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LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 1: Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards handles the ball during a game against the LA Clippers on December 1, 2019 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein

Wizards Continue to Surprise as Offensive Powerhouse

The start of the 2019-2020 season seemed like a period of rebuilding for the Wizards, with the seventh youngest roster in the league, a few injuries including an Achilles tear from star point guard John Wall, and the departure of players like Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr.

But, just 15 games into the season and actually performing better than expected, the Wizards have pleasantly surprised many. The team has shown they are a force to be reckoned with on offense.
Shooting guard Bradley Beal is at the front of this force, with power forward Dāvis Bertāns and center Thomas Bryant right there with him. Bertāns is shooting above 40 percent from the 3-point line, and Bryant holds a 55.8 FG percentage.

Currently, Beal puts up almost 30 points and averages 7.1 assists per game. But despite Beal’s unbelievable scoring, his focus is not on averaging a certain amount of points.

“I think [scoring] is more or less expected of myself,” Beal says. “I just do whatever I can to help the team win. Whatever I can do, that’s what I try to accomplish.”

The 6-13 Wizards have some new faces on their roster, including rookie Rui Hachimura. Younger players like Troy Brown Jr., who’s in his second season, and new player Mo Wagner continue to make a name for themselves. Also leading alongside Beal are players who have seen plenty of time in the league like Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith and C.J. Miles.

Brown Jr. feels having such a young team gives them an edge and the ability to learn from more experienced players.

“It allows us to grow, develop, and bond on and off the court together, but it also allows us to learn from and take advantage of the advice the vets on our team give,” he explains. “Not many guys have the opportunity to learn from a Bradley Beal, C.J. Miles or John Wall at such a young age in their career.”

The saying “defense wins championships” might not apply to this Wizards’ team, but don’t be too hasty in writing them off just yet. Although, head coach Scott Brooks said to NBC recently that having a top-rated offense and low-rated defense does not cut it.

One player who has been playing consistently well on both sides of the ball is Wagner at center.

He has brought intensity to the offense as a playmaker, scorer and rebounder, and is very dominant on defense. His outstanding play is not limited to inside the paint – he is a threat outside the arch also, shooting just below 50 percent from the 3-point line.

If Wagner can keep his fouling to a minimum, he is destined to earn more playing time from Brooks. Wagner says this is the first year he has really been given a big opportunity, and he works every day to take advantage of it.

“I just try to bring an energy and help wherever the team needs me. Run the floor and get rebounds, be solid defensively, take and knock down open shots – that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Thomas, on the other hand, has been in the league for almost 10 years. He knows the type of play that is required to be successful in the NBA, but historically underperforms on defense.

A highly talked about topic among fans is who should start in the point guard position during Wall’s absence: Thomas or Smith. But Thomas says he is primarily focused on becoming known as a leader on the team and doing whatever it takes to help the Wizards obtain wins.

“I’m just looking forward to a really great season and helping in any way possible,” he says. “A leadership role is something that I’ve always done. It just comes naturally: to lead by example, lead vocally.”

What do the Wizards need to do to have the best possible season? Play harder and with a smarter defense. That has become evident to most anyone who has watched them play so far this season. They have shown they can light their opponents up on offense, move the ball well, and favor the pick-and-roll to make plays, create space and find open shots.

If they stray away from having one of the worst-ranked defenses in the league, they would be scary good. Currently, the Wizards average 6.8 steals, 4.1 blocks and 32.2 defensive rebounds per game. With the exception of defensive rebounds, the Los Angeles Lakers – the top-rated defensive team in the league – are almost doubling the Wizards’ numbers on defense.

While unlikely, only time will tell if the Wizards can turn things around enough on defense to earn a playoff spot. Beal says for him, this season is about fostering winning habits on and off the court.

“I’ve told myself that this year is about having patience. We have a lot of new faces, a new system and young players that are developing. [We’re] just putting in the work, getting better every day and learning from the mistakes we make.”

The Wizards play at Capital One Arena four more times this month. For tickets and more info on the team, visit www.nba.com/wizards.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.nba.com/wizards

Photo: courtesy of the Washington Fusion

Global Mixed-Gender Basketball Washington Fusion Hits the Court

Duan Somers, co-owner of the Washington Fusion, is energized about the team’s matchup happening this month right here in the District.

“November 16 will exhibit the epitome of gender equality,” Somers says. “The future of basketball is now!”

The future of basketball that Somers is talking about is one in which male and female players are competing together in one league, and this future is not just a dream. It’s a reality, as the Global Mixed Gender Basketball league (GMGB) comes to the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast DC later this month.

Warren Morris, head publicist for the Fusion, says that the league’s CEO James Scott hatched the idea for the league after wondering why pro basketball leagues were always separated by gender.

“James Scott had the vision a few years ago: seeing men and women playing together on the same team, on the same court and at the same time,” Morris says. “This had never been done before. That imagination took on reality and birthed the first original coed basketball league.”

