Soccer

USWNT defender Ali Krieger throws Nationals first pitch in return to D.C.

USWNT defender Ali Krieger throws Nationals first pitch in return to D.C.

Upon returning to the United States, the USWNT have been treated like royalty, and for good reason. The world champs won "best team" award at the EPSY's, had a parade in their honor in New York City and have made appearances on late-night shows like Jimmy Kimmel and James Gordon.

D.C. native Ali Krieger is no exception. A baseball fan all her life, she's been going to Camden Yards since she was a kid and her aunt even dated Cal Ripken Jr. A former player for the Washington Pride of the NWSL, she was honored at the Nationals-Rockies game Thursday and even threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"I’m just thrilled to be here, I know the Nationals have supported me and the team throughout the tournament and throughout my career here," Krieger complimented.

Although D.C. is her hometown, it hasn't always been her home base. She played overseas in Germany for five and a half years, citing that time as a crucial period for her development on and off the field. 

"I think it really helped me get to the national team...I feel like if you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, that challenges you to grow both as a player and as a person." 

As the World Cup hype begins to die down, players need to find ways to sustain the momentum for women's soccer. The NWSL, where Krieger plays for the Orlando Pride, only has nine teams and the past two women's soccer leagues folded after only a couple years. Attendance has increased, however, and Krieger thinks it's up to the clubs to capitalize on how well the players are performing. 

"We have to start asking the sponsorships, the clubs and organizations, 'are you doing everything you can in your power to help put butts in the seats?' Because we’re doing our part," said Krieger.

Despite all the fame she's garnered this summer, Krieger is just another regular D.C. sports fan at her core. She's fangirled over Davey Martinez and seeing Nats players watching and becoming fans of hers has been an incredible experience. 

"It’s a great feeling because the feelings are mutual," said Krieger. "I think it’s a rewarding feeling that they respect us because we’re good at our sport and we’re inspiring a nation and a world."

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We Miss the Premier League, too: How a Liverpool fan in D.C. found her team

We Miss the Premier League, too: How a Liverpool fan in D.C. found her team

Weekend mornings haven’t been the same since the English Premier League paused its season. The EPL will be back on NBC next month. 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 second week continues with another look at the Premier League supporters’ clubs that thrive all around the metro area, including Liverpool’s D.C. area supporters’ club, LFCDC, which gathers together most Saturday or Sunday mornings from August through May to cheer their team. 

Being a Liverpool FC fan over the past 30 years has not been easy. 

If you grew up with the Reds of the 1970s and 1980s, that was easy. Eleven league titles in 19 seasons with seven more runner-up finishes. The worst Liverpool did in the league in that era was fifth place in 1980, but don’t worry: They won the European Cup (now known as the Champions League) that year anyway. To say it was good to be a Red back then is a bit of an understatement. 

Then the English first division became the Premier League in 1992 and the results, well, they changed. The team has never finished lower than eighth in a season, but those league titles dried up. Tournament titles still happened with Champions League trophies in 2005 and 2019 and FA Cup championships in 1992, 2001 and 2006. But that Premier League trophy has proved elusive.  

That is no matter for the LFCDC, a local Liverpool supporter’s club with a home base at The Queen Vic on H Street and a second home at Crystal City Sports Pub in Northern Virginia. For the Champions League Final last June 1, which Liverpool won 2-0 over fellow PL club Tottenham, Liverpool fans packed 10 local bars to capacity for a 2 p.m. kick-off. 

LFCDC chairwoman Elancia Felder explains the scene as standing room only and said she got to the pub at 9 a.m. just to get a seat. About 90 minutes before the game even started many of those 10 bars were filled to capacity and you couldn’t get in to watch even if you’d wanted. 

So, what makes LFCDC so passionate about its team? The diversity in the group is a good place to start. From ex-pats to college students to military men and women stationed here to people visiting D.C. from other countries for work or travel to locals from across the entire Washington region, members of LFCDC get there early and enjoy the gameday experience with friends. 

“Everyone’s welcome,” Felder said. 

It’s an experience at both The Queen Vic and Crystal City Sports Pub that pulls people in, that makes them want to be part of the whole thing. 

