Lately, the District has made a habit of hanging banners and flooding streets for championship parades. In two short years, D.C. erased decades of disappointing memories with championships in professional baseball, basketball and hockey to engrain itself as a legitimate sports town. Move over Boston, New York and Philly, there’s a new member of the East Coast sports elite.While D.C. has achieved big success, there is still room to grow.
Players, coaches and organizations want to be here; for proof, look no further than the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Ron Rivera or even Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira. Fledgling venues like Audi Field and Events DC’s Entertainment and Sports Arena are thriving, and new teams are buying up market share left and right, such as the DC Defenders and Old Glory DC. As we dig a little deeper with a team by team breakdown, it’s safe to say that there’s no better time to don a jersey from your local team of choice and make the most of what’s sure to be another riveting year for sports in the District.
As a fly on the wall inside the Caps locker room recently, I’m happy to report the team’s recent struggles haven’t hurt morale.
“We’re not panicking or anything,” Caps defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler said. “We will find solutions.”
The Caps lost seven of their first nine games to start February, including four of their first five games at Capital One Arena.
“In the end, we just have to get back to the way we were playing in the first half of the season,” Siegenthaler added, one day after losing to Montreal 4-3 in overtime on their home ice.
Because of their past success, the team isn’t acting as if the walls are crumbling around them. Never forget, the bulk of this team experienced a 4-7 start to February in 2017-18, and we know how that season ended (cough, cough, Stanley Cup, cough).
Washington still leads the Metropolitan Division, but the gap too close for comfort. Luckily, their schedule lightens up down the stretch (third-easiest per NHL.com) and the second-place Philadelphia Flyers experience the opposite (eighth-hardest per NHL.com).
Luckily, the Caps won’t be carrying around the “700” monkey on their collective backs any longer. Legendary winger Alex Ovechkin finally got the magical goal, a beautiful strike to beat Devils’ goalie Mackenzie Blackwood on February 22. But between Ovi’s 698th and 700th goals, the team lost six of seven. With the legacy goal in the rearview, the group can finally narrow their focus and concentrate on playing playoff hockey.
“I do believe in this team,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “I have seen it before. It’s just something we’re finding our way through right now.”
The next Capitals game in D.C. is on March 12 at 7 p.m.
For more information on the Capitals, visit www.washingtoncapitals.com or follow them on Twitter @Capitals. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.washingtoncapitals.com.
When Wizards head coach Scott Brooks left mid-major UC-Irvine after his senior year in 1987, teams from the NBA weren’t exactly banging his door down. The undersized guard went undrafted, then wound up in a league specifically for guys shorter than 6-foot-4. This is not the norm when talking about a guy who would eventually spend three decades in the NBA.
Brooks is the exception. He hustled his way through bus rides and high school gyms of minor-league hoops, carving out a legitimate NBA niche. Fast-forward to present-day Brooks and it’s easy to understand why he gets perturbed when his team is underachieving.
After the Wizards opened the NBA’s second half with multiple losses to inferior teams, Brooks let it fly in a postgame presser with a disgruntled collection of adjectives – soft, disappointing, embarrassing – to describe his team’s performance.
“It’s not embarrassing to lose to an NBA team, but it is embarrassing to not compete like an NBA team,” he said after the game.
The surge of strong words from Brooks, despite his mild-mannered nature, is wholly understood. Bradley Beal leads the league in scoring since the All-Star break. Dāvis Bertāns shoots the lights out. Rookie Rui Hachimura does it on both sides of the court, and, surprisingly, the Wizards have more first-round picks on their roster than the defending champion Toronto Raptors. There are real pieces on this roster. When push comes to shove, they should have no trouble competing in this league.
Even as of now at 22-39 [note: this article was written in late February], a postseason appearance as the eight seed isn’t out of the question, and despite their stumble out of the break, they’re going for it.
“Down the stretch, we want to keep playing competitive basketball,” Brooks said during the Wizards’ Ballers and Bowling charity event in downtown D.C. “The owner, general manager, myself and our team aren’t thinking about tanking. We want to keep winning and trying to play our best basketball.”