Morris says that when fans come to see GMGB games, they’ll notice that the league has some new rules that differ from standard NBA and WNBA regulations.

“In GMGB,” he says, “there are three females and two males in the first and third quarters. In the second and fourth quarters, there are three males and two females. Additionally, each three-point shot made by a female counts for four points.”

The league tries to extend the concept of men and women competing together to all aspects of the game, featuring both male and female referees as well as coaching staff. Coaches include WNBA icon Lisa Leslie with the New Orleans Gators and NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins with the Atlanta Heirs.

It’s fitting that the Fusion will be playing at the Entertainment and Sports Arena – the home arena of DC’s WNBA team, the Washington Mystics – since the team has many links to the WNBA.

The Fusion has featured Natasha Cloud, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Tiffany Bias, all players with experience playing in the WNBA. Coach Nikki Teasley played college hoops at UNC, and then went on to win a WNBA championship with the LA Sparks.

As part of the GMGB league, the Fusion has its share of male players as well – including many former college and NBA standouts. They include Andre Barrett, who played for Seton Hall and several NBA teams including the Chicago Bulls and the LA Clippers; Khalid El-Amin, who played for UConn and the Chicago Bulls; and Michael Sweetney, who played for Georgetown and the New York Knicks.

The Fusion is one of six teams in the league right now, with an eye on expanding to a total of eight in the near future. Morris says that in addition to featuring top former college and pro players on the court, each team has celebrities on the ownership side as well.

These include actress and reality star Laura Govan with the Chicago Vikings; singer-songwriter Tameka “Tiny” Harris with the Atlanta Heirs; rapper Trick Daddy with the Miami Ballers; rapper, actor and businessman Percy “Master P” Miller with the New Orleans Gators; rapper and actor Ice-T with the New York Nights; and rapper and actor Anwan “Big G” Glover with DC’s very own Fusion.

Fusion co-owner Glover, who played Slim Charles in HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire, is also a founding member of the Backyard Band – a DC go-go mainstay performing at the halftime show for the upcoming Fusion game.

Beyond its robust celebrity roster, the GMGB league has made helping local communities a key component of each matchup. Morris says that in the past, they have made diabetes awareness the cause, providing free health screenings along with free tickets to the games. Another recent initiative put the spotlight on the issue of domestic violence.

The bottom line – from both the league side and those who have attended previous GMGB games – is that the energy, passion and excitement of the games must be seen in person to truly be understood. DC fans are lucky to have just that chance this month.

Watch the Washington Fusion take on the Chicago Vikings on Saturday, November 16 at 6 p.m. at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Tickets start at $10. Learn more about the Fusion at www.globalmixedgenderbasketball.com and follow the team on social media @washingtonfusion.

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

Bradley Beal // Photo: Ned Dishman

Four Wizards to Watch this Season

Like a snap of the finger from the almighty titan Thanos, rebuilds in sports are, as he’d growl, inevitable. There comes a time when every franchise must reshuffle their deck and begin planning for the future. And folks, the Washington Wizards’ time to tank is now. Does that mean losing games on purpose? No. That would be a violation of NBA rules and no team would ever tank blatantly and openly. However, it might mean letting center Thomas Bryant shoot 15 threes per game. It could mean allotting newly signed guard Isaiah Thomas the same number of field goal attempts he enjoyed before a rash of injuries depleted some of his athleticism. Despite this truth, the season doesn’t have to be an auto-skip for fans. Unlike the pre-Joel Embiid Philadelphia 76ers or the year-in, year-out rotating door that forms the New York Knicks, this DC team actually has some entertaining NBA players worth watching. So while I’d love to throw a book’s worth of stats at you to try and convince you the Wizards will triumph and bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy this season, I’m too much of a realist. And as a realist and DC area resident, I’ll be keeping an eye on the following four players.

Bradley Beal
The Real Deal Beal himself, the team’s best player from last season returns to build off his breakout campaign from 2018-2019. The team’s shooting guard was the subject of a tremendous amount of trade speculation throughout the offseason, but instead of pushing his weight around and forcing his way out of town, he re-upped with the Wizards by signing a two-year contract extension through the 2022-2023 season worth $72 million. Coming off a scintillating season where he averaged almost 26 points per game, Beal is a bright spot for the team and a genuine source of optimism among fans. For Beal, outside of the max contract obviously, this season represents a chance for him to prove he can lead a team to unexpected heights. All of Beal’s playoff appearances occurred in seasons where he played second banana to the now-injured John Wall, and while he’s achieved individual accolades like All-Star appearances, he hasn’t shown the ability to elevate an average roster to the playoffs a la James Harden or LeBron James to this point. Beal is undoubtedly a tremendous talent, but is he an MVP-level player? This season, we could find out.

