Maryland releases revamped 2020 football schedule

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photos by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse

WASHINGTON – In a newly released and revamped schedule, the University of Maryland football team will face five teams that finished last season in the AP Top 25 poll this upcoming season.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big Ten Conference switched to a 10-game conference-only schedule to limit travel.

The Terrapins will open the season on the road against No. 15 Iowa on Sept. before coming back home to Maryland Stadium to take on Michigan on Sept. 12.

Following a home game against Rutgers, Maryland will travel to Evanston, Illinois, for the first time since joining the Big Ten Conference to play Northwestern on Sept. 26 before returning home to face No. 11 Wisconsin on Oct. 3.

After a bye week, Maryland will play two consecutive road games: against rivals No. 9 Penn State on Oct. 17 and Indiana on Oct. 24.

After hosting last season’s Big Ten Conference Champions No. 3 Ohio State on Oct. 31, the Terrapins will face No. 18 Michigan at Ann Arbor in their final road game on Nov. 7.

After the Terps second bye week, Maryland will close out its regular season against No. 10 Minnesota on Nov. 21.

College Park, MD: September 22, 2018: Maryland Terrapins wide receiver DJ Turner (1) on his way to the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown reception during an NCAA football game played at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium in College Park, MD. Photo by Michael R. Smith/The Sports Pulse

Maryland will follow guidance from the Prince George’s County Health Department and have no fans in attendance to start the season. According to a university fan guide, when fans return, the state’s masks order will be in effect, and mobile ticketing will be in full effect.

Kickoff times and broadcast information for each game will be released at a later date.

The Big Ten said the start dates for other fall sports, including cross country, field hockey, soccer and women’s volleyball have been postponed until Sept. 5. Those sports will also operate in a conference-only schedule.

Maryland High School Athletics postpone fall, winter competitions

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – When Maryland students begin classes at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year later this month, high school athletics will remain on the sidelines.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) announced in a statement on Monday that the 2020 high school fall and winter competition will be postponed during the first semester.

The decision came after several districts elected to call off their athletic programs as they begin the school year learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fall semester sports that are immediately impacted are football, volleyball, cross country, soccer and field hockey. According to the projected start date schedule, athletes would have started tryouts on August 12 with their first play dates scheduled for Sept. 4. Winter sports, like basketball, would have begun their workouts on Nov. 14.

The Maryland State Board of Education voted in June, allowing each jurisdiction to control how to navigate its athletic competitions. Prince George’s County announced in mid-July its decision to put athletics “on hold” during the distance learning process, whereas Montgomery County canceled of all fall and winter sports.

The wavier granted by the state’s education board does allow counties to decide to provide “student engagement” during the first semester. Anne Arundel County Superintendent George Arlotto said he asked Coordinator of Athletics Clayton Culp to outline a plan that allows all sports practices during the fall that “meet local and state health and safety guidelines.”

MPSSAA recently announced the postponement of high school athletics for fall and winter seasons. Courtesy photo.

“There is no question that athletics are an extremely important part of the high school student experience,” Arlotto said in a statement. “The MPSSAA has created an opportunity here of which I believe we should take full advantage. I am confident that Mr. Culp and his team will do everything they can to come up with the best possible plan to move forward.”

MPSSAA said it would work with the Public School Superintendent Association of Maryland and the state’s health department on creating a hybrid “two-semester plan” that will have all public high school sports in the state compete during the second semester in 2021. The association said it plans to release more details before the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.

“The health and safety of student participants, coaches and officials is a primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” the association said.

Maryland joins Washington, D.C. and Virginia, who announced the postponement of their fall sports programs until 2021. Last week, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) said it would reschedule its upcoming fall sports season to January 2021.

The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM) announced in a joint statement in July that they will delay their fall preseason until Sept. 1 and league play commencing on Sept. 21.

The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 15: DCU News, Lavelle leaving? and CONCACAF

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.

The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 14: United, Spirit eliminated

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.

United out of MLS is Back Tournament after losing to Montreal

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor
Photo by Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer

WASHINGTON – From false-positive coronavirus tests and multiple schedule changes, D.C. United has gone through a roller-coaster experience during its trip to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, for the MLS is Back Tournament.

The off-the-field calamities did not add extra fuel to the Black-and-Red’s play once the group stage began. Despite all the negatives, United earned two draws, putting itself in a position to control its destiny. One win against the Montreal Impact Tuesday night separated United from a place in the knockout round.

