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PFL 10 in Washington DC

On Tap visited popular sports bars around DC and Virginia including Buffalo Billiards, Bracket Room and Kirwan’s on the Wharf to promote the upcoming PFL 10 happening on Saturday, October 20th at the new St. Elizabeths Entertainment and Sports Area. Use promo code ONTAP50 for 50 percent off your ticket to the playoffs!

Photo: Courtesy of Washington Capitals
Photo: Courtesy of Washington Capitals

Capitals’ New Head Coach Todd Reirden Enters Unique Situation

Championship teams are hard to keep together. Whether it’s players leaving for bigger contracts, veterans retiring or staffers jetting for more lucrative opportunities, the likelihood of a carbon copy from year to year is nearly impossible.

An obvious cog for any sports team is the head coach, and though it’s unusual for a championship organization to hire a new leader months after tasting absolute victory, the Capitals are now in the midst of this transition.

Out is Barry Trotz, the man who directed the team to last year’s Stanley Cup championship, as he resigned shortly after hoisting the trophy earlier this summer. While the team could have rocked the boat and brought in an outside candidate, the front office instead opted for continuity, promoting former assistant coach Todd Reirden. The 47-year-old was given a unique set of circumstances surrounding his first National Hockey League head coaching gig.

“This is an extremely unique one,” Reirden tells me in his office adorned with more Capitals gear than a stadium gift shop. “More often than not, you see an assistant coach take over because it went poorly. In this situation where you’ve won the ultimate prize in your sport, it’s obviously different. I had no ill will or misgivings to Barry. It was his choice not to return. It had nothing to do with my situation.”

Officially hired on June 29, Reirden touched base with Trotz to thank him for the opportunity. Four years ago, Trotz hired him as the assistant coach, bringing him into the organization where he’s now charged to lead.

“It’s been a real comfortable situation thus far,” he says. “Two years ago, I ran the training camp. So this is not new to me as far as where we’re at right now – only thoughts of excitement and opportunity for this group, who for the most part is returning.”

Those returning include legend and Stanley Cup MVP Alex Ovechkin, forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman John Carlson, to name a few.

“Every season is a little bit different, so it’s tough to totally forecast where your team is going to have success or [what they’ll] struggle with,” Reirden says. “[Because of] what we were able to do last year, there won’t be a lot of changes. We’re just trying to emphasize the speed with some of our young players.”

One group of people happy to see him instituted as head coach was the players, who had firsthand experience as he helped guide the team to a championship last season. Though he has a different role, the team believes he can help them achieve a title repeat.

“First of all, he’s very smart,” says veteran center Nicklas Backstrom. “He’s very good at adjusting during the game and making sure you’re screwing with the other team a bit, which I think is positive. People don’t notice that. He’s alert. He’s on top of his game, every game. That’s what you need in this league.”

Along with his mind for the game, Reirden is a great communicator, which is something he’s using to help the Capitals avoid
a title hangover.

“My strengths are in communication and developing relationships with the players,” he says. “I was in constant contact with them and let them know a clear vision of what I expected the camp to look like. They’ve all come back in excellent shape and ready to work. The response from the veteran players and everyone right through is a high energy level and an even higher conditional level than in the past. You have to communicate with the players, you have to talk to them, you have to connect with them. They have to be able to come to you about good things, bad things, whatever it is, and you have to have them trust you and believe in you.”

With a new coach comes new philosophies and tendencies, which carries the possibility of a slow start. However, with Reirden being on staff for the past few years, players aren’t worried about the prospect.

“Potentially,” right defenseman Matt Niskanen says of Reirden’s coaching style. “You get used to a coach’s tendencies – his feel for how he runs the bench, runs your scheme, your practices. So far in camp, there’s been the same types of drills just to get people moving again because everyone’s familiar with them. But we’re going to start filtering new stuff, tweaking the system and details as we go. It should be a pretty seamless transition.”

Though it’s early, everything out of Capitals camp sounds so far, so good. And as the season opener against the Boston Bruins on October 3 approaches, all Reirden and the team can do is put their heads down, get to work and enjoy the journey.

“My goal doesn’t have anything to do with a set number of wins or losses, or this or that,” Reirden says. “I want to create an environment that’s challenging for our players. I want them to enjoy coming to work every day. They need to enjoy coming to the rink and being challenged that way to get back to what we accomplished last year.”