Thomas Bryant
Ladies and gentlemen, the Wizards starting center. After missing out on Kevin Durant in the 2016 offseason, the Wizards front office, then led by Ernie Grunfield, signed center Ian Mahinmi as their center of the future at a questionably high price point. That turned out to be a catastrophe as the Frenchman has failed to live up to the contract. Instead, the Wizards relied on veteran Marcin Gortat for a number of seasons, before bringing in future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard to start last season. Due to a butt injury, Howard’s reign never transpired and Bryant took the early opportunity for playing time and produced a career-best season average about 10 points and 7 rebounds per outing. At 22 years old, Bryant has showcased a ton of potential proving a solid defender with more shooting range than a typical five. Losing in the NBA isn’t fun for anyone, but low expectations provide ample opportunities for players looking to prove themselves and Bryant fits the bill.

Rui Hachimura
When NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his name, a lot of people were skeptical of the Wizards’ most recent NBA Draft lottery pick, but Rui Hachimura has so far silenced his doubters. While it’s undeniably early in his career, three games at time of writing, he’s been incredibly impressive averaging 16 points per game. As with Bryant, bad teams provide young players the opportunity to step onto the court and experience a litany of game scenarios. So far, Hachimura has made the most of his reps, whether a young international prospect at Gonzaga, the leader of the Japanese national team or as a rookie for the Wizards, and he’ll only continue to make strides as a scorer.

Isaiah Thomas
Unlike the players above him on this admittedly shortlist, Isaiah Thomas’ time with the Wizards is likely a temporary marriage. The diminutive guard has had a strange career journey, peaking during his time in Celtic green and bottoming out last season with a not-so-successful stint for the Denver Nuggets. This doesn’t mean that Thomas’ days won’t provide some of the “wow” from yesteryear, but it’s likely his best days are ahead of him. Despite this, Thomas, who stands at about 5’9,” is one of the most entertaining players to watch when he has it going. The point guard may not be long for the District, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy him while he’s here.

For more information about the Washington Wizards, visit www.nba.com/wizards.

Nick Jensen // Photo: Washington Capitals Photography

Caps Aim to Keep Fresh, Maintain Fast Start

A hockey season is an odyssey that starts in September with training camp and concludes in June when the Stanley Cup is hoisted by the last team standing. It’s a grind that chews up every player, to a certain degree, along the way.

The Washington Capitals had the distinct pleasure of raising the Cup in June 2018 after besting the Vegas Golden Knights four games to one. For an encore, the Caps were unfortunately bounced out of the first round in the 2019 playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes.

But the team realizes the importance of being prepared come playoff time and is determined to pace themselves accordingly while at the same time not snoozing on early regular season games.
“At the end of the day, it’s what you do in the playoffs that matters,” says Scott Arniel, who is in his second year as an assistant coach for the Capitals. “You have to play your best hockey come April, May and June.”

Ideally, teams want home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. That means winning as many early regular season games as possible to create distance between opponents. To achieve that, the players need to be ready coming out of the gate.

Teams that start slowly often have a tough time catching up with the rest of the league. For example, the Dallas Stars started 1-7-1 and now have to play catch-up.

“You can be knocked out of the playoffs by December 1 if you’re not up and running,” continues Arniel, whose primary duties include working with the wingers and the penalty kill.

The Capitals feels they are better prepared to start this year compared to last, when they had a short summer while the city gorged on Cup mania. If there was a silver lining to the early exit last playoffs, it was that players had more time to train and prepare for this season.

Early preparation involves consistency and focus – not only on hockey skills but also on everyday activities such as eating habits, gym and lifting schedules, and rest and rehabilitation during the players’ off hours. Defenseman Nick Jensen notes the importance of getting off to a good start, and how players’ personal habits play a big role in their performance.

“Exhibition games definitely help, but there’s nothing that can replicate the speed and skill of the game when the regular season starts,” he says. “It’s a long season, but these games at the beginning of the season are very important.”

To keep loose on game days, Jensen says he follows a light morning skate with a cold tub treatment, soft tissue massage and stretching. Players will often stick with the same routine, mainly out of comfort and sometimes out of superstition.

“The majority of players, if not all, will follow a pretty similar routine on game days,” Jensen adds.

The defenseman, who was traded to the Capitals from the Detroit Red Wings this February, has logged key minutes on the backline for Washington. His strong defensive play is a valued commodity.

“Whatever makes me feel good for that game, I tend to repeat over and over. It’s all about getting into that mindset on game day. We’re creatures of habit.”

Arniel, head coach Todd Reirden, and the rest of the coaching and training staff take great pains to ensure each player is individually cared for. During practices, Arniel will often work with the wingers at a separate part of the rink away from the centers and defensemen.

“We want to make sure our players are at their max,” he says.

A hockey lifer, Arniel knows the game just about as well as anyone. He played 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, mostly with the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, and continued playing for several seasons after that in other pro leagues. He switched to coaching and served as the head coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets for a year-and-a-half, and also as an assistant for five years with the New York Rangers under head coach Alain Vigneault.

