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.

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.

Shorthanded D.C. United mounts comeback for heroic draw in MLS is Back debut

By Mario Amaya/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Courtesy photo/D.C. United

WASHINGTON – In their MLS is Back Tournament debut, D.C. United mounted a heroic two-goal comeback, scoring twice in the last 10 minutes while down to 10 men, to tie last year’s Eastern Conference Champions Toronto FC 2-2 in Orlando, Florida, on Monday.

With the result, United (0-0-1) earned a critical point against a former MLS Cup contender, which will carry over into their regular season after the tournament. The game was originally scheduled for Sunday, but due to COVID-19 testing complications, Major League Soccer postponed it for a day.

United struggled early on offensively to create chances while being unable to stop Toronto FC academy product Ayo Akinola defensively.

The 20-year-old striker made an impact during the 12th minute when he received a pass from teammate Alejandro Pozuelo from the top of the penalty area. 

Akinola made a quick turn before unleashing a 21-yard strike into the lower right side of the goal net to give The Reds (0-0-1, 1 point) a one-goal advantage.

Despite multiple attempts on goal by United striker Ola Kamara, Toronto struck again moments before halftime. Toronto’s Pablo Piatti headed a loose ball forward toward United territory, but miscommunication by defenders Steve Birnbaum and Frédéric Brillant allowed Pozuelo to regain possession. He quickly passed it through goalkeeper Bill Hamid to Akinola for the tap-in.

“We weren’t able to make them uncomfortable enough; [Toronto] is a very good team where if they have time and space, they’re going to get good looks, but saying that, the goals are very soft.” United head coach Ben Olsen said. “We had plenty of numbers around the ball for the first goal and in the second one, we gift it to them. So, we find ourselves in a two-zero hole.”

Adding to its woes, United also went down 10 men before halftime when midfielder Júnior Moreno was ejected from the match after receiving his second yellow card on a late tackle from behind to Toronto midfielder Marky Delgado.

Heading into the second half, Olsen decided to make several substitutions, including giving 17-year-old Kevin Paredes his professional debut and defender Oniel Fisher making his second appearance since a 1 1/2 year injury. However, the changes did not lead to immediate results.

Things changed in the 80th minute when veteran midfielder Federico Higuaín made his United debut. The Argentine playmaker would not take long to make an impact.

Four minutes after entering the match, a Toronto pass was intercepted by midfielder Russell Canouse and quickly distributed to teammate Felipe Martins. 

D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse (4) handles the ball. Photo by Phil Peters/The Sports Pulse)

The Brazilian knifed a pass in between the Toronto backline to finding a running Higuain wide open. The 35-year-old lobbed the ball over Westberg for his first goal with the Black-and-Red.

“And at the moment, I faced the goalkeeper, I knew the distance between him and I and how it will give me the opportunity to chip it,” Higuain said. “I’m confident of my game, my teammates, trust in [myself], and that’s why I tried that shot. It was a good goal, and it was a goal that helped us believe that we can tie the game.”

A minute into stoppage time, after being awarded a foul near midfield, Martins centered a long cross to Birnbaum, who headed the ball across the penalty area to a waiting Brillant. 

The French defender connected with a header of his own past goalkeeper Quinten Westberg to tie the match. The goal, his second of the season, was more than enough to avenge his first-half mistake.

“I was sad for the team with this mistake, (but) the team didn’t blame me,” Brillant said. “During halftime, they push me and it gave us a good mentality that we have to keep it for the rest of this tournament. We have to be a group as strong as we were with everything we did today.”

With seconds remaining, Akinola attempted a last-ditch volley to complete his hat-trick. Still, goalkeeper Bill Hamid made a fingertip save, pushing the ball over the crossbar to preserve United’s result.

Olsen credits his team for their gutsy performance and believes that, despite their first-half performance, United showed promise after a four-month layoff.

“To get something out of that game, I think it says a lot about our group,” Olsen said. “Yes, we can get better. But this is a marathon and the trick in these tournaments is to keep pushing and getting better throughout the tournament.”

United’s next match is against the New England Revolution on Friday, July 17, at 8 p.m.

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.

Set-piece magic helps Spirit post draw against Thorns

By José Umaña/The Sports Pulse Contributor

Photo by ISI Photos

WASHINGTON – A simple corner kick turned into a magical moment for the Washington Spirit against the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Challenge Cup on Sunday.

Midfielder Dorian Bailey fired off a short-lobbed pass to striker Ashley Sanchez standing on the edge of the penalty area. The former UCLA starter flicked a backheel in the air, keeping the ball in play and floated it over a sea of defenders, before finding teammate Samantha Staab.

The Spirit center back connected with a snapping header that beat a save attempt by Meghan Klingenberg for a surprising goal.

“I saw the ball going out and tried to get something on it to keep it in the mix,” Sanchez said about her surprise assist. “We were down one, so I was doing whatever I could.”

“That was not a rehearsed play,” Washington head coach Richie Burke said. “That was not something that we expected; I don’t think she expected it. It was more like a kung-fu move, but we will take it under the circumstances.”

The corner kick magic capped off multiple attempts Washington failed to capitalize on. Staab’s goal helped the Spirit earn a 1-1 draw over the Portland Thorns.

With the result, the Spirit (1-1-1) regained some of its momentum back it had lost after losing to the North Carolina Courage in their second tournament match. Washington sits in fourth place (four points) heading into their final non-knockout game.

Washington tested its depth once again, starting the match without striker Ashley Hatch and midfielder Rose Lavelle. Ashley Sanchez and Kumi Yokoyama returned to the starting lineup, and rookie Averie Collins made her first professional start in the midfield.

The squad rotation allowed Portland to have most of the ball possession and scoring opportunities in the first half. The Spirit regained its composure after the hydration break midway through the half with two of its three shots going on target.

After halftime, Hatch was subbed on and immediately impact the game as Washington pushed the ball onto Portland’s half. In the 63rd minute, Hatch almost equalized with a left-footed crossbody shot that goalkeeper Bella Bixby saved.

Portland opened the scoring six minutes later as Klingenberg floated a midfield free kick to a diving Lindsey Horan into the penalty area for a header goal.

Despite the goal, Washington continued its offensive push, subbing on Lavelle to add more attacking firepower that paid off with Staab’s goal.

In the 88th minute, Horan attempted one more shot for Portland, a right-footed attempt from outside the penalty area. However, Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe made a diving save to smack the ball away from the far post to keep the game leveled.

The Spirit faces the Houston Dash in their final fixture before the knockout rounds on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.

The Bad Hombres FC – Episode 11: NWSL’s Challenge Cup

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.