DCU ready for second leg of playoff against New York Red Bulls

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DCU ready for second leg of playoff against New York Red Bulls

For tension and emotion, perhaps not soccer, the rivalry between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls did not disappoint in Saturday’s playoff opener at R.F.K. Stadium. A 1-1 result in that game has set the stage for a dramatic series finale Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

In the regular season the two teams combined for 14 goals in three games, but in game one of their Eastern Conference semifinal United and the Red Bulls had to rely on own goals to secure a point. The game was also marked by Chris Pontius’ missed penalty kick and a red card to United defender Andy Najar. 

“We have no fear of going up to New York and playing them there,” said United president Kevin Payne. “We lost 3-2 to them this year. We played very poorly in the first half of that game, but we absolutely dominated them in the second half of that game. There is no question in the minds of anybody in this room that we can go up to New York and win the game.”

It will be difficult. The Red Bulls have been a hard side to figure out. Their second leading scorer Kenny Cooper did not play in the first match. It’s an example of the unpredictability of a team filled with quality that failed to win consecutive matches over the last two months of the season.

“We’ve been strong at home – we just only lost one game this season against Kansas City, otherwise we’ve been winning most of the games,” said Red Bulls’ head coach Hans Backe. “But I mean, it’s the playoffs now and it’ll probably be almost the same type of game, very even. It can end up the same way and go to penalty or shootout, whatever it is. But it will be tight.”

Confidence is clearly not in short supply in the Black and Red camp. With Saturday’s result United, although disappointed to not snare three points, is now unbeaten in its last eight games. That eight game run has come without Dwayne De Rosario because of a knee injury and now Najar’s red card will force more change.

“The way he (Najar) can attack from the right fullback position, he’s a threat all day long, so they of course will miss him,” Backe said. “It will help us for our defense, definitely, so we can look into that. Attacking-wise, I’m not sure, but definitely defensively.”

Although it has not been announced by head coach Ben Olsen, Robbie Russell is the likely choice to fill-in for Najar at right back. In 14 of his 16 starts this season, Russell played at right back. Russell’s season was derailed in mid-July by a foot injury. Russell, who won a title with Real Salt Lake, would give United much-needed playoff experience if he is called on.

“Every playoff team you play on is unique,” noted Russell. “This team is the epitome of team. On any given night someone else has stepped up for us big. I am looking forward to see who steps up big for us this coming game.”

In attack Lionard Pajoy has become more of a force for United and provided essential goals in a win over Philadelphia and a tie with Chicago in the regular season finale. Twice in the final seven games of the regular season Lewis Neal came off the bench to score game-winners. Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi have also come off the bench to score and deliver three points to United.

“We have to match their intensity up there and we’ve got to play offensively up there like we did down here,” said Pontius.”It’s a ninety minute game out there and it would be even sweeter to take it from them at their home field.”

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Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

Film study: Wizards put forth best 48 minutes of defense this season

You can have effort and hustle on defense, but without smarts and proper communication, it's all just wasted energy. The Portland Trail Blazers aren't a good team record-wise, but they have two elite scorers in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who gave the Wizards fits in sweeping them last season. 

They'd recently beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers by 16 points, but the Wizards had their best defensive showing for 48 minutes of the season. 

The evidence:

The pick-and-roll action between Lillard and Mason Plumlee leaves much to be desired. Wall uses lock-and-trail technique to take away the three-point shot. Lillard gives it up to Plumlee being defended by Marcin Gortat. Markieff Morris digs in to help prevent a clean layup, forcing the ball out to Al-Farouq Aminu. Quickly, Morris jumps out to prevent the clean look by a solid three-point shooter and Gortat is behind him in support. Where Plumlee is standing during all of this, he's not a threat. As Aminu can't turn his shoulders square to the rim for a finish, he tries a pass out to Plumlee on a bad angle which makes Morris' steal an easy one.

Bradley Beal does the same on McCollum. He locks and trails around the screen from Plumlee. This technique allows the guard to recover provided he stays low, absorbs contact from screener and has support from the big to stop the ball until recovery. Unfortunately for the Blazers, Plumlee isn't a spread five. Him being this high allows Gortat double the ball and not have to vacate his spot. Beal can get the strip from behind.

Otto Porter is following Mo Harkless as he curls into the paint but doesn't allow him to turn into the rim. Lillard cuts baseline and it appears Porter is destined to collide with Wall, which creates an open look. They switch out and Lillard is forced to take a contested fade on a 6-8 small forward with long arms. This isn't a complicated play, but the kind of play earlier this season that the Wizards would defend well but not finish the possession because they'd relax thinking the play was over by stopping Harkless.

Kelly Oubre was on the ball with Lillard but gets screened off. Tomas Satoransky makes the switch, bodies up Lillard as he tries to turn the corner to the rim which slows him. Markieff Morris leaves Aminu in support to smother the ball. That's a 6-7 guard and a 6-10 big and the baseline serving as a third defender. When Lillard figures out he took it one step too deep before passing back out to Aminu, it's too late. It's a turnover. 

Meyers Leonard screens Oubre to get Lillard free vs. Gortat. Using the sideline, Gortat moves his feet and is aggressive in keeping him pinned until Oubre can recover underneath to the ball. Also see how Gortat is physical with Leonard, giving him a left stiff arm to take away any possibility that he can roll to the basket. By the time Lillard tries to shoot, the 6-7 Oubre, who has a 7-2 wingspan, is in his face to contest and it's a brick.  

Beal gets his hands out of the cookie jar, knowing Lillard likes to sweep through to force contact on his arms and draw a whistle (a smart, legal play). Anticipating he'd get that contact that never came, Lillard elevated and realized there'd be no whistle. He makes an emergency pass out to Allen Crabbe who swings it to Aminu. Also note, Oubre immediately shades Crabbe to his left hand. He doesn't dribble and finish well in that direction. Aminu goes at Morris who doesn't allow him to get to the rim or square for a decent shot. The Wizards gang rebound to get out in transition. Lillard puts up no resistance as Wall goes end to end. 

Wall stays connected to Lillard through the first screen from Jake Layman. He anticipates the pin down coming from Plumlee on the reversal and tries to go over the top, but Lillard breaks off his route and tries to cut across the lane to fill the opposite slot for a potential three. Porter switches with Wall as a result, but see what Gortat does to allow Porter to get into position. He won't allow Lillard to run freely into his spot for a catch-and-shoot. He doesn't hold him, which would be illegal, but interrupts his route. That throws off the timing and Crabbe has to send the ball back to Layman, now being covered by Wall who has to deal with a third screen set by Plumlee. He gets the strip from behind for a breakaway.

Wall hops into the ball to take away Plumlee's screen. This forces Lillard to make the read to drive away from the screen, but Gortat is there. What makes this easier – again – is Plumlee's positioning and that Lillard doesn't temper his speed. He's going too fast, rendering Plumlee a non-factor, rather than manipulating the spacing and putting pressure on the Gortat to make a decision to stop the dive or double-team the ball.  It's 1 vs. 2, a turnover and a runout for Beal.

MORE WIZARDS: AFTER BEST GAME OF CAREER, TOMAS SATORANSKY HAS HIS CONFIDENCE BACK

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#RedskinsTalk Podcast Episode 40 - Seriously, when will the Redskins pick a coordinator?

#RedskinsTalk Podcast Episode 40 - Seriously, when will the Redskins pick a coordinator?

As the Redskins settle into the offseason without both an offensive and defensive coordinator, JP Finlay and Rich Tandler debate who will get the jobs, and when they will be announced. 

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