The Capitals were a well-oiled machine when Arniel joined them after the Cup season, and he believes the team is geared for similar success this year. The Caps are off to a fast start, posting an 8-2-3 record and sitting in first place at of the end of October.

“We changed our team a bit and have some new pieces,” Arniel says. “We had the opportunity to build our strength back up, and the coaching staff is a lot more familiar with one another.”
Jensen says the team is hoping to treat fans to another long playoff run.

“The fans are amazing,” he says. “We have a lot of support from them. There are adjustment periods here and there, but it feels like I’ve been here for a while.”
Don’t miss nine home games this month, starting on November 1 against the Buffalo Sabres. For more information on the Washington Capitals’ current season, go to www.nhl.com/capitals.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC;, 202-628-3200; www.nhl.com/capitals

John Thompson III, Sashi Brown, Tommy Sheppard, Ted Leonsis, Daniel Medina of Monumental Basketball // Photo Ned Dishman NBAE via Getty Images

Wizards’ Front Office Flips Page With New GM Tommy Sheppard

As the Washington Wizards embark on a new season, all eyes are on newly minted general manager Tommy Sheppard, who assumed his role this summer, and how he’ll guide the team in a period of rebuilding. Yes, that delightful word every sports fan – especially those in DC – loves to hear. Sheppard took time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about the upcoming season and how he may be the leader the Wizards have been waiting for.

On Tap: How are you feeling about the upcoming season?
Tommy Sheppard: We are really excited. Everything we did from April on has built up to this moment in time as we get ready for training camp. We’ve had some pretty amazing turnaround in a short amount of time in terms of how many new players and new staff [have been added to the roster]. I think the best days are certainly ahead.

OT: You worked with former GM Ernie Grunfeld for many years. What did you learn philosophically from him that you will take with you into your new role?
TS: No matter what, you need the very best talent. Talent is the biggest, most important commodity in the NBA. I think there are so many ways to acquire talent. I put a high premium on character. Data-driven ways of scouting and the way we evaluate plays now is a little different. We worked together a long time and I have the most respect for [Grunfeld], but we are different people with different approaches. My challenge now is to execute a vision we are looking at collectively and not just, “Hey, this is how I want everything to look.” It is critical to everyone working with us that they feel like they have a piece of this, and that’s part of the new NBA as well.

OT: Does the team anticipate John Wall playing this season at any time?
TS: We’ve made a huge investment in John. This isn’t about this season. It’s about the rest of his career. Our performance staff has so much fire power and wisdom that they can truly test when someone is 100 percent, and John’s resume speaks for itself. He’s played through so many injuries in his career. But we have to be more thoughtful with load management and stress on players. We’re not going to rush anyone back, and certainly not John. You can’t fix your mind on a date. So, when he’s 100 percent healthy – not a month or a day [sooner].

OT: How do you envision using the G League as a place to develop players?
TS: We used it last year and were tremendously successful. We promoted our head coach of the G League [Jarell Christian], who is now an assistant with the Wizards. Thomas Bryant spent time there, and Troy Brown played there and got valuable game exposure and finished the [season] as a starter. The last roster spots will always change, and we are going to rotate a lot of players through to see what they can do. We don’t want to take away from the core of the Wizards. That’s the biggest piece: developing players under contract.

OT: Is your main focus this season on a playoff run or are you more focused on player development?
TS: This year, because we have brand new coaches and new players, it’s about getting everyone on a foundation and setting a routine. Playoffs to me is the big picture. You want to build something sustainable. We have to have wisdom to be patient and prudent with the money we spend so we’ll have more money in off years. This summer would have been easy to sign [Tomas] Satoransky, [Jabari] Parker and [Trevor] Ariza, but that’s propping up a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Those are good players and we will miss them, but logic told me they are signing one- or two-year deals – kind of like moving from one dilapidated house to another. Sooner or later, you have to bring it down to bring it back up, and I think we’ve done that.

OT: When you do have free time, what do you like to do around DC?
TS: I’m a museum junkie. I love the African American History [and Culture] Museum and the Air and Space Museum. I’m a big fan of SpaceX and what [Elon] Musk is doing, so I try to go back and figure out that history that led to this and what they are trying to create. I’ve got a big family and we live near Annapolis and have horses, so we love to be outdoors. And as far as restaurants go, Chloe down at the Navy Yard is one of my favorites.

 The Wizards’ preseason starts on Monday, October 7 at 7 p.m. with a home game against the New York Knicks. Learn more about the season at www.nba.com/wizards and follow the team on Twitter

Paul Arriola // Photo: courtesy of D.C. United

D.C. United Has Playoffs On Their Mind

As the calendar turned to August, D.C. United sat in third place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference but were right in the thick of the race – sitting only a few points out of the top spot. A lock to make the playoffs, the team has been coming on strong this summer, going 3-2-5 (adding 14 points) in its last 10 contests and making a run for first.

