The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 10: D.C. United and Washington Spirit Tournament Previews

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.

D.C. United to face Eastern Conference foes in MLS is Back Tournament

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – D.C. United will restart its season as part of a World Cup-style competition, titled the MLS is Back Tournament, as the sport returns to action following a break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Black-and-Red will face off against last year’s MLS Cup finalist Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and New England Revolution.

The opening match of the tournament will pit host Orlando City FC against expansion side Inter Miami CF in Group A play on July 8. The rest of the schedule will be announced on a later date on the league’s website.

The MLS is Back Tournament features all 26 Major League Soccer teams playing games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Games will be played every day, with kickoff times set at 9 a.m., 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., until the final on Aug. 11. ESPN, Fox Sports, and Univision will broadcast the tournament.

“We are pleased to team up with Disney to relaunch the 2020 MLS season and get back to playing soccer,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “The opportunity to have all 26 clubs in a controlled environment enables us to help protect the health of our players, coaches, and staff as we return to play.”

With the tournament, MLS joins the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) to make soccer the first professional team sport to return to play in the United States since the start of the pandemic.

The top two teams in each group, along with the four best 3rd-place finishers, will move on to the knockout stage.

All group stage games will count toward the regular season, which will continue at each team’s home venues after the competition. The winning team of the MLS is Back Tournament will earn a spot into the next edition of the Concacaf Champions League, and their players receive bonuses as part of a $1.1 million prize pool.

All players will be tested for COVID-19 before and after flying to Florida on June 24. Teams and their representatives who travel to Orlando will be checked regularly, including the day before each match, league protocols said. 

For its part, D.C. United announced Saturday that one player tested positive for the coronavirus during a round of mandatory testing. The player is going through “appropriate isolation protocols” and was not in attendance during the club’s field painting event for Black Lives Matter last week, team officials said.

United has begun team workouts today (June 15), at Audi Field. Players must complete a physical and undergo additional coronavirus testing. The club said its training would follow a league-approved plan and follow city health policies. 

Regionwide restrictions forced United to hold off its individual exercises until May 29 at Segra Field in Leesburg, Virginia. Most MLS teams began single-player workouts in early May, advancing to small group sessions on May 28. The club finally returned to Audi Field for group workouts on June 4. 

Before the three-month break, United (1-1-0, 3 points) defeated Inter Miami 2-1 on March 7.  

The Bad Hombres FC Podcast – Episode seven: MLS Is Back!

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.

D.C. United partners up with PGCMLS with online content for families

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – Local Major League Soccer club D.C. United has joined forces with Prince George’s County Memorial Library System (PGCMLS) to provide “engaging online content” to help residents stay fit and learn more about the sport during the current quarantine due to the coronavirus.

The partnership, considered the first of its kind in league history, will provide over 915,000 Prince George’s County residents access to the club’s video library as well as give soccer book recommendations and children’s content.

It will also provide health and educational content to its as well as “making soccer available to the large Spanish speaking community,” PGCMLS CEO Roberta Phillips said.

“The library [system] is grateful to D.C. United for their commitment to supporting all Prince Georgians with awesome workout content and opportunities for the community to connect with players from home,” Phillips said.

PGCMLS created a dedicated webpage for residents to gain access to the content. As part of the partnership, players will participate in a bi-monthly virtual read-aloud series and reading books in English and Spanish for children ages 2-8. Also available for children are printable activity sheets of different puzzles and coloring pages.

For young adults, the club’s On-Air Host Claudia Pagan host a three-part roundtable discussion with U-18/19 academy player Maddux Reece, University of Maryland forward Eric Matzelevich and United goalkeeper Chris Seitz on the transition from high school to college, called College Confidential: the Education Series.

The webpage also includes newer content United began uploading on its website and social media accounts since the start of the stay-at-home orders throughout the metropolitan region. 

It provides workout videos for kids featuring United’s mascot Talon to previously recorded AMA video interviews with players. The club will alert county residents as well as all its fans about the next fan-participation content on their social media channels.

“Our friends in Prince George’s County have been wonderful supporters of our club for a long time, and their passionate community of soccer fans continues to grow,” Zachary Abaie, D.C. United’s head of communications said. “We’re excited about our partnership with the library system and hope through our shared love of soccer we can provide fun activities and exercises to the families who have supported us for many years.”

The library system will also promote its offering of soccer documentaries, eBooks, movies and training videos available through its streaming services, including Kanopy, Hoopla and Libby/Overdrive.