“We have a lot to work on,” he made sure to note. “Defense is definitely at the top of the list. It’s a growth mindset.”
The next home game for the Wizards vs. New York Knicks is March 10 at 7 p.m. For more information on the Wizards, visit www.washingtonwizards.com or follow them on Twitter at @WashWizards. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC.
The XFL has cleaned up. Forget the product you saw back in 2001 – the one with the cheesy gimmicks and subpar football – this new XFL has some substance to go along with the sizzle. Roughly a month in, the league is turning heads, netting real television ratings and putting people in stadium seats.
One of the teams at the forefront of the league’s renaissance is none other than the DC Defenders, whose home games are at 3-year-old stadium Audi Field, also home to D.C. United. With Ohio State legend Cardale Jones as the face of the franchise, the Defenders have proved you can make an actual team out of spare parts and hard work.
Even before their first minicamp started, Jones and a horde of weapons put in extra work to familiarize themselves with the playbook and with one another.
“We started a good month and a half before we got out here,” Jones told XFL Chalk Talk at minicamp in College Park, MD. “The coaches did a great job of putting us in communication with each other and we got together in Michigan and Louisiana to throw some route and go over the playbook.”
“Still, every day in practice, we’re staying after to get extra throws and talking through certain concepts,” he added.
Hard work pays off. The Defenders had the highest point differential through the first two weeks of the season, but over a long season there’s ups and downs. Since the hot start, the team has dropped two straight. But the team is persistent.
“Cardale is a proven winner,” Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said. “[He has] excellent credibility in the locker room.”
Hamilton, a D.C. guy himself, has been key in growing the brand locally. He played quarterback right around the corner at Howard in the early ‘90s, then joined the staff upon graduation.
“D.C. has been my home base for the last 20 years,” he noted. “This is a good locker room and the support from our fans at Audi Field has been a major key in our success.”
The DC Defenders play the Dallas Renegades in D.C. on March 15 at 4 p.m. For more information on the Defenders, visit www.xfl.com, or follow them on Twitter @XFLDefenders. Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC.
Old Glory DC
For the first time in D.C.’s storied history, locals will have a professional rugby team to call their own. Playing right around the corner at Catholic University, Old Glory DC is in the midst of its inaugural season in Major League Rugby, a 12-team league considered as the highest level of rugby in the U.S.
“We want to build excitement around the game,” co-owner and former U.S. National Team member Paul Sheehy said at the club’s first media day. “It’s all about growing the game. We want to see participation grow in our region.”
“This is our hometown,” fellow owner and DMV native Chris Dunlavey added. “We want to see rugby flourish.”
While fresh on the scene, Old Glory is already one of the most talked about franchises in the league. The reason? Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira.
Called one of the “world’s best rugby players” by The Chronicle, Mtawarira is a bonafide icon in the rugby world and his native South Africa. Last year, he appeared in a commercial for Dove Men’s Care and led his country to a win at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Rather than retire from the sport, Mtawarira brought his talents across the pond to D.C., a move he hopes will have a lasting impact.
“I just want to give more than I take,” he said at media day. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the locals, working with new people and making relationships for life.”
In his first appearance with Old Glory, Mtawarira helped the club beat Seattle in front of an enthusiastic D.C. crowd for their first-ever MLR victory. Moving forward, they’ll have six more home games, highlighted by their next match on March 15 at home against Denver. The majority of their games are broadcast on NBC Sports Washington or CBS Sports Network.
Catch the next home game vs. the Raptors on March 15 at 3 p.m. For more information on Old Glory, visit www.oldglorydc.com, or follow them on Twitter @oldglorydc. Cardinal Stadium: Varnum St. NE, DC.
The District represents a shining example of soccer’s growth in the states. To attend a D.C. United game is to get hooked on D.C. United, as the die-hards are nationally known for their fierce loyalty and creativity.
