Capitals fall to Lighting in Round Robin shootout

By Harry Lichtman/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy Photos/Washington Capitals

WASHINGTON — With NHL hockey back after a four-and-a-half-month absence, the Washington Capitals entered the 24-team postseason expansion as one of the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Along with the Capitals, the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Philadelphia Flyers are the other three teams participating in the seeded round robin tournament format to determine the top four Eastern Conference teams’ final seedings.

On Monday, Washington played its first actual game since March, as they faced the Lightning in a very competitive hockey game, with the match needing a shootout to settle the difference as Tampa Bay won 3-2.

“At the start, we tried to set the tone,” said Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin. “We played off our lines to play physical. Obviously, we didn’t get lots of chances, but we tried to find our way.”

The match involved solid puck play and goaltending from both teams, as the Lightning struck first at 7:08 in the first period when Nikita Kucherov fired a shot from the left circle into the top right corner of the net past Washington goalie Braden Holtby.

Washington Captials goalie Braden Holtby attempts to make a save during a match against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. Courtesy photo.

Tampa Bay then took a 2-0 lead with 12:12 left in the second period when Mitchell Stephens deflected the puck into the net off an assist from Ryan McDonagh.

Late in the period, the Caps began to rally back when a long shot and a couple of bounces landed the puck deep in the crease and in front of the net, as Richard Panik was able to tip the puck in before Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy could cover it up.

Then with under a minute left in the middle frame, Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov fired a shot from the point that bounced through Vasilevskiy’s legs to the side of the net, with Evgeny Kuznetsov right at the doorstep to knock the puck in to tie the game up at 2-2.

The third period involved many scoring chances, but tough defense and goaltending resulted in the contest remaining tied at 2-2 at the end of regulation.

While the best-of-five qualifying round is the same format as playoff overtime, the round robin OT is the same format as regular season overtime, with a five-minute three-on-three OT period and shootout if necessary.

Both two teams couldn’t settle it in five minutes, which led to a shootout. Washington had a golden opportunity to win it on a Jakub Vrána breakaway, but Vasilevskiy stopped his shot.

T.J. Oshie scored the first goal of the shootout for the Caps, but when Kucherov and Brayden Point added two tallies for the Lightning. Nicklas Backstrom needed a goal to keep hope alive and couldn’t, resulting in the 3-2 loss.

One crucial stat for the Capitals that may have hurt their chances was suffering from 13 giveaways, while the Bolts only had five.

Despite this, Washington outshot Tampa Bay by the count of 33-28, while Holtby looked strong in net as he notched 26 saves.

“We weren’t expecting perfection in this game,” said Holtby. “But the important part is I think the first part of the periods, they got some action and we didn’t panic, and we were ready to shift.”

The Capitals’ next Round Robin matchup will be Thursday, August 6th, when they face the Metropolitan Division rival Flyers.

Wizards falter against the Pacers, Warren shines

By Brooks Warren/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy Photo/Washington Wizards

WASHINGTON – Despite scoring in double-figures again (20 points), and pulling down 11 rebounds, Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant with assistance from Jerome Robinson (17 points) attained another loss.

The Wizards ultimately fell to 0-3 in the bubble following a 111-100 decision to the Indiana Pacers on Monday.

Just two nights after scoring a career-high 53 points Saturday in a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, T.J. Warren followed up with 34 points and 11 rebounds in the win.

University of Virginia grad Malcolm Brogdon had a masterful performance as well (20 points, seven rebounds, six assists). Aaron Holiday and Myles Turner (nine rebounds) scored 17 points apiece.

Despite having trouble getting into a rhythm offensively, the Wizards showed off the resiliency that’s become their trademark since the contests regained their significance.

The case was evident with Robinson coming off the bench and not hesitating to shoot while creating his own opportunities. As his minutes rose, so did his confidence.

Troy Brown was a prime example too, rising to the occasion when given the opportunity. The third-year guard stuffed the stat sheet once again with 10 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and as a reward, was placed at the point guard spot down the stretch.