Midfielder Paul Arriola, whose name is consistently brought up in transfer talk, is in his third year with the team and has proven a vital squad player under head coach Ben Olsen’s scheme.

“It’s been a better first half of the season than it was last year, which was my first full year, and we had this great second-half run at Audi Field,” Arriola says. “Having had so many home games this year, we’ve gotten a taste of what a real MLS season is like. There’s times the ball is going your way and the refs are calling it your way, but then there are times we can’t buy a goal or other teams are playing better than us.”

That rollercoaster ride is something all soccer players experience, and he knows the team is capable of being on the fun, upswing side of that journey as the year goes on. Arriola will be counted on to help D.C. United in its championship run after coming off a strong showing for the U.S. National Team in the Gold Cup.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great spot to be in the playoffs,” he says. “We’re not in the do-or-die situation we were in last year in the second half, but we feel we will get those big results. Last year, it took me about three months to feel like myself as a player because of the long off-season. But this year, with hard training, I came out of the blocks really hot – first with the National Team and now with United. I’ve played a very versatile role so far and [am] happy with what I’ve done, but not content.”

The team’s offense is led by former Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, sporting a brilliant season with a team high of 11 goals and seven assists in league play this year. He also recorded two goals and an assist in two Open Cup games and is proving why he’s an international sensation.

Luciano Acosta has chipped in five goals, midfielder Lucas Rodriguez has four and Arriola has scored four himself. On defense, the team is counting on Leonardo Jara, Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brilliant to keep the opposition in check as the offense does what it’s capable of doing. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is having a fine season, with 88 saves and eight shutouts in 115 shots faced, accounting for an 8-6-8 record through the team’s first 22 games.

Midfielder Russell Canouse has been with D.C. United since 2017 and racked up a career high 1,634 minutes already for the team. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native is known for his passing accuracy and considered one of the top passers in the league.

“The past month, we left some points on the table that we should have gotten, but we have 11 games left,” Canouse says. “I expect us to pick up some points, and our goal is to have home-field advantage for the playoffs. Our recent win against Cincinnati was an important one for us because that gave us a lot of confidence. Another big result was the Orlando game where Wayne hit the 65-yard goal.”

As the new home for D.C. United, Audi Field has been everything the players had hoped for and more – and Arriola is loving the Audi Field vibe.

“The fans push us – not just myself, but as a team,” he says. “When I look around the stadium and see the amount of people wearing an Arriola jersey, [it’s] amazing. The way [our fans] support the team and never give up on us, that’s something a lot of teams don’t get. They are definitely special to us.”

To bolster the roster in the second half, the team recently added former University of Maryland standout attacker Gordon Wild, and he’s expected to provide some strong firepower in the final two months. The team also brought in former USMNT midfielder Jose Torres on a trial basis, in case an injury or transfer occurs in the next couple of weeks.

“Our team chemistry is only getting stronger,” Canouse says. “Guys are starting to understand how much quality we have on the team and what we can achieve. We find ourselves in a good spot. Ben has done a great job keeping us levelheaded.”

Arriola is optimistic but sees room for improvement in the coming months.

“There’s work to be done and we’re tying a lot of games, but we almost hit a wall where we weren’t able to win games,” he says. “The key for the rest of the season is to find our identity and collectively understand who we are and the type of team we are. In the end, it’s going to take a player to make a big play every single game. But if we stay true to ourselves, we can do what we need to do.”

For more information on the remainder of D.C. United’s 2019 season, which runs through October 6, visit www.dcunited.com.

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

Jon Bostic // Photos - courtesy of Redskins

Redskins’ Hopes Lie in Newcomers

Last season didn’t exactly go as planned for the Washington Redskins, and the team labored to a 7-9 season. The outcome led to some changes in the off-season including the draft day additions of quarterback Dwayne Haskins out of Ohio State and star end Montez Sweat out of Mississippi State, and both are expected to play prominent roles this fall.

Many around the league were shocked when Haskins fell to Washington at No. 15 and though not fast, he’s enormously sized and can throw – with many comparing him to Ben Roethlisberger. Coach Jay Gruden has yet to commit to a starting quarterback but has said Haskins will be given equal opportunity to winning the job along with Case Keenum and longtime Redskin Colt McCoy, who is coming off a broken leg.

While McCoy has been on the team for four years and knows Gruden’s system, he doesn’t have the arm for making the big throw down field. Many fans would rather see the 31-year-old Keenum – who threw for 3,890 yards and 18 touchdowns for Denver last season – as QB1 until Haskins is truly ready to step in. Playing for the University of Houston, Keenum set NCAA records for total passing yards, touchdowns and completions.

Other additions include signing Landon Collins away from division rivals the New York Giants in a $84 million deal, inking offensive lineman Corey Robinson and bringing in Jon Bostic, the team’s projected starting middle linebacker.

