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

Does bigger mean better? Will Matt Jones come back? 3 takeaways from Redskins OTAs

Does bigger mean better? Will Matt Jones come back? 3 takeaways from Redskins OTAs

The Redskins certainly got bigger this offseason. That much was obvious on Wednesday as the team invited media to watch an OTA session. The increased size stood out, but plenty of other things did too. Three takeawys from Tuesday's OTA:

  1. Does bigger mean better? The Redskins receiving group was noticeably bigger, something that happens when the team adds two free agents at least 6-foot-4 in Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick and drafts another 6-foot-3 receiver in Robert Davis. The increased size might help, but it's the play of Pryor that turned heads on Wednesday. With long powerful strides and impressive hands, Pryor looked like a dangerous weapon for Kirk Cousins this fall. Second-year pro Josh Doctson also impressed, catching a long touchdown pass towards the end of the session. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are gone, but if things break right and the duo stay healthy, Pryor and Doctson could form a devastating pair.
  2. Attendance is (not) mandatory - Jordan Reed and Trent Williams did not attend the OTA session. Both are Pro Bowl players that Jay Gruden trusts to be working out on their own, and it's important to point out the workouts are voluntary for players. Third-year running back Matt Jones also missed the OTA session. Gruden did not have much to say about his absence, but he added, "This is a voluntary deal, as we all know, and I can’t force the issue on anybody. So if he’s disgruntled in any way, shape or form, it’s news to me. I imagine like Jordan Reed and Trent Williams, I’m sure Matt is working out and staying in good shape." With the fourth round draft pick of Samaje Perine, the running back position is getting crowded. Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson are roster locks, and Perine seems like he has a very good chance. If the 'Skins keep four runners, Mack Brown has the inside track on that spot. Jones seems to be on the outside looking in, which might be the root cause of his absence. 
  3. Deadlines do deals - The elephant in the room at every turn for the Redskins is the looming contract situation with Kirk Cousins. The QB talked Wednesday, and while he didn't clarify much, it seems clear the franchise and Cousins' representatives are at least staying in touch, which wasn't the case this time last summer. Cousins made one thing obvious: Don't expect a contract until near the July 15th. "Deadlines do deals."

Bonus: Cool Twitter video of the running backs going through drills - including 2016 draft pick Keith Marshall - and some Instragram pics. 

Some #Redskins fans would really like to see this in the fall

A post shared by JP Finlay (@jpfinlay3) on

Josh Norman talking with his new safeties Su'a Cravens and DJ Swearinger

A post shared by JP Finlay (@jpfinlay3) on

<<<NFL POWER RANKINGS: WHO GOT BETTER AFTER THE DRAFT>>>

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcasts, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

ROSTER BATTLES: Left guard | Tight end Nickel cornerback  | Inside linebacker | Running back

Quick Links

Need to Know: Redskins’ Cousins excited to work with ex-QB Terrelle Pryor

Need to Know: Redskins’ Cousins excited to work with ex-QB Terrelle Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, May 25, 19 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp on May 22.

Timeline

It’s been 144 days since the Redskins played a game. Their season opener against the Eagles at FedEx Field is in 108 days.

Days until:

—Redskins minicamp (6/13) 19
—Training camp starts (7/27) 63
—Preseason opener @ Ravens (8/10) 77

Quotes and notes from the podium

Here are some quotes from Kirk Cousins and Jay Gruden from their post-OTA press conference on Wednesday and my comments on what they said.

Gruden on RB Matt Jones’ absence:

“That’s a good question, something that Matt Jones will have to answer. This is a voluntary deal, as we all know, and I can’t force the issue on anybody. So if he’s disgruntled in any way, shape or form, it’s news to me.”

Tandler's take: A year ago Jones was the unquestioned No. 1 running back. After fumbling and then being reluctant to play special teams when the regular season started, he was glued to the bench. The workouts are voluntary and it will be interesting to see if Jones shows up for mandatory minicamp next month if he’s still on the roster. It appears that he does not want to fight to get his job back from Rob Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine. That speaks for itself.

Cousins on adjusting to new receivers:

“Obviously there is a little bit of an adjustment, but we spread the ball around so much. Chris Thompson catches quite a few balls, even Rob Kelley gets involved, we get the tight ends involved. I remember two years ago we lost DeSean [Jackson] for half the season. Derek Carrier played a bigger role when Jordan Reed was out. So you kind of expect a revolving door on offense at a lot of the skill positions and you just start to run plays, and regardless who is out there, you just go where your reads take you.”

Tandler's take: This is a good mindset on the part of Cousins. The Redskins lost two 1000-yard receivers, Pierre Garçon and Josh Doctson, to free agency. Cousins barely practiced with Josh Doctson last year, Terrelle Pryor and Brain Quick signed as free agents, and Robert Davis was a sixth-round pick. These players likely will account for well over 50 percent of Cousins’ targets to wide receivers. But they will not get a sympathy card from the rest of the league. Change happens, both in between seasons and, as Cousins points out, during seasons. Adjustments need to be made on the fly.

Gruden on the NFL shortening overtime to 10 minutes:

“Who cares? [Laughter]”

On changes to the celebration rules:

“You know what, whatever rules they send down, we just try to coach them up. The celebration thing, if it is fun for the fans and the fans really want it, this is a fan league and that’s great just as long as it doesn’t become so much about the player as it is about the team.”

Tandler's take: I think that if most coaches were being honest they would answer these questions just like Gruden did. Overtime is an infrequent occurrence and how to handle the clock on OT probably will not enter most coaches’ thinking before the clock hits 0:00 in a tie game. And as long as the celebration rules are clear and they can teach them to the players I doubt many coaches care if the ball is used as a prop or if players can go to the ground.

Cousins on playing with Pryor, who was a college and NFL quarterback prior to converting to receiver last year:

“I love that you asked that question because it’s even caught me by surprise. I worked with a receiver, Keith Nichol, in college who was a former quarterback, but Terrelle having been a college quarterback and a pro quarterback takes it to even another level. He’s going to hold me accountable because he knows where the ball should go. If it’s Cover 2 and he on Cover 2, if the read is over here, ‘I played quarterback, I know that.’”

Tandler's take: This is an interesting dynamic at work here. Not many quarterbacks have former NFL quarterbacks as their No. 1 receivers. They will be able to communicate on another level compared to the usual QB-WR dynamic. You have to think that it will help Cousins making adjustments in games, with Pryor, who has the eyes of a quarterback, running downfield on every play. Although Pryor is not an accomplished NFL quarterback he could be a big asset as Cousins looks to take his next steps as an NFL quarterback.

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.

Tandler on Twitter

In case you missed it