It is the second partnership between an area soccer organization and a local organization this month. On April 8, local women’s soccer team Washington Spirit announced a multi-year deal with D.C. Scores to become its official community partner. The city-based soccer program focuses on bringing soccer, poetry, and community service projects together to elementary and middle school children.

For more information and to access the content provided by D.C. United visit: www.pgcmls.info/DCUnited.

Olsen shares thoughts of adapting to new lifestyle during COVID-19 stoppage

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

WASHINGTON – D.C. United Head Coach Ben Olsen recalled facing a police officer when attempting to take his three kids to the park. After being inside all day, the former midfielder wanted them to release their energy.

However, the park, along with other public spaces, was closed down as city officials promoted the public to stay home.

Olsen elected to set up an obstacle course by moving the trash cans in the alley behind his Washington, D.C. home. It was part of a new reality living under a worldwide pandemic.

“For everybody, it is an odd time,” Olsen said. “Everybody is dealing with this differently.”

In a wide-ranging, hour-long teleconference call, Olsen shared his thoughts, emotions, and feelings on steering the ship for the Black-and-Red during the league-wide stoppage due to the coronavirus, known as COVID-19.

After earning a 2-1 comeback victory over Inter Miami FC on March 7, United (1-1-0, 3 points) prepared to travel to face FC Cincinnati the following week. However, everything changed on March 11 when NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

Major League Soccer (MLS) announced its decision to stop the season on the following day until it is safe to play. As of Apr. 4, the Center for Disease Control announced that have been 222.205 cases in the United States, with 6,593 people dead.

Since the stoppage, Olsen, his coaching staff and players meet on a weekly video conference, discussing their physical and mental well-being. Analyzing game footage from the start of March was no longer available as players are not able to practice together. Also, some of the team’s new offseason signings, like designated player Edison Flores, are still adapting to the area.

The calls vary, from indoor training methods to social media ideas to engage fans. Stay-at-home orders have limited players’ access to work out while others miss the interaction between teammates. Ultimately, the goal of the conference calls is to keep the team’s chemistry and comradery intact, Olsen said.

“There are all these hurdles that they are coming up against, and we are constantly adapting to our new reality,” Olsen said. “On the call, you try to build a little chemistry; you try to build a little culture and continue team bonding, but it is difficult. How do you it over Zoom with 30 guys on there. It is a difficult challenge.”

While the stoppage has allowed for injured players to heal without missing playing time, Olsen said their recovery process has slowed down. The league set a training moratorium through Apr. 24 that closed all teams’ training facilities to players and coaches expect through requiring treatment or physical rehab.

Defender Donovan Pines (University of Maryland) and midfielder Federico Higuaín stood out in making significant strides before the stoppage. Pines suffered an ankle injury during the preseason. Higuaín, added to the roster in March, was on schedule on his recovery from an MCL tear injury, with his returned scheduled for May.

“Usually, we have our experts with them every day to speed up the healing process,” Olsen said. “That’s not the case now. I give our trainers, doctors, sports scientists, and fitness coaches a lot of credit as of late. They’ve been working extremely hard to come up with the right workouts, right treatments.”

Meanwhile, the break has its benefits for his personal life, the nine-year head coach stated. Once the MLS season starts, Olsen’s time is primarily on training, working with his coaching staff, and packing for road games.

Now, he has had more time to be with his family, joining them on hikes and sitdown dinners. For alone time, he hides to paint at his studio.
At a time where people are losing their jobs – or their lives – Olsen understands his situation.

“I have a job, my family is healthy, and there is food in the cupboards,” Olsen said. “I am very lucky that I am able to do that and focus on being a husband and a father right now in a time where I am usually not a good husband or father.”

The last time MLS experienced a prolonged delay occurred after the 2001 terrorist attacks in 2001. The league canceled the final two weeks of the season and began its playoffs nine days later. This year, MLS started its 25th season on Feb. 29, the earliest start in its history.

Olsen recommended that the league allow a mini-camp before restarting regular-season matches to get players back into playing shape. It may require MLS to play through international breaks as well as having the playoffs and final in late-November into December.

Until the pandemic slows down to allow training to resume, all Olsen can do is check in on his players and be patient.

“We try to control everything, from our diet, training loads, you name it,” Olsen said. “We are constantly trying to control everything so these guys can be at their most optimal levels, and to not being able to do that is a little bit frustrating, but it is out of my control. There is no playbook, and it is a difficult thing to do, but at some point, it is about being healthy.”