“I think we are a good group of young guys and I can see we’re already growing every day,” Bostic says. “We have a lot of coaches around here who have been around ball for a long time. Getting their knowledge and seeing the guys work hard, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Over a six-year career, Bostic has spent time with the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, recording 313 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He’s coming off one of his better years, starting 14 of 16 games with a career-high 2.5 sacks last season in Pittsburgh. Wearing No. 53, Bostic is enjoying his time in camp and likes what he sees from the squad.

“It’s a work in progress, but that’s what training camp is for,” he says. “We’re all getting used to playing with each other and getting better every day. We’re excited to get going.”

The linebacker core includes returnees Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Harvey-Clemons, five-year NFL vet Marquis Flowers, and rookies Cole Holcomb and BJ Blunt.

“We have goals as a unit and want to be one of the top defenses in the league, but we understand it’s not going to just be given to us,” Bostic continues. “We have to work hard during and after practice. We have a lot of potential on paper, but potential isn’t going to lead us to W’s. It’s the work that will lead us to those W’s.”

Disappointing news came out of camp early on when it was announced that the offensive line may be without perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. In late July, he had yet to report due to a contract dispute, which would leave Ereck Flowers to man left tackle with rookie Wes Martin switching to left guard. The hope is that Williams will arrive soon to shore up what could be a strong point for the team.

Adrian Peterson returned to the all-star form of his early years as a new running back with the team, rushing for 1,042 yards on 251 attempts and registering seven TDs. Derrius Guice, who missed his entire rookie year with an injury, and Chris Thompson, now in his seventh year with Washington, join him in the backfield.

Questions remain about the team’s next wide receiver, with Jamison Crowder off to the Jets and a returning crew that saw no one player score more than two touchdowns all season. Two draftees in Ohio State’s Terry McLaurin and NC State’s Kelvin Harmon will see some action and receiver Josh Doctson will be relied on to do more than make the occasional big grab.

“Just seeing what they are accomplishing on the offensive side of the ball – it’s been fun,” Bostic says. “Coach Gruden is an offensive-minded coach and he always wants to beat the defense. We’re all competitive and out there trying to beat the offense every day. We’re all getting each other going in different ways and that will keep us strong.”

If whoever wins the quarterback job gets into a groove, Peterson has a repeat performance, the youngsters make some noise and the playmakers on the defense do their job, the Redskins could win 10 games and be a big player come playoff time.

“Our goal is to win the division and take care of business,” Bostic says.

Don’t miss the Washington Redskins’ first home game on Thursday, August 15 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Learn more about their upcoming season at www.redskins.com.

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

Adam Eaton // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club

Rev Up the Park: Nationals’ Adam Eaton on Leading the Drive

The Washington Nationals have come a long way since the first two months of 2019’s baseball season. They’re now much closer to where fans and foes never thought they’d be: a team close to having the best record in the MLB’s National League East.

But in the midst of a ride as wild as a 162-game season, there are things to focus on bigger than baseball – and Nationals’ right fielder Adam Eaton knows it. The 30-year-old lefthander from Springfield, Ohio is in his third year with DC’s baseball team, and with that came his third annual Rev Up The Park charity event.

Rev Up The Park combines Eaton’s love for cars with his passion for making a difference. With the help of the Nationals Dream Foundation and his connection to the Dragonfly Foundation, his third year has been the biggest one yet with over 200 registered cars and over $22,000 raised. Eaton has been able to see the benefits of his support, keeping in touch with Dragonfly Foundation Cofounder Christine Neitzke and her son Matt, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2010 but is now cancer-free thanks to the foundation’s efforts.

“To actually see families that have benefited from [the Dragonfly Foundation’s] programs is huge for me,” Eaton says. “To continue to see them giving back continues to fuel me to donate my time, money and efforts to hopefully help those families to survive and have a brighter side to what they’re going through.”

The event, held on July 27, raised funds for the Dragonfly Foundation in support of pediatric cancer patients and their families. Eaton says he’s not alone in pursuing his passion, as a good portion of Major League Baseball players try to stay in touch with their hobbies.

“Baseball is such a mental and physical grind,” he says. “Having a distraction, life perspective and being in touch with life outside of baseball is huge for us as baseball players.”

Whether it’s hunting, fishing or cars – his Dodge Viper ACR in particular – “everything outside of our professional lifestyle is always important for us to do [so we can] continue to be human beings and do things outside of baseball.”
Since childhood, owning American muscle cars has motivated Eaton, and remained a focal point of his personal life as he worked his way through the Minor Leagues and became a 19th-round draft pick in 2010.

“I love baseball and wanted to be able to afford vehicles,” he says. “That was it. That was my only thought. This is very much a ‘pinch me’ moment. I never thought in a million years that I’d ever own my dream car, and I’m very excited about it. I’m an American muscle car guy through and through. That’s all I own and will ever own. I’m patriotic and love my country and try to give back the best I can. It’s a very surreal moment.”