Don’t miss the Caps’ home opener on Wednesday, October 3 at 7:30 p.m. against the Bruins. For more information on the team and their 2018-2019 season, visit www.nhl.com/capitals.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.nhl.com/capitals

Photo: Courtesy of PFL
Photo: Courtesy of PFL

PFL 10: An Event to Watch for Fight Fans

Mixed martial arts (MMA) holds an interesting spot when it comes to the DC sports hierarchy. Known as a fight town, DMV residents tend to sway more toward boxing as the DC area has historically offered the squared circle a true home for locally bred talent and big events.

Globally, MMA as a whole is maybe at its most profitable point and the Professional Fighters League (PFL) is looking to capitalize on the potentially fertile fandom in DC with an event on October 20 in the brand new St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena. This marks the organization’s third DC card, after PFL Fight Night in November 2017 and PFL 3 this past July.

The PFL separates itself from other MMA promotions by instituting a tournament system between the top eight fighters in each of its six divisions. The PFL 2018 season will conclude on December 31, with six championship fights back-to-back and a $10 million prize pool.

PFL 10 offers a boon for fight fans who have followed the sport over the past decade, with veterans like former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) vets Rick Story and John Howard, and other talents such as Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Louis Taylor.

Fights at the top of the card include Shields vs. Ray Cooper III (who square off in a rematch after Cooper bested the veteran by technical knockout), Eddie Gordon vs. Andre Lobato, and Howard vs. Shamil Gamzatov – to name a few.

“There is an appetite for the very, very high end of fighting, whether it’s [boxing’s] Pacquiao and Mayweather or [MMA’s] Conor McGregor,” says MMA journalist Luke Thomas. “But the midlevel has been harder to cultivate [here in DC]. The PFL is trying to tap into that, and even though some of the guys aren’t the best of the best anymore, it’s good fighting. It’s a big test, it’s critical. But the question is how difficult is [getting people to the event].”

Thomas, of MMA Fighting and SiriusXM’s The Luke Thomas Show, is   a DC native and says there has been a general interest for the sport dating back to the days of DC promotion Ultimate Warrior Challenge. The promotion featured early bouts of eventual UFC standouts John Dodson, Brendan Schaub and Mike Easton. But because of commission issues in DC and big markets like New York City only a few hours up the highway, big MMA fights have largely eluded the city.

“Part of this is DC hasn’t had a DC fighter breakthrough,” Thomas says. “It’s a newer fight community, and I don’t think they know enough about the sport. There’s a fight community, but it leans more toward boxing, and this new audience doesn’t know all the practices.”

Despite this, Thomas and I are in agreement regarding the talent on PFL 10. More high-level fights in the District could further the sport’s exposure, perhaps making way for breakthrough stars and additional can’t-miss fight cards.

“The PFL will bring many talents that are pretty damn good,” he continues. “A lot of these guys have been floating just outside the UFC ranks. There are definitely some fights to look out for, and you have an undercard with good veterans. These are all legitimate fighters.”

The fight card will represent one of the first large-scale events to take place at the city’s new venue. In addition to featuring touring sports like the PFL, e-sports and concerts, the 4,200-seat arena will also house the Washington Mystics and the Wizards’ new NBA G-League team, the Capital City Go-Go. The completion of the 118,000-square-foot St. Elizabeths East is the culmination of a year-long construction process that cost the city about $69 million.

While there’s currently no boxing cards scheduled for the arena, there’s little doubt DC’s newest building will host bouts in the future. Fight fans in the District yearning for high-level combat sooner will be treated to the PFL 10 and a collection of MMA talent from around the world.

“I guarantee that when the card is over, we’ll have been treated to quality MMA,” Thomas says.

Don’t miss the PFL 10 on Saturday, October 20 at the new St. Elizabeths East arena. Visit www.pflmma.com for more information and to purchase tickets.

