Last Two Weeks: 6-5
Place: 2nd in the East, one match back of New York Sportimes
If it’s July in Washington, that means Kastles Tennis. The Kastles may be the smallest of DC’s pro sports teams, but they’re definitely one of the most fun. Their season is delightfully fast-paced, starting just after July 4th, and running through this week, the pop-up tennis league, and the stadium over at 11th & H St NW, make for a wonderful outing. The Kastles are solid once again this year, with Venus Williams and Leander Paes returning to helm the squad in DC. Coach Murphy Jensen, who is every bit as crazy as he appears, is also back for a second season.
The Kastles started the season very strong, but have hit the skids in their last few matches, dropping matches to Boston, New York and Kansas City in the last few days. They’ve still got a shot at the playoffs, but will need some strong showing against Eastern division foes New York and Boston this week. Tuesday night former enfant térrible John McEnroe is in DC with the New York Sportimes (worst franchise name ever? check.) and then Anna Kournikova and the St. Louis Aces are here on Wednesday to finish out the home season. There’s the hopes of a second straight championship title for the Kastles, but they’ll need to come up big this week. Tickets are still available, and as much as it pains me to say this, the Kastles are Washington’s only championship pro sports team right now, so they could use a hand. Besides, Anna Kournikova on Wednesday, fellas.
Last Two Weeks: 0-1-2
Place: Last in the East, 12 Points
Where is all the scrappy momentum I saw in this team a month ago? It must have, like I had feared, faded with the World Cup. A pair of disappointing matches against the Sounders and Galaxy sapped much of what hope remained for a successful turnaround of the team after a dismal start. Thursday night’s brutal loss on an 89th minute goal by the Sounders’ Roger Levesque was about as much of a punch to the gut as you’ll see. The nationally-televised match was a very even one, and for a while it looked like United would escape with a point, but United faltered just one minute early and Levesque put a cross from Fredy Montero in the net. While United had several opportunities to take the lead, both early and late in the match, the high-energy combination of Jaime Moreno and Andy Najar couldn’t get it past, even when it looked like Seattle might hand it to them.
Sunday, World Cup star Landon Donovan, USMNT teammate Edson Buddle and the LA Galaxy came to RFK for a match that would hopefully turn things around for United. Galaxy had been more vulnerable of late, with a streak of two losses, including one game where they gave up a pair of goals, and that was a chance for United to bring their season back into focus. It wouldn’t be enough. While Andy Najar would put a header into the back of the net from the top of the penalty box (all the more impressive when you remember Najar is the shortest guy on the pitch at 5’7″) but Edson Buddle would drop one in early, and Landon Donovan would convert a handball PK into a goal in minute 58, and that would be in for United.
United is currently just five points back of fourth place Chicago, so the playoffs aren’t unthinkable, but the rally that this team would need would be nothing short of astonishing. This week, United takes on Harrisburg at the Maryland Soccer Plex in an U.S. Open Cup tilt and Saturday they’ve got a friendly against British side Portsmouth to finish the month out. They’ll need to turn that in to some serious momentum, but if they can do that, here’s the run they could use. They face perennial rival, and fellow cellar-dweller New England the seventh of August, followed by FC Dallas (who they crushed in the U.S. Open Cup earlier this season), followed by expansion squad Philadelphia. If there was a place for United to come up with 9 points (and yes, I know I’m dream here, work with me) this would be the stretch to do it. They may have to do it without Chris Pontius, who was carted off the field at halftime on Sunday, but we’ll find out for sure this week.
Last Two Weeks: 4-5
Place: Last in the East, 14 games back
I know for a fact that this team is significantly better than last year. I know this. However, that might just make them more maddening as a spectator. This weekend’s series with the Marlins was a perfect example of the terrifying, frustrating, appalling inconsistency with which the Nationals go to work every day. The Nats outscored the Marlins 4-3 this weekend, but they still lost the series. I’m going to repeat that. The Nats outscored the Marlins, but lost the series. It was a weekend of shutouts in Miami, as Friday night, the Nationals would ride Stephen Strasburg’s pitching performance against Miami to a 4-0 victory, and then lose both Saturday and Sunday in 1-0 losses. A continued problem of bad behavior on the basepaths would cost the Nationals needed runners.
The hardest thing to watch with the Nationals right now is their presence on the bags. They lack a laser-like focus on the game when they’re on the bags, as if to say they weren’t expecting to be there at all. Pickoffs, poor situational awareness, and outright mistakes have been the hallmarks of the Nationals on the bags. Of course, when the middle part of your order goes 4-22 in a pair of games, and strands more runners than your average Baltimore drug gang, I don’t know what to tell you. The Nationals racked up 30 Ks in the weekend series, or just over a third of their outs. It’s not that the Marlins are a fantastic pitching squad, outside of NL ERA-leader Josh Johnson, it’s just that the Nationals’ bats are inconstant.
The Nationals take to the road this week, heading to Cincinnati for four, and Milwaukee for three. The Reds are as smokin’ hot as teams get, and will provide for a formidable foe, especially if the Nationals can’t keep their narcoleptic bats awake. Tonight’s pitching matchup exposes the talent mismatch we might get to watch: J.D. Martin (1-4) vs Johnny Cueto (8-2). Oh, and TV watchers, Rob Dibble makes a triumphant, if probably awful, return to the TV broadcast booth. Please try not to through your pint glass through your television.