“Come in, socialize, get ready, have your meal or whatever, get that out of the way,” Felder said. “Some of us bring cards to play to pass the time. We make a whole day of it. Clear the calendar.”

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Thinking back to the Champions League final last year forces one to look ahead to the Premier League’s expected return set for June 17 when Liverpool will be just two wins from securing that first league trophy since 1990. But it will be different for the members of LFCDC, who won’t be able to pack 10 bars full again given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

At The Queen Vic, owner Ryan Gordon would love to host his normal crew. Married to a Liverpudlian, Roneeka, their H Street pub aims for a true British feel. They named it after the infamous bar in the daily BBC soap EastEnders. That’s probably not in the cards given current restrictions. 

Gordon and Roneeka met when they worked at the same restaurant while she was in D.C. for school. His first trip to Anfield, Liverpool’s famed old stadium, was about 10 years ago. While Roneeka visited family and friends, he was able to get a proper Liverpool gameday tour from former British patrons of The Queen Vic.

“My wife’s family goes one of two [ways]: They’re either Manchester United supporters or Liverpool supporters,” Gordon said. “When we opened The Vic we said our motto is we support Liverpool and anybody that plays Man United.”

Gordon described going to Anfield on a matchday, taxi-driving brothers passing each other on the road – one wearing Liverpool red and the other Everton blue. The two rival clubs’ home stadiums, Anfield and Goodison Park, are just a mile apart. 

“You go there and you have people that truly hate the other side, but they love the experience,” Gordon said. “They love the people that they’re against. It’s only an hour-and-a-half that they hate each other and they are back to being best friends afterward. It’s a cool experience … They work together, they live together, they’re in the same families together, but yet they have that rivalry.”

Gordon said he tries to create that same atmosphere at his bar with LFCDC – the give-and-take of a rivalry, giving a hard time to the other side, but without the negativity that is sometimes fostered by some establishments. 

Above the bar at The Queen Vic are unique scarves from up to 30 Liverpool supporters’ clubs around the world. Felder described “old-timers” who welcomed her to the supporters’ club when she first got into Liverpool almost a decade ago. 

With crowd restrictions in place for the foreseeable future, The Queen Vic probably can’t produce the same atmosphere it has had in the past. Last year there was a massive block party for around 2,000 Liverpool fans before that Champions League final against Tottenham. 

Gordon wonders if – when people feel safe and the District government allows it - he can do an outdoor event where Liverpool fans could gather and celebrate. Maybe that doesn’t happen in time for when Liverpool clinches the Premier League, but maybe later in the summer an outdoor, socially-distanced party would work. It’s all still a work-in-progress for everyone.   

“We’re not quite sure how we’re going to celebrate it yet,” Felder said of the impending title. “We’re discussing that. Obviously, it won’t be the traditional celebration that we were all looking forward to. But we’re looking forward to a big finish.” 

There is a void for many sports fans during this time where shared experiences are hard to come by. Felder misses having “something to look forward to every weekend.” 

She continued: “No matter what time the match was on, you knew most of the regulars were going to be there, you knew the faces that you were going to see. It is a tough two or three months – but also knowing that there are bigger concerns out in the real world, we take it in stride. But, yeah, we definitely miss it. We miss it a lot.” 

While it certainly won’t be the same as the last big celebration for Liverpool, members of LFCDC have been able to stay connected during the pause in the season due to COVID-19. LCFCDC’s Facebook group has hosted a weekly raffle to benefit two local charities - BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters) and DC Central Kitchen. A $5 entry fee – or multiple entry fees if you want – gets you into a Zoom chat to catch up with fellow fans while giving back to the community with the chance to earn a gift card to Anfield Shop, an official U.S.-based Liverpool FC merchandise distributor, among other prizes. 
 
Felder, who admittedly wasn’t much of a sports fan growing up, has found a home with Liverpool and the LFCDC. It all started with a preseason match between Liverpool and Tottenham in Baltimore in 2012 with her cousin.  

“We went and I fell in love with it. I’d never been to a soccer match. It was probably the hottest day of the year. Very uncomfortable. It was awful,” Felder said. “But I fell in love with the sport, I fell in love with the team. I couldn’t get enough of it. Part of it was the supporters’ section was singing. And I was like ‘What are they singing? What is going on?’ I was just enamored with it.” 