St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena: 1100 Oak Dr. SE, DC; www.esaontherise.com

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Turtle Recall at Nationals Park

The last Friday home pregame show at Nationals Park featured DC 80s rock band Turtle Recall on the Budweiser Terrace. We’ll see you in 2019 for next season’s Budweiser concert series at the ball park! Photos: Mike Kim

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Ryan Kerrigan’s 6th Annual Celebrity Waiter Night

Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan hosted his sixth annual Celebrity Waiter Night at The Watergate Hotel.  Kerrigan and his Washington Redskins teammates mingled with supporters of Ryan’s Blitz for the Better Foundation, DC’s charitable community and Redskins fans who enjoyed a high-spirited cocktail reception, fine cuisine and exciting live and silent auctions. Photos: LAFlicks Photography

Photo: Courtesy of Professional Bull Riders
Photo: Courtesy of Professional Bull Riders

Not Your Average Rodeo: PBR Rolls Through NoVA

You may have seen the slogan on the Metro buses taking you in and out of the city lately. The large sign reads, “And You Thought This Town Couldn’t Handle Any More Bulls#*t,” and with the most recent political developments, it seems like the marketing ploy couldn’t be more timely.

However, the bull advertised isn’t the kind peddled by politicians or reported in news stories. It’s real and it involves actual bulls, riders and extensive pyrotechnics. The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) tour is here, and it’s time to take notice.

“You can expect there to be a lot of action,” PBR rider Cody Nance says. “It’s a ton of fun and it’s funny. If you like exciting things, you’re coming to the right place. You see the top guys in the world against the best bulls in the world.”

The PBR rolls through Northern Virginia on September 22 and 23 for the U.S. Border Patrol Invitational at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. The stadium where George Mason athletics take place will be completely transformed into what sounds like a rodeo atmosphere on steroids.

“For years we said, ‘It’s not a rodeo, but a one and only PBR,’” production manager Jim White says. “We’re a full entertainment package, and even have bands on occasion. We have the same sound systems as most rock ‘n’ roll bands, and our lighting is a lot like those concerts as well. It’s bull riding. It’s Americana. Anyone can enjoy it. It’s two-and-a-half hours of nonstop action.”

Though the spectacle is not a rodeo, it does mirror more than a few of the same aesthetics including 300 tons of dirt stretched over 40 yards, loads of steel for pins and barriers, and of course, gigantic athletes weighing in at nearly 2,000 pounds each.

“They’re just like any other kind of athlete,” PBR stock provider Mike Miller says about the bulls. “It’s about diet and exercise. We feed them twice a day: low fat and high protein. We try to get them as much exercise as possible to build their lung capacity and muscles up.”

Miller says that much like the riders who train to be flexible and durable for the strenuous task of riding atop a bull, the bulls themselves are bred to be athletes – part of the spectacle.

“We look for intensity – how high they jump in the front and how hard they kick in the back,” Miller says of identifying the best bulls. “I guess if you’re in the business, you can notice [the difference between them] a little easier, and that’s your job to kind of know what the bull is and what the best bulls look like.”

According to the PBR website, a bull ride in the league is an “eight-second contest of strength, balance, endurance and effort between the world’s best bull rides and the world’s best bucking bulls.” In order to score, riders must have one hand on the bull rope and one in the air, and if he makes it for eight seconds, he’ll receive a score up to 100 total points with a possible 50 points awarded to each the bull and the rider.

“Most people think we’re crazy,” Nance says. “But once you explain what it’s about, they understand. It’s just a cowboy thing. A lot of people don’t understand how much goes into raising a bull. To be able to compete with a bull at that level is like playing in the [NFL] Pro Bowl.”

Nance was the fifth ranked PBR rider in the world standings and the top ranked American as of August. Despite his unusual career path, he says it was one he yearned for from an early age as his stepdad rode bulls and served as a judge after he gave up the trade.

“I got on bulls through high school at different levels, but couldn’t join the PBR until I turned 18,” Nance says. “In 10 years of riding, a lot can change. You get the heck beat out of you. Sometimes it’s a little more physically challenging, but mentally you go about it the same way.”

Miller says that while the bulls themselves may not be aware they’re competing with one another, each has a unique personality. So temperamental bulls may be more challenging than others.

“They’re like me, you or your friends,” Miller says. “Some are nice to be around, and some are really ignorant to be around.”

So, if you’re into lights, music and cowboys riding atop giant, potentially annoyed animals, the PBR is right up your alley. And we promise we’re not just saying that, because frankly, that would be bulls#*t.

“The newcomers in Virginia, they’re going to see Western lifestyle in a way that they’ve never seen it before,” White says. “It’s like a rock show with meat.”

Don’t miss PBR’s U.S. Border Patrol Invitational at EagleBank Arena on Saturday, September 22 at 6:45 p.m. and Sunday, September 23 at 1:45 p.m. Tickets start at $71. Learn more about Professional Bull Riding at www.pbr.com.