Washington Wizards guard Troy Brown in action during a match against the Indiana Pacers in Orlando, Florida on Monday. Courtesy photo.

“I think we were down 13 or 14 points with five minutes and (we) just wanted to get a different look,” Washington Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “Thought it was good, we played with a lot of desperation.”

The same thing occurred with Bryant, who is shooting the ball well and isn’t thinking twice about making his defender pay when they sag off him. Operating at a high level offensively, he’s also engaged defensively, who blocked three shots and altered many others at the rim.

“That energy is what we need,” Brown said. “He’s out there being vocal and just being Thomas Bryant, that’s what everybody knows him as and so to see him out there playing well and being the player he is, I think we’re all happy to see that. At the end of the day, we just gotta come out and win games, make sure we’re doing our jobs.”

All these factors contributed to the Wizards being able to hold a 38-31 lead in the second quarter. The only issue was not having an elite go-to scorer like Bradley Beal or a floor stretching sharpshooter like Davis Bertans (the Wizards top two scorers).

Indiana reeled off a 20-2 run, but Robinson stopped the bleeding with a 16-foot pull-up jumper to give Indiana a one-possession lead. However, Indiana wasn’t finished scoring eight more unanswered points and using that momentum to carry a nine-point lead going into the second half.

“I would say it’s more so of the communication side of things,” Brown said. “At the end of the day, we’re all NBA players and (the Pacers) aren’t running any crazy offense or anything ridiculous and so at the end of the day we gotta communicate and make sure we know when we’re switching and just having each other’s back is the biggest thing.”

It was more of the same for Indiana, who had a dominating 16-point quarter from Warren. That boost wasn’t met without any resistance as Washington clawed it’s way back to 68-66 deficit after Bryant knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:25 left in the third quarter.

After Turner responded with a dunk of his own after slipping past three defenders, Ish Smith (12 points, four assists) committed a costly turnover that sparked a 10-0 run; eight points coming from Warren.

That sequence included an and-one fadeaway from Warren, who converted despite hand fighting with Robinson, who was draped all over him.

Warren’s push helped the Pacers gain a 20-point edge going into the final quarter, but the resilient Wizards weren’t done fighting.

Once again, Washington climbed it’s way back from a double-digit hole in the second half after Robinson drilled another mid-range pull-up jumper to make it 102-93.

Robinson tore through the Pacers defense in the final quarter, scoring 16 of his 17 when it mattered the most.

“We got to get some shots to fall consistently,” Brooks said. “We don’t want just a guy taking shots. We want a guy making shots, and he’s going to have to start making them,” Brooks said. “I like him getting good looks, he’s moving, he’s hustling, scrambling. Some of these shots are going to have to fall; otherwise, we’re going to have to do some other things.”

As always, the Pacers had an answer, relying on stifling defense and some clutch offense from Brogden and Holiday to close the game out.

Washington looks to rebound tomorrow at 4 p.m. when they play the 76ers. The Pacers win puts them just a game behind the Miami Heat for the fourth seed, with their next game coming up Tuesday against the Orlando Magic.

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Bryant’s career night not enough to stop the Nets

By Brooks Warren/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy Photo

WASHINGTON – Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant had a career night Sunday delivering a 30-point, 13 rebound double-double followed up by Troy Brown’s stat-stuffing performance of 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.

However, it wasn’t enough as the Washington Wizards fell late to the Brooklyn Nets, 118-110.

The Wizards played more engaged and disciplined on defense in their second contest in the bubble. The most positive developments came from Bryant, who scored in a plethora of ways aside from his usual inside scoring. He showed his outside touch by knocking down four 3-pointers and used a little bit of creativity with a mid-range step-back jumper.

“I just took what the defense gave me,” Bryant said. “My teammates had the confidence in me to knock down those shots. They kept telling me to take them, so I took them.”

One sequence from Bryant highlighted just how much he grew in his budding career. After tying the game up at 54-all and celebrating what would be his final 3-pointer of the night, Bryant narrowly missed Nets guard Caris LeVert (game-high 34 points, seven rebounds).