Rapids strike late as United loses in season opener

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON – A 92nd-minute goal left 16,932 spectators at Audi Field on Saturday afternoon speechless as the Colorado Rapids pulled away with a 2-1 victory over D.C. United on the opening day of the Major League Soccer (MLS) season.

The result negated a lot of the good feelings surrounding the Black-and-Red coming off a three-game win streak to close out the preseason. Their new designated player, midfielder Edison Flores, was a part of the starting 11 in front of a large contingency of Peruvian fans in attendance while other fans were excited to see United’s offensive approach to the season.

However, United did not score in the first 45 minutes despite multiple opportunities on goal. Striker Ola Kamara’s driven free kick attempt in the first half could not clear the Rapids wall, while Julian Gressel had a goal disallowed following an offside call.

“It’s really disappointing because I thought we had a solid first half,” Captain Steven Birnbaum said. “We started with energy and created more chances than them.”

United continued its offensive efforts in the second half and finally capitalized after Russell Canouse on a header from the far corner for the game’s opening goal. Canouses’ header took a quick bounce off the ground before beating a diving Rapids for his second career goal.

“It’s always nice getting on the scoresheet and being able to help the team, not only defensively but contributing in attack as well,” Canouse said. “It was a corner kick, and I just took my position trying to block the goalkeeper, and then once Julian approached the ball, I just peeled back post, trying to lose my man. Luckily the ball popped up at the back post, and I just put it in.”

However, Colorado responded after United’s defense cleared a corner kick opportunity out their penalty area. English midfielder Jack Price returned the ball back into United territory, and striker Kei Kamara rushed inside to connect a header that flew past goalkeeper Bill Hamid (DeMatha Catholic High School) for the equalizer.

D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse (4) scores a goal during a game between D.C. United and Colorado Rapids at Audi Field in Washington, DC. Colorado defeated United 2-1. (Photo by Phil Peters/The Sports Pulse)

Meanwhile, aside from taking out Flores midway through the second half, D.C. United head coach Olsen elected not to use any more of his remaining substitutions for the rest of the match.

When asked about the decision, Olsen said it was important to keep height on the defensive side to combat Colorado’s crosses into his penalty area.

Following the game-tying goal, Colorado became the aggressor in the latter stages of the match. With seconds remaining before the 90th minute, midfielder Kellyn Acosta fired a low driven shot towards the right goalpost. However, Hamid stuck his hand out during a diving save to keep the game leveled.

Moments before the final whistle, Colorado dribbled upfield for one more attack, with striker Diego Rubio dribbling the ball into United’s penalty area and passing to Acosta. The U.S. international player attempted to give it to Rubin, but the ball instead began to ping-pong around players in front of the goal.

Rubio and United defender Frédéric Brillant collided with each other to gain possession, pushing the ball to a wide-open Lewis, who fired a one-time into the net for the game-winner.

“We gave up two goals that they shouldn’t have been in that situation to finish off plays,” Olsen said. “But make no mistake, they are better. Robin (Fraser) is a good coach, and they have a nice mix (of players)…Giving up that many set pieces to Colorado is always dangerous. They are as good as any team in the league in that department.”

With expansion side Inter Miami CF coming into town on March 7, it will be key for United to take key lessons from the loss while including much of the positives. Flores had “his best performance” in a United uniform since his signing in January and will continue to grow into the league as the season progress, Olsen said.

Meanwhile, the defense will need to improve to return to its status as the league’s best from last season, the head coach added. Too many times, United was too anxious to get the ball away instead of building attacks from the back, “which cost us energy and moments of attack.”

“We weren’t patient in our shape,” Canouse said. “We were kind of in-between trying to press on and holding. That kind of gave Colorado the ability to have more control over the game, and they ran our legs off a little bit and put us under in the last 20 minutes.”

D.C. United falls to Colorado Rapids in season opener (Photos)

WASHINGTON – D.C. United fell to the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in a competitive contest at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 29, 2020 in the season opener. The Rapids found the net twice by goals from Kei Kamara (67′) and Jonathan Lewis (90+2) to break the tie for the win.

United’s Russell Canouse scored the first goal of the match at the 60-minute mark, but his team could only muster 12 shots the whole game with only four finding the target. D.C. United will hope to find themselves in the win column against Inter Miami CF on March 7 at home at 3:30 p.m. Photos by Phillip Peters/The Sports Pulse.

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United looks for ‘team effort’ to score goals as new MLS season begins

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON – When asked how D.C. United planned to replace its top four goal scorers from last year for season, head coach Ben Olsen paused for a moment before taking a huge breath.