EagleBank Arena: 4500 Patriot Circle, Fairfax, VA; 703-993-3000; www.eaglebankarena.com

Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photo: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Shooting the Gap: Linebackers Look to Raise Redskins’ Defensive Level

The Washington Redskins’ 2017 season wasn’t without setbacks. The squad dealt with numerous injuries on both offense and defense, as the team’s expectations for the NFL Playoffs dwindled by the time winter blew through FedExField. However, the team never quit as they traded wins and losses down the stretch of the season with a persistent roster.

A key player during the home stretch was Zach Brown, who despite missing the last three games of the season with foot and leg injuries, led the team in tackles with 127 – a mark good for ninth in the league. With Brown and fellow linebacker Mason Foster returning to man the middle of the field, a defense that ranked last against the run can only improve, if health permits.

“[We’ll] take it to the next level,” Brown says. “Last year was really our first as a defense, so now it’s like, let’s keep it going and step it up. We have a lot of good young players, so they have to stay disciplined and we all have to do our job.”

Both Brown and Foster signed extensions in the offseason to stay with the Redskins. Before the ink was dry on Foster’s deal, he was already recruiting Brown to ensure their pairing would last longer than the five games they shared the field last season.

“I love this team and all these guys are brothers,” Foster says. “I love playing football, and when your year is cut short like that – especially when I was set up to have a big year – it’s tough. Part of it is a blessing in disguise, because I was able to sit there and watch the game and get in shape.”

Both players kept roots in Virginia this offseason, with Foster rehabbing his torn shoulder and Brown settling down with his family in McLean. Though they had different offseason experiences, both were ready for camp and eager to improve a defense not yet matching their standard for greatness.

“Guys are playing hard, but it was little things here and there,” Foster continues. “Being up in the box and being able to see it from a coach’s perspective, you see the little angles you take and the little things you bring to the table every day. It definitely helped me bring my game to another level.”

Though the pair is integral to the Redskins postseason goals, the hope is for their load to be lessened by the team’s top draft pick, interior defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, who joins former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen – Washington’s first pick in last year’s draft.

“With the young guys coming in and making it more competitive, everybody is in better shape and coming in strong,” Brown says. “Health is going to be really important, but everyone behind you has to stay ready too. If we can stay healthy, we can go a long way.”

As for the veterans, Brown and Foster acknowledge an undeniable chemistry between them on the field.

“He was a big reason I wanted to come back here,” Foster says. “I knew what me and him could do for the whole year. We see the game the same way, and it allows me to come downhill. We know who’s going to have an opportunity to take a chance. Sometimes I want to jump a route and he’ll cover for me, and vice versa. Stuff like that became natural for us.”

Though the defense – who finished with the 12th-most yards allowed in the league – is set to improve, the old saying “a good offense is the best defense” may still apply to the Redskins. To bolster the offensive unit, the team added veteran playmakers in running back Adrian Peterson and QB Alex Smith, replacing Kirk Cousins.

As inside linebackers, both Brown and Foster are essentially the quarterbacks of the defense, and each has had a chance to match wits with the new starting signal caller.

“He’s what I thought he was,” Brown says. “He’s a great player and he’s going to surprise a lot of people. We have a lot of receivers that will go get the ball for Alex, and he’s really upped the game for those guys. He’s a great leader, and he has high expectations for the offense.”

Despite the 7-9 finish to last season, neither of these players are lacking in confidence. They’re ready to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I think we’re in the mix,” Foster says. “The sky’s the limit, but we have to go out and execute.”

Brown echoes his teammate’s sentiments about the 2018 season.

“We feel like we can be one of the best in the NFL if we bring it together.”

Catch the Washington Redskins’ first home game against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday, September 16. Follow the team on Twitter at @Redskins and check out their 2018 schedule at www.redskins.com.

FedExField: 1600 Fedex Way, Landover, MD; 301-276-6000; www.redskins.com

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As If at Nationals Park

As the Nationals warmed up to play the Miami Marlins, fans enjoyed live music from 90s tribute band As If and ice cold beer on Budweiser Terrace for the pre-game show.

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Taste of Tennis

Photos: Mark Raker

Photo: Rich Kessler
Photo: Rich Kessler

D.C. Gets United

When Wayne Rooney trotted onto Audi Field for the first time in D.C. United’s home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14, a sold-out crowd of 20,504 erupted in raucous cheers.