Bryant continued to push the ball up the court in an attempt to beat everyone down the floor for a late score and the lead going into the second half.

Generally, it would’ve been easy for a big man like Bryant to foul a faster guard like LeVert to prevent being exposed in transition. Instead, Bryant recovered just above the 3-point line. He sacrificed his body, drawing a charge as LeVert bulldozed through his body, celebrating a momentum-shifting defensive stop just moments before the halftime buzzer rang.

“I knew (LeVert) wasn’t really paying attention, he wanted to get the shot off quick,” Bryant said. “So I just tried to get my feet set, take a charge as best as I can because I knew he was going to keep moving. I got right in front of him and just took it right then and there.”

The moment encapsulated the type of effort the Wizards intended to play within the bubble, where they’ve prioritized development just as much winning.

On Sunday, the Wizards provided improved play. It wasn’t always perfect, but they executed when provided the chance.

For example, Brown showcased his playmaking chops in pick and rolls, being able to flip in floaters or fit in a bounce pass deep in the paint to Bryant for a dunk at the end of an 11-0 run early in the first quarter.

“(Bryant) brought the juice,” Washington Wizards Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “He gave us some offense. He committed on both ends. We need him to do that consistently. That’s how he has to play. I thought he was outstanding.”

The imperfect moments came late in the contest when the Wizards were struggling to score. Brown gave up back-to-back 3-pointers after Joe Harris (27 points, seven rebounds) found some room to tie the game up at 98-all with more than seven minutes remaining in the contest.

In the final five minutes, Washington turned to isolation play with Bryant forcing up a contested turnaround shot that earned him a tongue lashing from Brooks.

On the other end of the spectrum, LeVert scored back-to-back on a layup and floater. Bryant responded with a layup to make it a one-possession game. That was the closest the Wizards cut the deficit; however, Garrett Temple came right back at the Wizards with a floater of his own.

Jerome Robinson (12 points, five rebounds) fouled LeVert on a 3-point attempt that helped Brooklyn ice the win just moments later. LeVert knocked down two of three free throws, scored two more times with a floater, and sank another pair of free throws.

Jarrett Allen (22 points, 115 rebounds) hit free throws, while Brown and Rui Hachimura padded their stats with garbage time buckets.

The Wizards are now 0-2 (24-42) in bubble play with the Indiana Pacers on the horizon today. Meanwhile, the Nets have essentially punched their playoff ticket now that they’re up seven games to the Wizards and face the Milwaukee Bucks, Tuesday.

“The odds are against us, but we’ve got to keep fighting. “Brooks said. “We come in here, and we don’t want moral victories. We want to keep fighting. We’ve got some tough games coming up. These next six games are against some of the best teams in basketball.”

Washington’s NFL team adopts temporary name: ‘Washington Football Team’

By The Sports Pulse Staff
Courtesy Photos: Washington Football Team

The football team formally known as the Washington Redskins will be using a new moniker this upcoming season: Washington Football Team.

The temporary naming will give Washington more time to complete a renaming process while officially retiring the formal name. Last week, the team formally announced the decision to the retire the Redskins nickname.

“We encourage fans, media and all other parties to use ‘Washington Football Team’ immediately,” the team said in a press release. “The Redskins name and logo will officially be retired by the start of the 2020 season.”

Much of its original aesthetic will stay under the Football Team branding, including its burgundy and gold colors. Jersey details include removing the former “Redskins” name to add Washington. Each player’s jersey numbers will be displayed on their team helmets.

On the home field at FedExField, the team’s retired logo will be replaced with the NFL shield. The endzones will be painted yellow with Washington spelled out across it in burgundy.

The press release also said the club would also be reaching out for alumni, fan, community, and sponsor input in the new name.

Washington Football Team’s Chase Young will be playing his first NFL names under a new jersey and helmet with his number on display. (Courtesy: Washington Football Team)

“To date, we have been pleased to see so many people putting forward their vision of what the new name and design should be on their social media channels, and we look forward to including their feedback as this process progresses,” the team said.

In the upcoming days, the team will begin retiring all Redskins branding on team properties at FedExField, Redskins Park or other physical and digital websites.