Another car fanatic on the Nationals is ultimate utility player Howie Kendrick, who also looks forward to this event every year and is happy to be able to support Eaton and the cause.

“It’s really cool to see the following he’s gotten now with this event,” Kendrick says. “Every year it grows. It’s a blast to talk to the fans and car people in general. Adam takes a lot of pride in this event and it shows with the way it’s run and the people who donate their time to come help out. It [means a lot] to come out and be able to support Adam.”

Kendrick mentions that teammates Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon are also big car guys themselves – but not as big as himself and Eaton, who find themselves bonding over it often.

“Athletes and cars go hand in hand. Me and Adam are the two biggest car guys. We’re constantly talking cars, and you couldn’t think of a better event for his charity. I’m happy to be here and happy to support it.”

The Nationals Dream Foundation has been a major source of positive influence in the District, supporting local youth baseball teams and keeping the baseball influence high in the community, as well as its military initiatives.

“Our guys are so willing,” Eaton says. “We’ve got a really good group of guys. We have a platform to influence the community in a positive manner. [The foundation] is the number one priority outside of baseball.”

He doesn’t think about legacy – just the opportunities he’s given and how he can use his platform to help others. Nothing is set in stone, and Eaton remains humbled and happy to be where he is.

“They’ve given me the opportunity of a lifetime,” he says. “I’m blessed that the Nationals gave me the opportunity to play and help the community. I just want to be as positive as I can, play as hard as I can and let the chips fall.”

Eaton has always taken pride in setting a good example on and off the field, even when he was battling major injuries as a newer member of the team in previous seasons.

“Even being a new guy and being hurt, I wanted to try and [be a good] influence and work as hard as I could to get healthy. It’s about knowing that you can make an impact, [and] not just through playing baseball. It’s all about just playing to the fullest every day – hustling and playing the right way.”

Eaton works with the team’s younger outfielders, 22-year-old Victor Robles and 20-year-old Juan Soto, noting how he just wants to be a leader with his never-give-up mentality of “just trying to let them see the right way to play the game.”

“I try to influence them in a positive manner. That’s the cool thing about baseball. You play every single day and you constantly have chances to be positive or negative – and it’s your choice. The older I get, hopefully the better I get to approaching it and trying to learn through failures and successes.”

For the Nationals’ starting right fielder, there’s just something special about rocking the curly “W” on his chest in the nation’s capital.

“[It’s] really cool to be able to wear the curly ‘W’ and be in front of people that represent this country: politicians and government officials, [and] just people that live in this area. It’s really unique for me and something I take great pride in, and I know that the Nationals do as well.”

Eaton has evolved in his all-around leadership role from his first year as a National in 2016 to the present, as the team keeps driving to nab the top spot of the NL East Division.

“Come support us in the next few months,” Eaton says. “It’s going to be a heck of a ride.”

With eight homestands remaining, catch the Nationals’ regular season games at Nationals Park through Sunday, September 29. At time of publishing, the Nats are 57-51. Learn more at www.nationals.com

Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-640-7368; www.nationals.com

Mallory Pugh // Photo: courtesy of the Washington Spirit

Women’s World Cup Champs Look Ahead

The sound of cicadas echoed loudly outside of FedExField, and the summer sun beamed unforgivably onto the concrete. My eyes adjusted to the dark of the tunnel as I passed through the depths of the stadium and onto the pitch. Immediately, my ears recognized the short, urgent calls of the Washington Spirit players communicating seamlessly to each other as they trained.

As I made my way over to the group of other media day attendees on July 22, I noticed their cameras trained on two players in particular: 21-year-old Mallory Pugh and 24-year-old Rose Lavelle. All eyes were on the pair, still riding the high from their 2019 Women’s World Cup win on July 7 and kicking back into gear for the second half of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season.

Pugh experienced rapid success very early in her career, receiving her Olympic callup at 17. The youngest American to debut on the national team in 11 years, her skill and success has the nation optimistic for the future of American soccer.

Star midfielder Lavelle is coming off of a critical shot for the U.S. in the 69th minute of the World Cup Final against the Netherlands. The landmark goal not only clinched the record for most team goals in a single FIFA Women’s World Cup, but also distinguished Lavelle as the second youngest American to score in a World Cup Final. Her exceptional performance in Paris earned her the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Bronze Ball.

Not only are these two young women living out their dreams on the international stage, they’re also experiencing success together as roommates and best friends.

“I have been so privileged and honored just to be around her,” Pugh said about Lavelle, giving her friend a sideways glance along the interview table at FedExField. “When she scored her first goal, I started crying. I was so happy for her.”

Pugh sat back after speaking to Lavelle’s inspirational and supportive role in her life. She whispered a sincere, “Thanks Rosie,” and the two young women exchanged a moment of mutual understanding and gratitude.

“That’s hard to follow up,” Lavelle laughed. “I know Mal’s younger than me, but I’ve always looked up to her. When you get to do what you love with people you love, it makes it that much more fun.”

