D.C United goes after a spot in elite eight

783720.png

D.C United goes after a spot in elite eight

A deep lineup with flexible players has allowed D.C. United to burst into the month of June on top of Major League Soccers Eastern Conference and a game away from the quarterfinals of the U.S open Cup. A win over Philadelphia Tuesday at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland will put United through to the final eight of the competition.

Continued successes in the U.S. Open Cup will not only give United a chance at its 13th major trophy, but the champion will receive a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. Its a lucrative incentive and one that head coach Ben Olsen describes as huge and something that has changed this tournament

United is healthier than they have been in a long time, but they are not at full strength. Like they did in their 2-1 win over Richmond to advance to the round-of-sixteen, United will have to play Philadelphia without midfielder Dwayne De Rosario and defender Dejan Jakovic who are with Canada to prepare for World Cup qualifying.

De Rosario joined Canada as MLS player of the month for May after scoring four goals and adding four assists in six league matches. On the season De Rosario has been the only United player to start in all 15 MLS games. The reigning league MVP has been Uniteds constant in a team sheet constantly changing because of injuries.

Forward Chris Pontius is still listed as doubtful with an injured glut muscle, but defender Robbie Russell has been back at training after being sidelined with a hamstring injury and has been upgraded to probable. Only Danny Cruz, who has a hamstring injury, is listed as out among players who have seen regular time.

Its nice to be healthy, said Olsen. Its nice to have some difficult decisions to make because both teams will play as good a lineup as possible. Thats exciting for people to come out and watch a game where you are right on top of the players.

In Richmond it took Marcelo Saragosas goal off a Branko Boskovic corner kick in the 107th minute to eliminate the Kickers. The connection between the two exemplified Uniteds depth. Saragosa has been out of the rotation and Boskovic over the last month has just started to fulfill his potential after being slowed by injuries.

Ive been playing and coaching Open Cup games for a long time now and this is it, every time, Olsen noted after the match. Its never great, the other team is always fighting for their lives and ramped up more than the quote unquote better team, and we survived.

The winning moment in Richmond brought much needed joy to Saragosa. Cruel reality interrupted Saragosas life on the field with the April death of his father in Brazil. Saragosas spring included two trips back home and the Open Cup game served as chance for him to restart his season.

He doesnt have a lot of games Olsen said of Saragosa who has appeared in five league games. I thought as the game went on he got better, got more control of the game and finishing off with a goal was good.

For Boskovic, De Rosarios absence could give him another opportunity to play a more prominent role in the midfield. The game at the SoccerPlex will also mark a return to the place where Boskovic suffered a season-ending knee injury last April in an Open Cup loss to New England.

Uniteds ability to move players on the back line has also been part of the teams success Midfielder Lewis Neal started at left back against Richmond and in the center of the defense Ethan White appeared on the field for the first time this season. White had been out all season recovering from knee surgery after playing in 24 games last season.

In the Union, United will be dealing with a side that is probably putting extra emphasis on the U.S. Open Cup. In league play the Union have stumbled to eighth place and only scored eight goals in eleven games. Recently the Union was shutout in Toronto to give the home team its first win of the season.

In fact the Unions losing performance in Toronto served as motivation its Open Cup match last week against Rochester. The Union responded with a 3-0 win over the Rhinos punctuated by two Freddy Adu goals.

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.