Fans will be able to purchase new team merchandise under the new Washington Football Team branding on Fanatics and NFL Shop in the coming days.

The team will debut their home uniforms in their Week 1 game against the Philadelphia Eagles and away uniforms during Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Meanwhile, players officially began reporting for training camp Friday with rookies, quarterbacks and players returning from Injured Reserve arriving to Virginia to get tested for COVID-19.

Sky Blue FC ends the Spirit’s Challenge Cup dreams in PKs

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo: Bryan Byerly/ISI Photos

Bayley Feist slowly walked back to the center of the field at Zion Bank Stadium into the waiting arms of her Washington Spirit teammates. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan saved the midfielder’s penalty kick attempt to end a best-of-five shootout in their NWSL Challenge Cup quarterfinals match vs. Sky Blue FC.

Sky Blue FC players rushed to celebrate with Sheridan as Feist walked towards head coach Richie Burke. He hugged her immediately, reminding her that she was a good footballer. Despite playing exciting offensive soccer throughout the tournament, Burke said their lack of experience in critical situations proved to be a difference.

“When you get in a situation like that, sometimes nerves take the better of you, and some young players don’t take the same penalties that they take in training for whatever reason, and here we are,” Burke said.

The Spirit remained scoreless by the end of regulation time against Sky Blue FC. Their run came to an end after two missed attempts in a 4-3 loss on penalty kicks Saturday.

Washington was riding high following the primary stage, finishing as the No. 2 ranked team and highest seed remaining in the Challenge Cup following the North Carolina Courage’s loss on Friday.

Against the No. 7 Sky Blue FC, the Spirit were without captain Andi Sullivan due to a meniscus tear injury. U.S. Soccer, who monitored all U.S. Women’s National Team players conditions throughout the tournament, placed a minute’s restriction on midfielder Rose Lavelle, which forced Burke to start her on the bench and bring her in midway through the second half.

Both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the first half. Washington’s best chance came in the 42nd minute came as Tori Huster delivered a cross from the edge of the penalty area to find a diving Ashley Sanchez for a header. Sheridan slapped the attempt down for the save.

Sanchez tired again two minutes before halftime with a one-timer from behind the penalty spot, but it was stopped yet by the Canadian international. Sheridan finished regulation with seven saves.

Eight minutes into the second half, forward Kumi Yokoyama received a pass from fellow striker Ashley Hatch to connect with a volley attempt at the Sky Blue goal. While the shot flew past Sheridan, the ball ricocheted off the goal post, keeping the match scoreless.

“I think that’s something we are going to have to work on, just being clinical on the final third, and not just down to [Hatch] scoring a game-winning goal,” Huster said.

Following a scoreless 90 minutes, the game went to a penalty kick shootout to settle who would go to the semifinals. After both teams scored in the opening first two rounds, Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe dove to her right to save midfielder Dominique Richardson, opening the door for the Spirit to take the lead.

HERRIMAN, UT – JULY 18: Aubrey Bledsoe of Washington Spirit blocks a penalty kick at Zions Bank Stadium on July 18, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. Photo by Rob Gray/ISI Photos.

However, Spirit defender Sam Staab fired her shot over the crossbar, keeping the score tied at 2-2. After another round of converted penalties, Elizabeth Eddy scored for the New Jersey-based side, putting on the pressure on Feist to score to send the game to sudden death.

However, the midfielder’s right-footed attempt was safely handled by Sheridan, eliminating the Spirit.

“We didn’t lose today; we lost in a penalty shootout,” Burke said. “We didn’t lose a game. We dominated it, and one of the things we need to take from this tournament is, and the take away from a lot of [this] game is a little bit more danger.”

Going forward, the Spirit will use the tournament to springboard them as one of the elite teams in the NWSL. Burke said he was proud of the growth all the team’s draft picks made, becoming talented role players to their possessive-based attack. He expects all the players to feel prideful about their success as they transition to the next part of their season.

“We’re a young team.,” Bledsoe said. “I know we’ll bounce back. Hopefully, the offseason isn’t too long this year. We’ve got lots of growth ahead for us.”

