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

pontius.jpg

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.”

Quick Links

Wizards vs. Jazz: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Wizards vs. Jazz: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

John Wall, Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards host Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert and the Utah Jazz on Sunday evening as they aim to continue rising the ranks of the NBA's Eastern Conference.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch…

WASHINGTON WIZARDS vs. UTAH JAZZ

Where: Verizon Center
Tip-off: 5 p.m.
TV: CSN (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)
Live stream: CSNmidatlantic.com
Radio: 1500 AM

Three things to watch...

Bounceback needed

The Wizards came out of the All-Star break on Friday night with their most disappointing performance in nearly two months. They didn't just lose to the lowly 76ers, they lost to the 76ers without their best player, Joel Embiid. Offense wasn't the issue for the Wizards, it was their defense. They allowed Philly to drop 120 points and shoot 49.4 percent from the field.

The Wizards need to come out and play much better on defense if they plan to beat the Utah Jazz, who at 36-22 currently hold the fourth seed in the West. Working in the Wizards' favor is the fact the Jazz are among the worst scoring teams in the league. They rank 28th out of 30 in points per game (100.4). That said, the Wizards have let a few teams this season - the Sixers, Heat, Mavericks and Magic, for example - surprise them on that end of the court.

[RELATED: NBA Power Rankings: Post trade deadline outlook]

Bench scoring needed

The Jazz may have trouble scoring, and because of that probably should have done more at the trade deadline, but they are as good as any team on defense. The Jazz rank first in opponents points per game (95.7) and third in opponents field goal percentage (43.9). They are very good at defending the perimeter and have one of the best shotblockers in basketball down low in Rudy Gobert.

What could help the cause for Washington is some scoring from their bench. They only got 11 points from their second unit in Friday's loss to Philly and that won't cut it against a good team like Utah. Perhaps Bojan Bogdanovic, the Wizards' most notable trade deadline acquisition, can do better in his second game than he did in his debut (two points).

[RELATED: Backup point guard remains trouble spot for Wizards]

Mahinmi's health

The Wizards were without backup big man Ian Mahinmi in the second half of Friday's loss to the Sixers because Mahinmi's back tightened up at halftime. He was limited to just seven minutes in the game, but was able to go through a full practice on Saturday at the Verizon Center. All signs point to Mahinmi playing on Sunday, but we will know more about his status when coach Scott Brooks speaks pregame.

If Mahinmi does play, it will still be something to watch. The Wizards signed him to a four-year, $64 million free agent deal in the offseason and he can't seem to find any luck in the injury department. He has missed 50 of the Wizards' 56 games this season due to knee injuries.

[RELATED: Mahinmi leaves Wizards loss to Sixers with injury]

Quick Links

Morning tip: Figuring out Wizards' new rotations a challenge for Scott Brooks

Morning tip: Figuring out Wizards' new rotations a challenge for Scott Brooks

The mood changed immediately after the Wizards' embarrassing loss at the Philadelphia 76ers, with John Wall leading a lively discussion with the bigs in practice about coverages that were busted time after time.

Today's opponent, the Utah Jazz, are much better and a repeat performance will lead to another one.

"Whether we were in our pick-and-roll coverage, whether we were in our pindown coverage, our switches, everything was always a second late," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the 120-112 defeat. "When you do that you're always behind. You're always playing catch-up every possession. It wasn't just one guy. It was two or three guys on the same possession which has been rare for us.. Hopefully we can put it behind us."

The Wizards trailed 43-41 in the second quarter with mostly starters on the floor in Philadelphia. By halftime they were down 61-49. The only player in the last eight minutes of the second to make a field goal for the Wizards was Bradley Beal, who had a game-high 40 points. 

When Trey Burke entered, he appeared uncomfortable running the offense. Tomas Satoransky, who has played in combination with him recently, didn't log any minutes. Jason Smith, who was displaced with the arrival of Bojan Bogdanovic and Ian Mahinmi in the lineup, only played four minutes but was a spark early in the fourth when the Wizards mounted a comeback. 

Mahinmi only lasted seven minutes after back spasms, which flared up before the game, kept him on the bench in the second half. Bogdanovic had a full practice with his new team for the first time Saturday.

"We're trying to find some consistency. Getting Ian back, hopefully we can get him back to a stretch of games where he can play and build a chemistry with the group he's out there with," Brooks said. "Now Bojan so we can have him out there with that group. It's consistency and understanding where we can get some points. Trey and Tomas, I got to try to figure out what's the best minute-wise and who plays and the matchups."