Then, he began his list (or roster) of scorers, naming every player on his roster by first name, hoping they don’t hit the crossbar or add a goal off the bench.

“Maybe one or two from Bill (Hamid),” Olsen said. “It is going to be a group effort.”

United is motivated, with a reshaped roster, heading into the 2022 Major League Soccer season. Despite missing key names, expectations continue to be high for the Black-and-Red. With the addition of key names to the roster, the club hopes to make strides for a productive year, starting with their home opener against the Colorado Rapids at home today at 1 p.m.

Last season, United embarked on a year filled with high optimism, fueled by the returns of English superstar Wayne Rooney and playmaker Luciano Acosta.

However, the club only amassed 50 points for a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. They were shut out in their final two regular season games and lost 5-1 to Toronto FC in the first round of the playoffs.

Rooney announced in the middle of the campaign that we would be leaving United to return home, citing family reasons. Acosta elected not to re-sign with United and joined Mexican club Atlas. Lastly, Black-and-Red officials were unable to strike a deal to extend midfielder Lucas Rodríguez’s loan agreement or to buy his contract from his home club, Estudiantes de La Plata.

All three combined to score 23 of United’s 42 goals, an output that Olsen believes can be replicated as a group effect.

“We rarely have that 25 (goal) a year goal scorer,” Olsen said. “It is great if you get that…but I can envision all of them scoring goals. I can see scenarios in the way we are playing where all of them can help score goals but also in providing.”

D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen. Courtesy photo.

Originally, midfielder Paul Arriola figured to be in those plans. The Chula Vista, California native, has been a mainstay for United in midfield, scoring six goals last season while becoming a key fixture on the United States Men’s National Team over the past year.

However, a harsh tackle in a preseason game caused his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) to tear. The club confirmed the injury and that Arriola successfully underwent surgery. He is set to be sidelined for nine months.

Despite Arriola’s injury, United has brought in reinforcements to fill in the voids. First, they opened their pocketbook to sign Peruvian international Edison Flores for a reported $5 million transfer fee and will be making $2 million a year. The 5-foot-7 midfielder, known for his dribbling abilities and goal celebrations, will look to fill the void as United’s key playmaker.

“He is an exciting and dynamic attacking player who creates and scores goals,” General Manager Dave Kasper said about Flores on Jan. 13. “What has really impressed us is his commitment to the team…he is a versatile and gritty two-way player who plays with a real pulse.”

United also executed one of the more significant trades in the offseason on Jan. 21, picking up midfielder Julian Gressel from Atlanta United for $750,000 in allocation money. The 26-year old scored 16 goals in 98 appearances, will filling as the new threat in midfield due to Arriola’s injury, with returning players Emmanuel Boateng, Ulises Segura, and Júnior Moreno adding depth.

Gressel’s pickup, along with the team’s formation change to a 4-3-3, will look to make the Black-and-Red into a more possessive side than in the past to have more players as part of the attack. Olsen said that the former Providence College’s experience in playing multiple roles in the formation would help the club adjust to the new style of play.

“I think we have enough quality to compensate,” Gressel said on how United will generate goals. “We scored three goals in the last preseason game, but it wasn’t something we worked on a lot as we tried to get our structure right, but they will come. We are more creative, and we have enough quality on the front half of the field to make stuff happen.”

The pickups are not over: United reacquired Argentina Yamil Asad, who scored nine goals in his previous stint with the club in 2018. Meanwhile, multiple reports state the club is set to acquire midfielder and former Columbus Crew captain Federico Higuain. In eight seasons in MLS, he has registered 55 goals and 63 assists and plans to help Flores as a playmaker off-the-bench.

On defense, the Black-and-Red decided not to sell defensive midfielder Russell Canouse after the club confirmed interest from a European side. He will lead the backline that will have all of its parts returning after only surrendering a league-best 38 goals last season.

Former University of Maryland defender Chris Odoi-Atsem (Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and Jamaican international Oniel Fisher (knee) add additional support on the defensive side after missing the 2019 season. Another former Terp, center back Donovan Pines, is recovering from a preseason ankle injury and will not be available until May.

And the club will not be done, Olsen said, making player improvements throughout the year. United has not won an MLS Cup since 2004 and a major trophy since 2013. After last year’s ending and the multiple player departures, club officials stress of not losing ground with the other teams in MLS while starting the new year strong.

“We are an imperfect team,” Olsen said. “We are trying to figure out who we are, but it important to do a lot of the little things to amass as many points as possible.”