Higuaín’s second-half goal helps United earn 1-1 draw over New England

By Mario Amaya/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Xavi Dussaq/D.C. United

Federico Higuaín’s goal in the 72nd minute was enough to help D.C. United manage a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution Friday night in Orlando, Florida, in Group C play in the MLS is Back Tournament.

United was down a goal once the veteran midfielder entered the game in the second half. It would only take three minutes for Higuaín to make an impact as he intercepted an attempted back pass from New England defender Antonio Delamea Mlinar to goalkeeper Matt Turner.

Higuaín took the ball and quickly connected a low strike past Turner to help United tie the game. Since joining the club in March, the 35-year-old has attempted to prove that he still can be a high-level contributor after suffering an ACL injury last year with the Columbus Crew SC.

In two tournament games, Higuaín has shown to be an asset for United off the bench, scoring twice in critical moments.

“This is probably the first time in his life that he has been considered a super sub,” Head coach Ben Olsen said. “He is a guy who is always the focal point of a team from the beginning, and you build around him, but that is the mindset he has and the attitude he has had since coming here, his willingness to do his best to the team.”

With the result, the Black-and-Red ends the second round of group matches in third place (two points) behind Toronto FC and New England (four points).

United made multiple changes from the starting 11 that played in their 2-2 draw against Toronto FC on Monday. Defender Oneil Fisher made his first start since Sept. 29, 2018, due to a year-and-a-half-long knee injury. Argentine Yamil Asad took Ulises Segura’s spot in the midfield.

Lastly, Erik Sorga, a 20-year-old striker from Estonia, made his first start for United after Ola Kamara sustained a quad injury. 

New England Revolution defender Antonio Delamea Mlinar (left) delivers a pass as D.C. United’s Ulises Segura (right) attempts a late challenge during a MLS is Back Tournament match on July 17. Photo by Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer

After a scoreless first half, New England would find the back of the net first. An attempted shot from midfielder Cristian Penilla rebounded off a United player and landed in front of Adam Buksa. The striker headed the ball over a diving Bill Hamid for a Revolution goal.

 “It’s frustrating going down 1-0 and having to fight from behind again,” United midfielder Russell Canouse said. “But there is a big belief in this team, a good mentality.”

United bounced back with Higuaín’s goal, putting themselves in position to advance with a win over Montreal Impact in their final group match on Tuesday, July 21, at 10:30 p.m.

“It’s good for us,” United captain Steve Birnbaum said. “Right now, we control our own destiny…We have to get something out of this game, and we know it.”

Mystics’ Delle Donne to receive salary despite being denied medical exemption

By Demetrius Dillard/ The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photo/Washington Mystics

WASHINGTON — As the Washington Mystics prepare to compete in a shortened season at IMG Academy in Florida, the status of its star player Elena Delle Donne remains unknown.

Delle Donne requested to be medically excused from playing in the upcoming season due to medical concerns dealing with chronic Lyme disease. However, a panel of doctors hired by the league denied her request.  Delle Donne faced a tough decision: Either play to be paid her salary but possibly exposing her compromised immune system or sitting out the season.

The Mystics elected to help their superstar, announcing that they will pay Delle Donne her full salary (reportedly $215,000), even if she does not play due to coronavirus concerns.

Washington head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said during a media conference call that the organization plans to pay her regardless if she enters the WNBA bubble in Florida, calling her deal a “guaranteed contract.” He also said that the Mystics would support Delle Donne in whatever decision she makes for her health.

“The fact of the matter is that the Mystics organization will never put Elena’s or any of our other players’ health and well-being in jeopardy at any time,” Thibault said.

Delle Donne shared the letter of her request denial with the Mystics, but the team couldn’t release an announcement regarding the situation unless she made a public statement first, Thibault said.

The two-time MVP did go public, writing an article published on The Players’ Tribune about dealing with chronic Lyme disease for more than a decade, claiming she takes 64 pills a day to keep playing basketball.  

