Challenges mount for DC United

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Challenges mount for DC United

When the midway point of the Major League Soccer season was reached with D.C. United in first placed in the Eastern Conference, head coach Ben Olsen was quick to point out that goals were not achieved and that the teams work was far from over.

The workload seems even greater now. Sporting Kansas City is back in first place. The New York Red Bulls managed to survive the heat, and a mid-week match against Chicago, to take all three points and leap over D.C. into second place. Uniteds opponent on Saturday, the Columbus Crew, is in eighth place and should be highly motivated playing at home.

Last week at Crew Stadium, the Crew was blanked by Kansas City 2-0. Forward Emilio Renteria received a red car for a head butt of Paulo Nagamura and will miss the United match. The two argued after Renteria was fouled by Nagamura. Renteria only has two goals on the season, but the Crews leading scorer Eddie Gaven only has 4 goals.

The Crew in 20 matches has managed only 17 goals. Only Chivas USA, with 12 goals on the season, has found the back of the newt fewer times. Injuries have been a problem for the Crew, who lost midfielder Bernardo Anor to a torn ACL, and now the team has 11 players on its injured list.

A wounded team can be a dangerous team, but still the Crew has failed to show real bite in its attack and has been shutout six times. To stay at least within shouting distance of the playoff race the Crew has relied heavily on the goalkeeping of Andy Gruenebaum and the organizational skills of defender Chad Marshall. The Crew has only allowed 19 goals.

United has been playing with less swagger of. As they reached the seasons 17-pgame mark there were troubling signs. The Black and Red managed to hold on to a 3-2 win over New England at home. That was followed by a less than convincing 1-0 road win in Philadelphia and then a collapse in 3-2 loss away to the New York Red Bulls.

Last week United showed plenty of promise in the opening 15 minutes in Houston. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid received a red card in the 16th minute and United was reduced to ten-men. Sometimes down a man teams will play inspired and punch above their weight to get a result. It was not that way for United against the Dynamo.

I thought we could have been meaner, I thought we could have been angrier, Olsen said.
I thought our shape could have been better and you keep the game 1-0 as long as you can. We got a little stretched, and we got impatient.

The first 15 minutes, it was going back and forth, added midfielder Danny Cruz. We had a couple great chances and they had a couple great chances and then the red card changes the entire dynamic of the game. Hats off to them, scoring four goals is not easy to do whether you are up a man or not. We just have to learn from it."

Olsen and United now have to figure out the response to the 4-0 loss to the Dynamo. On the team sheet there will be changes with defender Robbie Russell out with a foot injury and midfielder Branko Boskovic nursing a calf strain. As he did against the Dynamo, Chris Korb likely will replace Russell, but Boskovics replacement is open for debate.

In the last two months Boskovic has played his best soccer with United. Putting Boskovic in an attacking midfield role and then pushing Dwayne De Rosario closer to goal seemed to be the teams way forward. The question now has to be whether De Rosario drops back in the midfield or will Olsen try someone else there and keep De Rosario as a withdrawn striker.

If De Rosario is back in midfield then it likely would mean Chris Pontius would return to forward. That shuffle would then open an opportunity for Nick De Leon to return to the starting lineup and play on the left flank. De Leon is due to get a a chance again to show the spark that made him look like the steal of the MLS draft in the opening two months of the season.

With Heather O'Reilly set to retire, USWNT teammates honor all-time great

With Heather O'Reilly set to retire, USWNT teammates honor all-time great

As U.S. Women’s Soccer star Heather O’Reilly steps into international retirement Thursday night, her soon-to-be former teammates are jumping at the chance to honor O’Reilly one last time.

"She’s the best teammate I ever had,” said Ali Krieger, who has played alongside O’Reilly on the USWNT since 2008. “She’s such an inspiration for so many young athletes, but also for us – her current teammates and the players in the National Women’s Soccer League. She’s been a legend.”

O’Reilly will end her 15-year international career when the U.S. Women face Thailand in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday night.

“She’s motivated me and I know my teammates to want to better themselves every single day,” Krieger said of O’Reilly’s legacy on the national team. “That is something that she can leave us. I’m so happy for her, I’m really proud of her and she continued to inspire me every single day. I wish her all the best and I’m going to miss her like crazy.”

Of all O’Reilly’s teammates, few can appreciate the retiring legend quite like Krieger. The two often featured together on the right side of the U.S. formation, Krieger in defense and O’Reilly just ahead of her in midfield, resulting in a bond that will last beyond their playing days.

“We always say ‘right side – strong side’, so we’re going to hold on to that forever,” Krieger said with a smile. “She’s one of my best friends on the team and I support her decision.”

O’Reilly’s decision was likely made easier by the changing landscape of the national team. After seeing her minutes dwindle during last summer’s successful World Cup run, the 31-year-old veteran was left off the U.S. Olympic Team in August instead traveling to Brazil as an alternate.

Despite that, O’Reilly’s career compares favorably to pretty much every other U.S. international. O'Reilly made her senior international debut while still in high school, and her 230 appearances rank seventh all-time in U.S. Women’s National Team history. 

“It’s so much more than the player that she is and what she’s done for the national team,” said U.S. Women’s National Team forward Crystal Dunn. “It’s her – the person – that I’m going to miss seeing in camps and chatting it up.”

Though they didn’t overlap in Chapel Hill, both Dunn and O’Reilly played collegiately for North Carolina. Thanks to that Tar Heel connection, the duo trained together frequently even when not with the U.S. team.

“She was just one of those people that I looked up to,” Dunn added. “She would kick my butt every single day and I was so in awe that she would go out of her way to help make me better."

MORE SOCCER: STL: 'Tyrant'-like act by Spirit to stifle Rapinoe protest

Spirit players speak out against owner shutting down Rapinoe's protest

Spirit players speak out against owner shutting down Rapinoe's protest

Two days after the Washington Spirit organization changed the timing of their pregame routine in order to preempt Megan Rapinoe’s national anthem protest, Spirit players are speaking out against the team’s decision.

"We respect our owner’s freedom to share his views and we understand his intentions,” read a statement posted on the Spirit website. “But as a team we don’t necessarily agree with those opinions or the actions taken Wednesday evening.” 

The statement - signed ‘all of the players of the Washington Spirit’ - was also posted to Spirit captain, and longtime U.S. Women’s National Team star, Ali Krieger’s personal website. 

“As a team, we were disappointed we were not informed of the plans for the national anthem or given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision,” the statement continued.

The Washington Spirit and Rapinoe’s Seattle Reign FC were still in the locker rooms when the national anthem was played ahead of schedule at Wednesday’s National Women’s Soccer League match between the two teams. 

In an exclusive interview Tuesday afternoon, Rapinoe told CSN that she planned to kneel during the national anthem prior to Wednesday's game - as she did before Sunday's NWSL contest between Seattle and the Chicago Red Stars.