Making his American Major League Soccer debut, the 32-year-old British soccer legend looked sharp, drilling crisp, efficient passes and notching an assist to Paul Arriola, who scored two goals in the home team’s 3-1 victory.

Afterward, a smiling Rooney sat before a throng of reporters in the club’s gleaming new interview room and declared himself proud of his new club and the new stadium. But he also laid down a challenge to his D.C. United teammates for the weeks and months ahead.

“It was a great atmosphere,” said Rooney, who knows a thing or two about atmosphere after representing England in three World Cups and claiming five Premier League championships with the fabled Manchester United club. “It’s a great stadium that’s built for atmosphere, but we have to create the atmosphere on the pitch. We can’t expect the fans to come in and make noise if we’re not exciting them. It’s our job to excite them.

“For the fans and the players, it was a big game,” Rooney added. “Now, we’ll enjoy tonight’s victory and get ready for the next game.”

The Audi Field home opener at Buzzard Point, just a stone’s throw from Nationals Park, represented a new chapter in D.C. United’s storied history, which includes 13 titles, four MLS cups and a long wait for a home of their own.

The soccer club contended with a grueling, four-month road schedule as it awaited the opening of the stadium in July. According to D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen, it was worth the wait. Olsen took a quiet walk around the stadium before the home opener to soak up the significance of the moment.

“This is one of the great nights in D.C. United history, and we’ve had some good ones,” Olsen said after the game. “After four months on the road, to play the way we played, score goals and be entertaining was just a great night for the organization.”

The new stadium, which cost nearly half a billion dollars, delighted enthusiastic D.C. United fans who have endured years of subpar soccer conditions at RFK Stadium, a crumbling relic built for American football – not soccer. Audi Field’s sleek and modern design, stellar sightlines, and upscale concessions put it among the very best venues for soccer in the United States and perhaps the world.

Arriola, a small but speedy 23-year-old forward for D.C. United, had a hint of awe in his eyes as he described what it was like to play in the new stadium.

“It was awesome,” he told On Tap. “To look up and see the fans right on top of you – you can look up and stare them right in the eyes. The fans obviously deserve this place, to come to a beautiful field and stadium, and it gives us confidence to go out there and perform.”

Aside from Audi Field’s opening, D.C. United’s biggest move this season was the acquisition of Rooney. The father of four and global soccer legend signed a reported $13 million contract for two-and-a-half years, with D.C. United holding an option for an additional year.

Rooney is the only player to score 200 goals and provide 100 assists in the British Premier League, and is now the highest paid player in MLS history. After the home opener, Olsen reinforced what a great decision the big contract was for his team.

“We saw what Wayne is: a high-quality, elite soccer player,” Olsen said. “He didn’t lose possession, made some key passes and got on the end of a few balls in the box. This is what he’s going to do for us. With his character, he’s here to help the team get better on and off the field.”

Olsen added that to put it simply, he just makes the right plays.

“There’s a lot of value in that, making the right play in the moment. We’re still a young team, so he can help with the soccer aspect and the mentality he brings with his experience. That’s the exciting part about this. We’re lucky to have him.”

Arriola said Rooney immediately makes D.C. United a better team with his leadership on the field and in the locker room.

“He’s a very humble guy on and off the field,” Arriola said. “But on the field, you can see his quality. The way he plays really suits a lot of our players. We’re still trying to get the chemistry together and it will take time, but he just wants to get in here and work and win. That’s the type of player we need right now.”

For his part, Rooney said he’s ready to write the next chapter in his storied career.

“I have said this since I committed to the club: I want to win, and I am vocal on and off the pitch,” Rooney said. “I’m vocal with the coach, vocal with my teammates and we speak [about] which we think is the best way to win a football match. I think the most important thing is communication, not just for myself but for the players, and the players know that.”

Rooney acknowledged that some of his younger, less experienced teammates may be a bit intimidated by his success on the global soccer stage, but he stressed that he is now one of them.

“I am a D.C. United player,” he said. “I am exactly the same as these players and I want to win. What I can bring is my desire to win, and that’s every day on the training pitch and every game.”

Learn more about D.C. United’s 2018 season at www.dcunited.com.

Audi Field: 100 Potomac Ave. SW, DC; 202-587-5000; www.audifielddc.com