As the league began to review her case, Delle Donne said she thought she would be granted an exemption. It would allow her to keep her salary despite not playing this season. After talking to her doctor about her history of flare-ups, Delle Donne was told she was “at high-risk” at contracting and recovering from COVID-19.  

“I didn’t need a panel of league doctors to tell me that my immune system was high-risk — I’ve played my entire career with an immune system that’s high-risk,” Delle Donne said. 

Washington plans to work with Delle Donne in raising awareness about the effects of Lyme disease, Thibault said. She will have access to continue rehabbing her back injury at the team training facility in Washington. 

“As in the past, both with her Lyme disease history and her on-court injuries, all decisions about her ability to play will be made jointly with Elena,” Thibault said. “She is part of our roster, she’s being paid, and is continuing to rehab from her off-season back surgery.

“If at some point later in the season we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable enough – with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements.”

Forward Tina Charles to miss 2020 WNBA season

Meanwhile, teammate Tina Charles opted out of the season and decided not to travel with the Mystics due to medical concerns stemming from extrinsic asthma. 

According to a team statement released Friday, the forward has been medically excused by the league’s independent panel of physicians from participating in the 2020 season.

“While we are disappointed that Tina will not be with us this summer, we fully understand the reason for her medical exemption and look forward to having her with us next season,” Thibault said. 

“The health of our players takes precedence. There hasn’t been anything normal about playing this season, but we are prepared and excited to play with the group that is here in Florida.”

Redskins owner Snyder responds to sexual harassment claims in Washington Post story

By Arthur Cribbs/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr.

Following the release of a Washington Post report alleging 15 women reported cases of sexual harassment and verbal abuse while working for the Washington Redskins, the team’s owner said Friday it would work with an outside entity to conduct an independent investigation on the franchise.

Dan Snyder said in a statement that he condemned behavior detailed in the article and called for an improvement in the team’s culture.

“The behavior described in yesterday’s Washington Post article has no place in our franchise or society,” Snyder said.

Snyder said D.C. attorney Beth Wilkinson of Wilkinson Walsh LLP would lead “a full, unbiased investigation” in examining the team’s culture, policies and allegations of workplace misconduct.

“Upon completion of her work, we will institute new policies and procedures and strengthen our human resources infrastructure to not only avoid these issues in the future but, most importantly, create a team culture that is respectful and inclusive of all,” Snyder said.

In changing the team’s culture, Snyder alluded to the hiring of head coach Ron Rivera earlier this year, who also shared sentiment of creating a new environment.

“Biggest thing is that we have to move forward from this and make sure everybody understands we have policies that we will follow and that we have an open-door policy with no retribution,” said Rivera in a separate statement.

Additionally, the NFL said in a statement that it intends to examine further Wilkinson’s investigation on the organization and its practices.

The Washington Post reported that Emily Applegate, along with 14 anonymous women who previously worked for the Redskins faced multiple instances of misconduct spanning from 2006 to 2019 from fellow employees, including sexual and disparaging comments, physical harassment and beratement.

The article revealed text messages from staff members displaying harassment and detailed the organization’s lack of action to prevent the issue of misconduct from reoccurring.

While he was not among the accused, witnesses say Snyder was as responsible by many for the lack of human resources staff to address sexual harassment and verbal abuse cases.

Alex Santos, the Redskins former director of pro personnel and Richard Mann II, the team’s former assistant director of pro personnel, allegedly committed multiple transgressions. They were fired by the club last weekend. 

Larry Michael, the team’s long-time senior vice president for content and radio play-by-play announcer, was also named in the story for multiple comments he made towards his female co-workers. He unexpectedly retired the day before the report was released. 

Former COO Mitch Gershman and former president of business operations Dennis Greene were also named in the story. Gershman left the team in 2015, and Greene left in 2018

The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 13: United, Spirit game recaps

Featuring  José Umaña and Mario Amaya

Tune in for The Bad Hombres Podcast every week on Thursdays at 8 p.m. as soccer journalists José Umaña and Mario Amaya talk on the main topics dealing with D.C. United, Washington Spirit and any soccer news in the DMV.