Instead, United’s lack of attack stunned goal-scoring opportunities. An inadvertent deflection for the game’s only goal was enough to seal their fate as D.C. United lost to their Canadian opponents 1-0, knocking themselves out the tournament.

July 21, 2020: Montreal Impact defender Jorge Corrales gains possession of the ball away D.C. United’s Julian Gressel during an MLS is Back Tournament game in Orlando, Fl. (Xavier Dussaq/D.C. United)

D.C. (1-2-2) leaves Orlando with more questions than answers. It finished group play in last place with two points and no wins. With the group stage matches transferring over to their regular-season record, United ends their Walt Disney trip sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Thoughts of the future were not immediately on the minds of head coach Ben Olsen and his players following the match. Even after only having three days off between games, Olsen said he did not think his players were overly fatigue heading to their match against Montreal (2-2-1).

“When you’re here, and you’re caught up in it, and you want to be in this tournament, and you want to advance to the group stage.” Olsen said. “You want your three points, and you want your points for the regular season, so we’re disappointed in both of those parts of today.”

“I think we felt pretty good actually,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “You know everyone’s in the same boat. It’s no disadvantage to anyone. Obviously, it’s the way the tournament is set up, and it’s a little awkward for everyone.”

Three changes were made from United’s starting lineup that played against New England on Saturday. Peruvian midfielder Edison Flores was out due to a hamstring injury but Junior Moreno returned to start after serving a red-card suspension. Former University of Maryland star defender Chris Odoi-Atsem made his first start in over a year, replacing Oneil Fisher at left back. 

Early on, United fired multiple shots, including a right-footed attempt by Ulises Segura that flew over the crossbar. Other attempts were quickly stopped by the Impact defense.

In the 31st minute, Montreal’s Saphir Taider attempted a long-range shot, which bounced off defender Frederick Brillant and flew past a stretched-out Bill Hamid for the game’s only goal.

As the match continued, United struggled offensively. Despite having more shots (12-7) than Montreal, only three were on target. D.C. brought more firepower in second half with midfielders Federico Higuaín and Kevin Paredes and striker Ola Kamara entering the game. Their influence was limited and did not trouble goalkeeper Clément Diop.

“I felt like we were ready as a group today,” Birnbaum said. “We had good training before this, and we had a good game plan going into it, we just didn’t execute.”

The tournament was, Olsen said, a realization of the team’s lack of depth in talent and it will be important to add “a player or two” during the transfer window. However, when asked about the lack of team chemistry, Olsen shrugged the question off, repeating the word “no” multiple times.

United will take the next few days off after returning to D.C. and regroup for training next week. With the future of how the rest of the regular season’s schedule will look like going forward, United needs to be ready for the next challenge.

“We’ll wait for the league to see what’s next, whether it’s another tournament, whether it’s a league, Eastern/Western Conference setup, regional league games. I’m not exactly sure,” Olsen said. “But I know right now, we will get back, and we’ll get training and try to get better.”

The Sports Pulse’s Mario Amaya contributed to this story.

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.”

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.

Spirit defeats Dash in final game of preliminary round of Challenge Cup

Spirit lose Sullivan for rest of NWSL Challenge Cup competition

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photos courtesy of ISI Photos

WASHINGTON – A 16th-minute goal by midfielder Bayley Feist was enough for the Washington Spirit to capture a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dash in their fourth match in the NWSL’s Challenge Cup.

Washington (2-1-1) ends the preliminary round with seven points. Pending the results of the final three matches in the stage, the Spirit could finish as high as second place in the eight-team tournament before the knockout rounds begin.

It did not take long for the Spirit to start pressing forward with several opportunities on goal against a fatigued Houston side. The Dash (1-2-1) last played on July 8, their fourth game in 12 days, whereas their Washington counterparts had a six-day layoff.

HERRIMAN, UT – JULY 12: Washington Spirit players celebrate during a game between Houston Dash and Washington Spirit at Zions Bank Stadium on July 12, 2020 in Herriman, Utah.

With their opponents unable to wrestle the ball away, Washington bombarded ahead with forwards Kumi Yokoyama and Ashley Sanchez setting up attacks from the flanks. Using their speed, the Spirit fired three shots on goal in the opening 15 minutes.

Yokoyama elected to slow down the pace in the 16th minute and send a lateral pass to striker Ashley Hatch on the top of the penalty area. The former Brigham Young University star elected to pass the ball to an approaching Feist, who took two dribbles before unleashing a right-footed shot for the goal.