“There’s a new energy around our brand,” D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen said. “There’s an excitement about the experience that we’re putting on, not only in-stadium but also the team and the entertainment value of the actual squad.”
“The area around Audi Field has embraced us in a major way,” he added.
The team enters its third season at the new digs this year, fresh off back-to-back postseason appearances. And although this year represents the first in the post-Wayne Rooney era, the guys are ready to rock.
“The overall attitude has been fantastic, the vibe is exactly as it should be at this point in the year,” Olsen said.
“Our group now is a little different than last year,” he continued. “Guys like Julian Gressel, Edison Flores, Yamil Asad and Ola Kamara are guys who will step up to shoulder the goal scoring load.”
Steve Birnbaum will captain in 2020 after giving up his band to Rooney for the past two seasons. He was first named captain in 2017.
“It’s tough [to lose Rooney],” Birnbaum said. “But the front office did a great job bringing in guys who can fill that void. Our success last year came from not giving up goals. That’s the way we made the playoffs, so that’s going to be another recipe for success this year.”
While the ingredients for wins may be the same, the team will undoubtedly look different, but not unfamiliar. The squad’s new kit for 2020 throws it back 25 years to the inaugural 1996 season, using a retro uniform scheme. The 96’ team won the league title, so maybe they’ll conjure up some of that magic.
D.C. United’s next home game is on Friday, April 3 against the New York City FC. For more information on D.C. United, visit www.dcunited.com, or follow them on Twitter @DCUnited. Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC.
The Washington Nationals are no longer the team that couldn’t get over the hump. Nor the unit not quite ready for the big time. Instead, they have become somewhat heroic in light of the Houston Astros’ devious sign-stealing scheme. The Nats are the team that stopped those cheatin’ Astros from winning another World Series. Talk about a 180 from this time last year.
Looking forward, there’s no reason the good times should stop. Besides a shiny new World Series banner that’ll hang above the home bullpen in right field, the roster coming into 2020 is again up to snuff.
Everything starts with pitching, and the Nats return their entire starting rotation from a year ago. The five pitchers that started games in this past World Series make up their projected rotation. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin are the headliners at the top, with Aníbal Sánchez and Joe Ross picking up the backend.
“For us, the word ‘repeat’ doesn’t mean anything except to repeat the process,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told Nationals.com. “What made us good in 2019. Who we are. That never goes away.”
The one major loss the team suffered was on offense, as third baseman Anthony Rendon signed a seven-year, $245 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels in mid-December. Despite this, the mood is upbeat about the position. Asdrúbal Cabrera, who hit .323 with the Nats last year, is back in the fold and he’ll compete with Carter Kieboom at third base. Kieboom had a memorable 11-game stint in 2019 but is expected to have his true rookie season this year.
Newcomers to this year’s team include slugger Eric Thames, who hit 25 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers last year, and Starlin Castro, a four-time All-Star who hit .270 with 22 home runs for Miami in 2019.
The Nationals open the regular season earlier than ever this year in a road game on March 26 against the New York Mets. On April 2, the Mets will be in D.C. for the team’s home opener.
For more information on the Nationals, visit www.nationals.com, or follow them on Twitter @Nationals. Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC.
If you haven’t jumped on the Washington Spirit bandwagon yet, now is the perfect time. There’s a real buzz surrounding their upcoming season, a direct result of Rose Lavelle’s rise up the women’s soccer ranks.
Lavelle burst onto the scene during the 2019 Women’s World Cup, netting one of the tournament’s most memorable goals in the final against the Netherlands and by earning the Bronze Ball award for her overall performance.
“She just has that something special, something different, that you can’t teach,” Megan Rapinoe told Sports Illustrated about Lavelle. “Her upside is huge. She really has it all.”
The native Ohioan will begin her third season with the team, joining Spirit veteran Ashley Hatch, the team’s leading scorer each of the last two seasons, and Cheyna Matthews, who’s fresh off her own World Cup experience with Jamaica. Together, the group hopes to end a three-year postseason drought.
