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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Need to Know: How many Redskins roster spots are up for grabs in 2017?

Need to Know: How many Redskins roster spots are up for grabs in 2017?

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 19, 18 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.  

Timeline

Days until:

—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 10
—NFL Combine (3/2) 11
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 57
—NFL Draft (4/27) 67
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 203

Sunday morning quick hitters

How many spots up for grabs? A quick mid-February look down the final 2016 53-man roster shows about 20 players who may not be on the roster for Week 1 this year. This includes players who may depart as free agents and others who just won’t make the team. They probably won’t turn over that many spots but it does show that a lot of jobs are up for grabs.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk Podcast - It's tag day

How many draft picks? The Redskins have nine draft picks, their own in rounds 1-6 and extra picks in rounds 4, 5, and 6. It’s easy to say that Scot McCloughan may turn that into as many as a dozen picks, especially with all the roster spots that may be open. But remember that last year the Redskins wound up with just seven picks with no pick in the fourth and two in the seventh. McCloughan may intend to stockpile more picks but it depends on how the draft unfolds.

1st-round RB a bad idea: Yesterday JP and I posted on the topic of Rob Kelley as the Redskins’ prime running back this season and it drew quite a bit of discussion on Twitter and on Facebook. I think that they should try to get an upgrade over Kelley but I don’t think they should use their first-round pick to do it. There are just too many other, higher priority needs.

More Redskins: NFL Mock Draft 3.0

A turnaround for Matt Jones? Last year Trent Murphy broke out after two mediocre seasons to register eight sacks. Can Jones do the something similar in this, his third season? The rough equivalent of Murphy’s performance would be Jones rushing for 800 yards. It’s as much a matter of him holding on to the ball as anything. Jones was on pace to rush for over 1,100 yards before losing his grip on the starting job, literally and figuratively.

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Posted by Rich Tandler on Saturday, February 18, 2017

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Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like one Wizards have

Morning tip: Paul George prefers starting 5 like one Wizards have

NEW ORLEANS -- The Wizards are where the Indiana Pacers, who eliminated them in the 2014 playoffs, want to be. They still have one of the game's best two-way players in Paul George but they're severely lacking in one area that's already been solved at 601 F Street.

George, who defends three positions on the perimeter, wants an Otto Porter or Markieff Morris next to him. 

"We definitely need shooters, somebody that can defend and stretch the floor for us a little bit more. Just go with the trend what the NBA is doing," said George after the East team practiced Saturday at the Superdome. "A lot of teams have stretch bigs or playing four perimeter guys that can shoot the ball. We got to follow the trend and put oursevles on that level to compete against those stretch teams."

It's such a vital part of a team's success, the Wizards traded a 2016 first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Morris last year before the deadline. They were better with him but still failed to qualify for the postseason at 41-41.

With a full season to get acclimated, Morris has taken off. Seven of his eight double-doubles have come since Jan. 8. With coverages shading towards John Wall, Bradley Beal and now Porter, he's often found himself wide open and has elevated his three-point accuracy to a career-high 36.7%. And the Wizards gave up a pick in a draft that was regarded as shallow outside of the top 10 selections (Georgios Papagiannis was taken 13th by Phoenix with Washington's pick).

When coach Scott Brooks goes to a smaller lineup, he'll shift Porter as a "stretch" option at the four spot. He's shooting an NBA-leading 46.5% from three-point range.

[RELATED: DeMarcus Cousins says Wall is NBA's best point guard]

George has been running out of gas. After having to defend LeBron James and play 36 minutes in a 113-104 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednedsay, George drew the assignment on Beal the next night. 

Porter made his first four three-pointers and George was tasked with tracking him instead. Beal was able to get free in the meantime and go 4-for-7 from deep. George only had 17 points in 37 minutes. In those two games combined, George shot 10-for-38, or 26.3%.

That's the value of having a stretch option such as Morris, who can face up bigs and beat them off the dribble, post up smaller players or shoot over them easily, or Porter. He's too quick for traditional bigs. He's too long for undersized players. 

"I don't complain about it. It's what made me," George said of the burden of being the best offensive and defensive player for the Pacers for 82 games. "I look forward to playing both ends of the floor but it gets exhausting. It's hard night in, night out to go from guarding a LeBron who is strong and physical, who is going to wear you down and then chasing a Bradley Beal. It takes a toll on you. Getting other teams' best defensive guys who are going to be physical, just getting hit, taking contact, it's draining. It's a phsyical toll. If we can get some more guys who can alleviate some of that we'll be much better off."

The Wizards (34-21) have won the season series 3-1 with Indiana (29-28).  The Pacers were a difficult out in the past with George. Washington pushed the then-No. 1 seed to six games in the East semifinals.

That's when the Wizards had Nene, a tradition 7-foot big who played 15 feet out. There were spacing issues with him occupying the low block with Marcin Gortat. 

Then the Wizards failed with a small-ball lineup last season, starting Kris Humphries and later Jared Dudley as at the "stretch" forward and bringing Nene off the bench. George and C.J. Miles responded by shooting 15-for-17 from three-point range in that blowout Nov. 24. 

With Morris, the Wizards have found the size and strength with finesse. Their guards have more room to roam. The shots come easier and the Wizards are a more explosive offense, averaging 108.1 points per game which is seventh-best in the NBA.

"You really don't see traditional center-power forward lineups. It's a couple teams that do it. They're really going away from that," George said. "They want to speed the game up. They want more possessions. In order to keep up with those teams you have to have a lineup that can match up and compete against those kind of teams."

[RELATED: Carmelo on getting final All-Star spot: 'It was a downer']