“That one felt good; I was due for a goal,” Feist said. “I saw (Hatch) dribbling the ball up the sideline, and she cut it back. I kinda opened my body up a little bit, took a touch, placed it well and it went in.”

Washington continued to dominate as they finished the first half with 69% of the ball possession and outshoot Houston, 8-2, in on-target attempts. One of the Dash’s efforts did almost tie the game as striker Rachel Daly beat defender Tori Huster to a loose ball and hit a shot off the crossbar moments before halftime.

Five minutes into the second half, Washington captain Andi Sullivan came down with a non-contact injury on her left knee. She limped off the field on her own power when subbed out. 

In his postgame press conference, Washington Spirit Head Coach Ritchie Burke said team doctors believed that she reaggravated a previous injury on her meniscus and will have an MRI performed after the game.

“Hopefully, she is ready to go 90 minutes next week in the next round,” Burke said.

However, today, the team announced that Sullivan suffered a torn meniscus and will miss the NWSL Challenge Cup. 

“The team is rallying around our captain and incredible leader, and we are now highly motivated to play extra hard in her honor,” Burke said. “It’s amazing how many well-wishes I’ve received from everyone in football about Andi, and it’s a testimony to her popularity as well as the amount of respect she has from people at the highest levels of the game.”

Sanchez looked poised to help Washington add a second goal when she ran down the left flank and cut inside into the penalty area, sending in a low pass to Hatch. However, goalkeeper Jane Campbell denied her attempt to score with a quick save.

Houston continued to struggle until forward Katie Stengel’s left-footed shot in the 67th minute flew over goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe’s head towards Washington’s goal. However, defender Paige Nielsen headed the ball out of danger for the Spirit’s first shutout of the tournament.

While being seeded high for the knockout stage is important, health is a more significant concern going forward, Burke said. Star midfielder Rose Lavelle missed the Houston game due to a reported ankle injury. 

“They are well bought-in to our tactics and methodology, and we are well unified,” Burke said. “I think we are in a good place.”

Washington, D.C. launches bid for 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor 

WASHINGTON – Before a ball is kicked in the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, Washington, D.C. formally announced its bid to host matches in the next edition of the tournament in 2026. 

The District will compete with 16 other cities vying for 10 spots to represent the United States as hosts for the 2026 World Cup.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said with all the problems the country is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the city’s bid’s announcement gives people something to look forward to in the future.  

“And when the tournament comes to North America, it only makes sense for D.C. — the Sports Capital and District of Champions — to host,” Bowser said. “We are already a city united by the game, and in 2026, we look forward to uniting the world.”

Events DC Spokesperson Ashley Forrester said FedExField, the home stadium for the NFL’s Washington Redskins, is the proposed venue for matches. 

The Landover, Maryland stadium hosted five games of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup and arranged several high-profile friendlies featuring European and international teams. FedExField’s current capacity is listed at 82,000. 

The city’s proposal also features Audi Field, D.C. United’s new stadium, as one of World Cup teams’ training sites. Other practice locations include The Fields at RFK Campus, Trinity University and the Maryland SoccerPlex. 

D.C.’s RFK Stadium, which hosted soccer matches in the 1992 World Cup and the 1996 Olympics, was not a part of the bid as it is set to be demolished in 2021

In their announcement, the District boasts its experience in hosting events averaging over 20 million visitors a year. The city hopes its existing infrastructure of over 31,000 hotel rooms in the city, alternative transportation options (Metro bus and Rail), and access to three major international airports within an hour of the city’s center will help its chances in hosting tournament matches. 

Events DC Chairman Max Brown said the World Cup would serve as an “economic driver” for the city’s future with an estimated impact of $500 million and the creation of approximately 3,500 jobs.

The bid will face stiff challenges from other metropolitan areas, such as New York and Los Angeles, and local opposition as Baltimore is also in the running

The bid features four co-chairs with city ties, including Mark Ein, founder and CEO of Capital Investment Corporation and organizer of the Citi Open tennis tournament in Rock Creek Park. 

Other advisory board members include celebrity chef José Andrés, retired U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper, Brianna Scurry, D.C. United CEO Jason Levien and Washington Spirit midfielder Andi Sullivan. 

“I could not think of a more vibrant, inclusive, or passionate soccer city to host FIFA World Cup matches in 2026,” D.C. United goalkeeper and Bid Co-Chair Bill Hamid said. 

“With our deep soccer roots and diversity, the culture of our city gives us our foundation to successfully highlight the matches and leave a lasting impact on the future of the game.” 

The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 12: MLS is Back Tournament begins

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.