of his father, Mikhail. In his absence, the Capitals received goals from centers Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dylan Strome.


In heavyweight bout, Capitals drop Penguins

Two cities. Two franchises. Two captains who are among the best to ever play the game. Add it all up and you get plenty of respect but very little love for one another when the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins square off.

And sure, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are closer to the end of their careers than they are the beginning, but that only heightens the drama whenever this game pops up on the schedule. This particular matchup found the Caps and Pens both deadlocked for points as the Metropolitan foes currently hold down both wild card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

With roughly 30 games left in the regular season every single point matters and these two iconic franchises showed a sense of urgency from the moment the puck dropped at Capital One Arena. There were goals. There were timely saves. There were massive hits and gloves were even dropped. But the one thing the game lacked after regular and again after overtime was a winner. So a shootout was required and, thanks to centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, Washington emerged victorious on this night.

On offense, Alex Ovechkin scored his 32nd goal of the season and Marcus Johansson chipped in his 13th tally of the season while Darcy Kuemper stopped 35 shots en route to the 3-2 win. The Capitals now hit the road for two games before taking some much needed time off during the all-star break.

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