Washington opens its season on April 18 at Audi Field against Reign FC. The team will have 12 home games spread out evenly between Audi Field, Segra Field and Maryland SoccerPlex.
For more information on the Spirit and what fields to find them on, visit www.washingtonspirit.com, or follow them on Twitter @WashSpirit.
Elena Delle Donne is a warrior. The Mystics’ star played in the 2019 WNBA Finals with three herniated discs and has lived with Lyme disease for more than a decade. Still, these ailments couldn’t hold her back from leading the Mystics to the best regular season record in team history and first WNBA championship. And she’s here to stay. The two-time WNBA MVP inked a four-year deal with the Mystics in early February.
“Last year bringing a Mystics championship home to D.C. was beyond special. The fans who supported us, and the closeness we had as a team, how hard we all worked together led to an incredible outcome,” Delle Donne said in the official press release. “I’m thrilled to be returning for another four years and look forward to defending our title this season in front of the best fans in the world.”
Less than a week later, Finals MVP Emma Meesseman followed suit with her own contract, making back-to-back titles completely feasible for the coming season.
“It’s a great feeling for a coach to have a Finals MVP and a League MVP in Elena Delle Donne lining up opposite each other on the court,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault told WashingtonMystics.com. “I can’t wait to get started again.”
When the Mystics open their season on Saturday, May 16 against the Los Angeles Sparks, they’ll begin their second full season playing at Entertainment and Sports Arena. While smaller than their previous crib, the new digs provide a more intimate scene and home-court advantage.
Their opener (4 p.m. on ESPN) also brings former-Mystic Kristi Toliver back to town. Toliver has immense ties to the DMV, including playing a key role on their title team last year, but signed with Los Angeles this off-season. It’s going to be another special season for the WNBA and they did the right thing putting this heavyweight battle in the first national TV slot.
“All I have to say is, let’s go ‘Stics,” Delle Donne said.
Don’t miss the home opener on May 16 against the Los Angeles Sparks. For more information , visit www.washingtonmystics.com, or follow them on Twitter @WashMystics. Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak St. SE, DC; www.eaontherise.com.
When the Redskins hired Ron Rivera, the ears of an entire fanbase collectively perked up. Finally, this was a right move by a front office that had become known for doing precisely the opposite. They pulled back some fans who had given up, locked in a bunch who were teetering and flipped the narrative from gloom to hope.
Rivera is a proven winner in today’s NFL, taking over a two-win Carolina team in 2011, eventually bringing them to a Super Bowl in 2015. He also brings a defensive mind, as the Panthers ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed for four straight seasons under Rivera between 2012 and 2015.
Replicating past success in D.C. won’t be easy, but Rivera is getting his old gang back together to get things moving in the right direction. Of the 20 assistant coaches on Rivera’s first Redskins staff, more than half spent time with the Rivera-led Panthers.
Included in the group of past Rivera co-workers is Jennifer King, who’s joining the Redskins as a full-time coaching intern. King, who worked extensively with All-Pro Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, will “specifically assist Randy Jordan with the running backs,” according to the team’s official press release announcing her hiring.
“Jennifer is a bright young coach and will be a great addition to our staff,” Rivera said in the release. “Her familiarity with my expectations as a coach and my firsthand knowledge of her work ethic and preparation were big factors in bringing her to the Redskins.”
Adrian Peterson is among the players King will closely work with. The team made the decision to bring back the surefire Hall of Famer for a third season, a move that enables stability for such a young offense.
“Adrian’s leadership and passion towards the game of football will set an example of what is expected of the players in this program moving forward,” Rivera told Redskins.com.
So much of the team’s potential turnaround hinges on the growth of second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. As a rookie, Haskins had his share of struggles, but there were also bright spots and flashes of what made him the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. With someone like Rivera manning the ship, improvement is expected. He was key in the maturation and growth of Cam Newton in Carolina, and, ideally, Haskins will be another one of his success stories.
The NFL schedule will be released in April. For more information on the Redskins, visit www.redskins.com, or follow them on Twitter @Redskins. FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD.