Brian McNally

New York's immediate opening of facilities for its pro teams doesn't mean D.C. is next

New York's immediate opening of facilities for its pro teams doesn't mean D.C. is next

New York became the latest state to give its professional sports teams the go-ahead to return to their team facilities for workouts after a 10-week pause because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

When will the District of Columbia follow suit? 

Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser said she would tell us on Tuesday if an anticipated move to Phase One of a reopening would occur as hoped by May 29, which is Friday. New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order applied immediately. But NBA and NHL teams are still finalizing details about what a return would look like. 

Phase one for D.C. would allow hair salons and barber shops to reopen by appointment only, restaurants could have expanded outdoor seating, there would be curbside delivery for florists and even bookstores. 

But Phase one is far from a wide-open economy. Mass gatherings would be limited to 10 people. While parks and golf courses and tennis courts would be open again, that wouldn’t apply to gyms or museums or playgrounds yet.

The instructions for area pro sports teams – the Wizards, Capitals, Redskins, Ravens, Orioles, Nationals, D.C. United, Mystics, Spirit – are somewhat vague. 

In Phase One, the teams provide the D.C. government with guidelines proposed by their own leagues. It does allow for practice facilities to open – with some limitations. Spectators are not allowed, but teams could start one-on-one workouts at their facilities and graduate to multiple player workouts and practices. 

Phase Two would allow teams to return to their facilities, but with stringent, physical distancing and enough personal protective equipment (PPE). There would be no fans and only 50 personnel allowed on site to broadcast the games. In Phase Three, that number would jump to 250 personnel, but still no fans. 

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The District’s regulations don’t apply to all of the local teams, however. The Wizards, Nationals and Mystics practice in Washington. But the Redskins and Capitals are headquartered in Virginia and the Ravens and Orioles, of course, are in Maryland with the Spirit there, too.  

The NBA and MLS have given the go-ahead to players to return to their facilities in states where that is allowed. The NBA is in talks to reopen its season in Orlando in late July at the Walt Disney World Resort. Most MLB teams will likely begin a period of training at their spring facilities in Florida and Arizona. 

The Redskins have opened their headquarters facility in Ashburn to some team employees and staff but not to players – unless they are rehabbing injuries - or coaches. The NFL normally would be holding OTAs and minicamps at this time of year, but those have been put on hold and the league has mandated no more than 50% of staff in the facility. 

The Ravens are still abiding by Maryland’s stay-at-home order. They, too, are allowed to have rehabbing players at their Under Armour Performance Center facility along with medical personnel and a small number of team employees. 

Meanwhile, the Capitals are still waiting on word from the NHL for the go-ahead to bring players back to the team facility in Arlington. The NHL and NHLPA are still working through the details of a 24-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament. 

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

We Miss The Premier League, too: How a Chelsea fan found her team

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our first week continues with a look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around D.C. and the metro area, including Chelsea’s Beltway Blues, who gather together most Saturday mornings from August through May to cheer their team. 

It started for Allison Kasic during a six-month study abroad semester in London 16 years ago. 

A junior at Bucknell University in 2004, a big sports fan who grew up playing and watching soccer, Kasic was searching for a connection to her new home. She found it right there in her west London neighborhood at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea FC's grand old stadium where they’ve played soccer in some form since 1905.  

“When I showed up, high on my priority list was asking ‘Alright what are the local teams?’ I just loved watching live sports,” Kasic said. “The club kind of chose me in that respect. And I’ve stuck with it since then.”

Kasic, who grew up in Colorado but moved to the D.C. area after college, has done more than that. She is chapter chair of the Beltway Blues supporters’ club, which meets most weekends at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, and is the national chair of Chelsea in America, a coalition of five regional Chelsea supporters' groups made up of 35 local chapters throughout the United States. 

Sports provides an emotional connection we’re all missing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Four Courts, open again for takeout orders since May 8 but unable to host watch parties for now, averages 40-to-50 Chelsea fans on any given Saturday or Sunday – much more for big matches, fewer maybe for the 7:30 a.m. EST start times. They all have a story. Kasic was hooked when she skipped a night class during her semester abroad and went to a pub with a friend who just happened to be an Arsenal fan. 

That was the year of The Invincibles when Thierry Henry and the Gunners won the Premier League title and won or drew every single Premier League game. No losses on the record. Arsenal had beaten the Blues three times already that season and also played to a draw in the first leg of a Champions League quarterfinal at Stamford Bridge. It just didn’t look like Chelsea was capable of beating their London rival. 

Until that wonderful April night back at Highbury, Arsenal's famed old home ground, when Chelsea rallied from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to win it in the 88th minute on a Wayne Bridge goal. The Invincibles might have raised their Premier League trophy at the end of that season. But they wouldn’t be crowned champions of Europe. The Blues saw to that and then the next season won their first Premier League title in 50 years. 