Felder went home and wanted to learn more. She researched the club and the culture surrounding it and found herself drawn to LFCDC and the atmosphere watching games at the local pub. When a board spot opened up a few years ago, Felder “jumped in with both feet.” 

Many fans think that their home stadium or arena is the best place to watch sports, but few fans actually have an Anfield. Felder experienced it firsthand in 2018 when she won a supporters’-club lottery for tickets to a Liverpool-Arsenal game. She and a friend made the trip to the U.K. for the trip of a lifetime.  

“It is not overhyped. It is the most magical experience I’ve ever had in travel or for a sporting event,” Felder said. “It is definitely an experience. I tell anyone who is new to our supporters’ club or new to Liverpool or just hasn’t gone over there, that if you do have the opportunity you won’t be disappointed whether they win or lose.” 

Liverpool has been a fixture in its community since its founding in 1892 and getting the chance to sing on the terraces with local fans was a whirlwind.

“Standing in the Kop, the famous section at Anfield, and singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is one of the most beautiful experiences you’ll ever have as a supporter,” Felder said. 

Her story of finding Liverpool is unique and personal, but every fan has one. Love for the club binds them together. Felder can’t wait to get back herself, although a future trip might take longer than expected with the Premier League being played in empty stadiums for now due to the pandemic. 

That won’t dampen the moment for Felder and her friends, though, when Liverpool clinches its first Premier League title. It will still be a moment to treasure.  

“Can’t wait to see them lift that trophy, whether it’s in an empty stadium, a full stadium,” Felder said. “They’ve worked so, so hard and had this amazing season and they deserve it and we want it for them and we want to celebrate it for them and with them. We can’t wait. … Still a victory, still a win, still a championship.” 

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Italy's Serie A set to resume June 20 after three-month suspension from coronavirus pandemic

Italy's Serie A set to resume June 20 after three-month suspension from coronavirus pandemic

MILAN (AP) -- Italy's Serie A is set to resume on June 20.

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora gave the league the all-clear to resume on Thursday, although it will have to wait a week longer than it had initially hoped.

Spadafora held a meeting with Italian soccer authorities by video conference after a medical protocol for matches was approved earlier on Thursday.

“The meeting was very useful,” Spadafora said. “Now Italy is starting again and it is right that soccer starts again too.

“If the curve changes and the league has to be stopped again, the Italian soccer federation has assured me that there exists a plan B -- playoffs -- and also a plan C -- leaving the standings as they are.”

Serie A has been suspended since March 9, when the government ordered a nationwide lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The league’s 20 teams agreed earlier this month to resume competition on June 13 in empty stadiums. But, following a government decree days later banning sports until June 14, the Italian soccer federation swiftly announced that it would comply. However, it had hoped for special dispensation.

“The league will restart June 20,” Spadafora said. “There’s then the possibility that the Italian Cup semifinals and final can be played on June 13 and 17.”

The first legs of the semifinals had already been played before the lockdown, with AC Milan drawing 1-1 against Juventus and Napoli winning 1-0 at Inter Milan.

The rights for the cup matches are owned by Italy’s RAI state television.

“It would be a good signal because you could watch three important matches free-to-air on public channels,” Spadafora added.

The medical protocol is similar to that for team training, meaning that if one person within the group -- player or staff -- tests positive for COVID-19 the entire group must go into a retreat for 14 days.

There are 12 rounds remaining in Serie A, plus four matches that were postponed from the 25th round.

Juventus, which is bidding for a record-extending ninth successive Serie A title, has a one-point advantage over Lazio. Third-place Inter Milan is nine points behind Juventus but has played a match less.

The Lega Serie A is set to have a meeting on Friday where it could formalize the calendar.

Serie B, Italy’s second division, also plans to resume June 20.

“Soccer restarting represents a message of hope for the entire country,” federation president Gabriele Gravina said. “Our project is one of great responsibility, because it involves the entire professional world of Serie A, B, C and, hopefully, also the women’s Serie A.”

In England, the Premier League announced plans on Thursday to resume on June 17.