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.”

Giovinco has hat trick, Toronto beats DC United 4-1

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USA TODAY Sports

Giovinco has hat trick, Toronto beats DC United 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Sebastian Giovinco scored three goals and added an assist to break out of an eight-game scoring drought in Toronto FC's 4-1 victory over D.C. United on Saturday night.

The Italian star put in a show in front of 26,349 fans on a steamy night at BMO Field. Two goals came on free kicks 18 minutes apart in the first half, with the third coming in second-half stoppage time as he poked home Mark Bloom's cross to up his goals total to 11 this season.

Giovinco had not scored in league play in more than two months -- 70 days to be exact -- since scoring twice in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on May 14.

Marky Delgado also scored for Toronto (6-7-6)

Jeffrey scored for D.C. United (5-7-7).

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How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

How Dusty Baker's holy water helped Revere come through vs. Padres

Now 61 games into the 2016 season - and 60 since he returned from the disabled list - Nationals center fielder Ben Revere is still searching for the swing that allowed him to hit .300 or better for three straight seasons. He has yet to find consistency and feel like himself despite months having passed since he rehabbed his oblique injury.

And at this point, he's open to ideas. What he's tried so far hasn't worked, so why not give something unorthodox a shot?

Before Saturday's game in which he landed an RBI double, walked and scored a run, Revere got some unusual help from manager Dusty Baker.

"Dusty gave me holy water today. He kind of blessed me," Revere said. "My grandpa, he’s a retired preacher so he probably would’ve done the same thing or said I should’ve done it when we got back from the injury."

Whatever works. Speaking of Revere's grandfather, both him and Revere's father were in town to watch Ben play this weekend. After Friday night's game in which Revere went 0-for-5, Baker spoke to both men about Revere's struggles.

"I talked to his dad and grandfather after the game," Baker said. "They weren't exactly happy, but they thanked me for sticking with their son. They know Ben can hit and I know Ben can hit. I tried to trade for him when I was with Cincinnati."

Revere - who is still hitting just .216 this season - wonders if Dusty will now tell Revere's dad and grandfather about the holy water, seeing how it worked.

"He’s probably going to talk to them again and tell him what he did," Revere said.

"They know I’ve kind of been down on myself and struggling a little bit but they gave me some motivation and said, ‘Keep swinging, son. It can come now or come in August. At some point, you’ll be hot and help this team really be hot and get to the playoffs.'"

[RELATED: Nats reveal exactly how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple]

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Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Nats reveal how sick Drew really was after his walkoff triple

Often times with professional athletes, you can only find out how truly bad an injury or a predicament is once the game they had to perservere through is over. In hockey, it's after teams are eliminated from the playoffs that you learn who had the broken fingers and torn ligaments in their knee.

That is sometimes the case after good things happen, as well. Players do not like using their ailments as excuses before or during the competition. But after the event is over? Sure, what do you want to know?

After Saturday night's walkoff win over the San Diego Padres, we finally found out the true story behind Stephen Drew's 'flu-like symptoms' and how terribly debilitating his illness actually was. 

Well, we found out some of the specifics. Some are not for a family audience.

"I don't want to say it on TV, but it's been ugly," Drew said. "Anywhere from high fever to everything else, you name it. It's been crazy."

Fair enough. No complaints there. More important was what Drew was able to accomplish in the win, his first appearance in a game since last Sunday. Drew sent the Nats home victorious with a walkoff RBI triple in the bottom of the ninth against Padres reliever Kevin Quackenbush. It was a line drive that fell just inches short of a homer.

Maybe if Drew hadn't been weakened by the flu, it would have cleared the fence. Still, not bad for a guy who had barely swung a bat in a week.

"I ain't done nothing [in six days]. Today is the first time," Drew said. "I tried to hit some [Friday] but just felt really, really lightheaded and kind of dizzy. That's what's left over. I just gotta keep pumping fluids down right now."

Drew had essentially been quarantined by the Nationals for days after he contracted the flu from teammate Anthony Rendon. They gave him IVs and then sent him home, keeping his name on the lineup card as a decoy. He wasn't in the dugout, but the Nats did their best to not let their opponents know he was unavailable.

"He was home not eating, couldn't hold any food. I think he lost 7-8 pounds," manager Dusty Baker said. 

Though still ailing, Drew turned a corner on Saturday and felt good enough to stick around for the full game. As the night went on, he realized he could play.

"I was able to hit in a cage. It wasn't great, but it's better than nothing," Drew said. "Right before the inning I kind of knew what was going on. I told [hitting coach Rick] Schu, he ran over there and I guess told [Baker] again just to let him know."

Drew took the first pitch from Quackenbush for a ball and the second for a strike. He then fouled off two pitches before launching a 77 mile per hour curveball high up the wall in right-center field. 

It was an excellent swing and one that felt familiar to Drew, who has been a plus off the bench for the Nats all season.

"Honestly, I was still in the mindset that I had. It's been a good feeling. Really not trying to do too much, just trying to get a good pitch and get my A-swing off," he said.

Drew has been part of a Nationals bench that has turned into a real strength this season. Drew himself his now 6-for-20 (.300) with three homers and six RBI in 20 pinch-hit at-bats. 

This one was different, of course, and him coming through while under the weather was a big lift for his teammates.

“Sometimes you get your number called even when you’re sick. You come out and make a performance like that, be able to pinch-hit and get a triple," starter Max Scherzer said. 

"That’s huge. That just shows you the resiliency of everybody in this clubhouse, to be able to go out there no matter what and compete and do something to help the ballclub."

"I’ve played days when I’m sick and those are the days when I get three hits. You don’t think, you just go out there and play," center fielder Ben Revere said. 

"I was kind of telling Anthony, I’m like, ‘Get me sick so I can get some hits.’ Usually I play well when I’m feeling down and blue. But it’s tough. It’s tough. I knew the pitcher had a good curveball but I had a feeling if he threw it to Drew, he’s going to do some damage and sure enough he did."

Drew appears to be back to form after a wild week. But he still felt the need to pepper in some knock-on-woods as he spoke after the win.

"I'm getting better. It's been a long process and frustrating, but I'm hopefully at the end of this thing and I'll go from there," he said.

[RELATED: Nats name Giolito as Sunday starter vs. Padres]

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