Pugh switched gears to the remainder of the NWSL season, saying the team is very focused. The athletes hope the national attention garnered from the World Cup win will increase the attention on their regular season play, but the panel of female athletes expressed some skepticism.

“It’s almost been frustrating,” said team captain Andi Sullivan. “You have those same players that you saw in the World Cup – they’re all here. So, why are people not engaging with it?”

Head Coach Richie Burke echoed Sullivan’s sentiments, pointing out that his “world-class” team is “underpaid, underrecognized, underappreciated.” However, Burke expressed that the newly signed ESPN and Budweiser partnerships are steps in the right direction. His comments were met with concurring nods from all the players. This will be the first time in history that the NWSL will have a broadcast agreement with ESPN.

“Any exposure we can get is wonderful,” Pugh said. “I want people to see what we can do.”

As the interview continued, it became evident that certain themes will resurface over the course of the 2019 season and Spirit seasons to come. First, the team will have to face a reality where achieving the viewership they believe they deserve will continue to be an uphill battle. Also, their pursuit of equal pay will not slow with the sunset of the 2019 Women’s World Cup win. The players looked confident that vying for both viewership and satisfactory compensation are contests they can win.

With the resolve of someone beyond her years, Pugh commented, “Everyone is saying how competitive and how great this league is, and I think people just need to see that. Now that we have the option and they actually can do that, it’s absolutely amazing.”

#PackThePlex and join the Washington Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex for the remainder of their 2019 season, which runs through early October. Catch home games this month on Saturday, August 10, Wednesday, August 21 and Saturday, August 24. Tickets start at $25. Visit www.washingtonspirit.com for more information.

Maryland SoccerPlex: 18031 Central Park Cir. Boyds, MD; 301-591-0927; www.washingtonspirit.com

Photo: Courtesy of D.C. United

Ben Olsen Still Kicking As D.C. United Head Coach

When Ben Olsen hung up his cleats in 2009, the famed D.C. United midfielder figured his 24-year relationship with soccer had ended. After college ball at the University of Virginia and an entire Major League Soccer career with D.C. United, Olsen hadn’t yet considered a coaching career as a way to deepen his relationship with the sport he gave his life to. Despite his hesitation to man the sidelines, he joined the team in 2010 as an assistant coach. Just a few months later, after a poor start to the season, the team installed him as head coach. 

“It was a strange way to get a head coaching job,” Olsen says. “In some ways, it was my first job. I was swimming for a couple years. Going from [being] a player, that doesn’t prep you to be a coach. Of course, you get knowledge about how you want the game to be played, but you’re not prepped to manage and deal with a group of 30 men and their emotions.”

Fast forward to today, Olsen is still leading the D.C. United team on the field. Though a lot has changed since taking over as the interim head coach, Olsen has led talented teams and underachieving ones and seen years of great investment and their leaner counterparts. The 41-year-old has amassed more than 100 wins and counting throughout his 14-year tenure, the longest of any D.C. United head coach.

“It’s rare to have been at a club this long – not only from a coaching standpoint but piggybacking on a great career. It’s been a huge part of my life. I’m humbled and burdened with this responsibility to get these fans a championship. That’s the goal, and that would be a success, to get these fans that have been great to me a championship.”

Few iterations of this team have been as strong as this season’s unit, featuring the legendary Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Júnior Moreno. The team raced off of to a hot start, winning three of its first four games and capitalizing on the momentum from last year’s late season run.

“We were hoping we could pick up where we left off, and we were able to do that for the first month of the season [by] having the same group return,” Olsen says. “The relationships were there. Preseason, we pushed the group a little bit further toward our identity and how we wanted to start winning games. Sometimes early in the season, you can catch teams that aren’t really who they are yet. Now we’re at a tough spot where you have injuries and suspensions, and you have to rely on your depth.”

As Olsen mentioned, the team has come back down to earth since their blistering opening month. The team had a record of four wins, two losses and two draws as of late April.

“We’re on track,” Olsen says the day after a 0-2 defeat to New York City FC. “The parity in the East is very strong [and] to get caught up in how we’re doing in the standings is a bit silly. You’d rather start this way and have some wins under your belt, but things change quickly in this league. You try to stay level and just get better by tactically figuring out how the group can be at its best.”

This season also marks the first full slate of home games at the team’s new Audi Field. Playing his entire career at the historic RFK Stadium, Olsen notes the differences in a number of areas from players to staff – and how much the entire organization has evolved for the better.

“Audi Field was the first step of D.C. United taking a step [toward] becoming an elite MLS team. That’s the catalyst of this resurgence. With that comes Wayne Rooney and some of the younger players. I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs and now to come out of some of those lean years, you have to enjoy the moment because things change.”

D.C. United returns to Audi Field on Wednesday, May 15 versus Toronto FC and on Saturday, May 18 versus the Houston Dynamo. For more information on Olsen and the team, visit www.dcunited.com.

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