Kasic, a self-described John Terry fan, the legendary Chelsea defender, stuck with it when she came home to the States, but it wasn’t easy. Premier League games weren’t readily available like they are now on NBC and its platforms. She found herself looking up scores on the internet the year Chelsea won that long-awaited title in the 2004-05 season.

The crowd that gathers at The Four Courts could be as few as 10 people for an early start against a lower club or as many as 300 for big Premier League or Champions League games. The night Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 you couldn't get in the door even if you showed up an hour before the match.

The crowd is mixed, primarily Americans, but with a few ex-pats from the U.K. who used to be season-ticket holders at Stamford Bridge or ex-soccer players who played the sport in high school or college. Group member Lynn Feldmann had a youth soccer coach who actually played for Chelsea in the 1960s, according to Kasic. Go to any of these game watches and you’ll see how randomly people came to their love for the club.    

Kasic herself tries to go back to London every other year to visit the city and catch a game at Stamford Bridge. Those early Chelsea days she was still a new fan enthralled by the atmosphere at the stadium, but probably didn’t appreciate it as much living in London at the time. It was a return trip that sealed her connection to the team. 

“What was much more emotional for me was the first time I went back to a match in London after I moved back to America,” Kasic said. “It sounds so sappy, but when The Liquidator started, which is one of the songs they always play before kickoff, I started to cry. I was like what am I doing, I’m crying over a song at a sports stadium? But the whole atmosphere is really overwhelming in a good way when you care that much about it.” 

But for now next year’s trip to Stamford Bridge is on hold. There’s too much uncertainty in the world to plan that far into the future. Kasic is just hoping life returns to some sort of normalcy soon and maybe the Premier League will be back this summer for its final nine games. Chelsea, with a young team, sits a surprising fourth in the standings and has a great shot at making the Champions League next season. 

But if this goes on much longer, Kasic laughs, she might even start to miss the Arsenal fans who have their own game watches at The Four Courts. OK. Let’s not get crazy. A rival is still a rival. But devotion to a team is something we all share. Hopefully, that bond is renewed soon.    

“I miss the people at least as much as the actual sport – probably more,” Kasic said. “Even if I’m traveling for work and go to a different city and catch a match with the local supporters’ club somewhere else. It’s a unique segment of American sports fans that we’re purposely waking up early in the morning to watch a sport played in another country. You have common interest with these folks and I’m used to seeing them every week. And for the last couple of weeks our pub hasn’t even been open [inside]. You miss the staff, too. It’s just a big part of our community.”

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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Surprising Chelsea trying to live up to its glittering pedigree

Surprising Chelsea trying to live up to its glittering pedigree

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The hope is the EPL is back on NBC sometime soon. Until then, NBC Sports Washington is devoting a week of stories to each of the Big 6 clubs in England: Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City. Because we miss the Premier League, too. 

Our first week continues with a look at Chelsea, a Premier League surprise this season but a club which went from a complete afterthought for almost half a century in England to a powerhouse rivaling any in Europe the past 15 years. 

For 49 seasons, Chelsea was the little brother of English soccer. 

From 1956 to 2004, the Blues watched every major rival win a championship. Arsenal won the top division six times, Everton four, Tottenham and Manchester City once each. And Liverpool (13) and Manchester United (12) were in a class by themselves. 

Calling Chelsea an afterthought would be generous in those years after they won the title in 1955. They were relegated from the top flight four times. They once spent five years in the second division from 1979 to 1984. Other than a handful of F.A. Cup wins, there wasn't much to go on. 

That’s all changed now in the 21st century. Little brother has become one of the gleaming jewels of European soccer. Chelsea has won the Premier League five times since nabbing that first one in the 2004-05 season. 

This year’s club surprised before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic halted play in March, but the young squad has a lot to live up to. An unlikely fourth in the standings with possibly nine games to go if the games restart this summer, that’s not going to satisfy many Chelsea fans in west London - and around the world - going forward. 

How could it? The memories of five Premier League championships still ring across the grounds and in 2012 Chelsea won the Champions League for the only time in club history. Legends like John Terry and Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard, now the Blues’ manager, set the bar high for rising players like midfielder Mason Mount and American wonderkid Christian Pulisic, among others, during a youth movement. 

Chelsea won the Premier League by eight points in 2004-05 and 2005-06 under Jose Mourinho and again in 2014-15 during Mourinho's second stint. They needed every single point in 2009-10 when a devastating 8-0 season -finale win over Wigan Athletic secured their third championship in six years. But it was close with Manchester United finishing just one single point behind in the standings.

After an ugly 10th place finish in 2016 that led to Mourinho's second departure, Chelsea returned with another championship in the 2016-17 season, which was Terry's last. In the past 15 seasons of English football, Chelsea and Manchester United lead the way with five championships each. Not a bad way to end a drought of almost a half century.  

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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