D.C. United looks to keep momentum

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D.C. United looks to keep momentum

Back in January D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen believed his 2012 Black and Red side had the talent and depth to not only be in the playoffs, but to advance in the playoffs. That belief has not been shaken by an injury to Dwayne De Rosario or a super storm named Sandy.

United’s new journey begins against an old foe when they host the New York Red Bulls Saturday in game one of the two-game Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semi-final. United had earned home field advantage, but Hurricane Sandy forced the reversal of home dates.

“I have always said I am not that concerned with the order in which the games are played,” Olsen noted before the decision was made to have United host the first game. “The advantage is the extra thirty minutes if you do get to that point. Can the crowd give you a little extra energy to get through that part and then the PK energy. A lot of times it never gets to that point so it is not a big deal.”

As a player Olsen never accepted excuses and he is the same way as a coach. United supporters no doubt remember the huge banner unfurled in the stands at R.F.K Stadium in June of 2008 for the nationally televised visit of David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. The banner read: Ben Olsen Heart of a Lion.

United in 2012 is playing in the image of its coach. How else do you explain a seven game unbeaten strike to end the season with De Rosario sidelined by a knee injury? No excuses, Olsen’s United has found a way. During that final stretch United only allowed two goals once and that was in a 3-2 playoff-clinching win over the Columbus Crew.

“People continue to think that we’re not for real and we are lucking out with some results,” Olsen added. “That’s okay with us; we will just keep on grinding out results.”

To add to United’s return to the post-season for the first time since 2007 is its opposition. It is a rivalry with some real bite, although United has had the better share of the results. In the playoffs United is 5-1-1 against New York and has won eight of the 11 Atlantic Cups’s contested between the teams in the regular season.

The emotion behind a rivalry is rooted in history and the spark was ignited in Major League Soccer’s first season when United and the MetroStars (as the Red Bulls were known then) met in the 1996 playoffs. United won the playoff series on a Marco Etcheverry penalty kick in the 89th minute of the decisive game three at R.F. K. Stadium. It kept United on course for its first league title.

“It is the fact that they (New York Red Bulls) have no trophies,” United defender Dejan Jakovic said when asked about motivation in the rivalry. “We want to keep it that way and we know the fans want to keep it that way. There is a lot of history and it is going to be a big matchup.”

This past season the offenses flowed when United and the Red Bulls met with 14 goals in three meetings.  United won the Atlantic Cup on total goals after the series finished 1-1-1. The playoffs usually offer a more defensive brand of soccer, although the Red Bulls are the third highest scoring team in the league.

“We are looking to disrupt their rhythm and get going offensively ourselves,” United midfielder Chris Pontius said. “As a team we have come together the past few weeks and the results have shown that we are a tough team to beat right now. I don’t think anyone looks forward to playing us.”

This will be the first playoff series for Pontius who just completed his third season.  The youth of United provides the contrast to this series. United players have collectively played in ten playoff games. New York has galaxy of stars with international experience including Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Marquez.

“They have more World Cup games than we have playoff games,” Olsen joked. “Look it’s a great group. They have put together a star studded lineup. They are playing very well and guys like Henry are playing at their tops. Henry is playing better than I have seen him play in America. It is a big challenge.”

Hope Solo criticizes 'cowardly' Swedish team following Olympic loss

Hope Solo criticizes 'cowardly' Swedish team following Olympic loss

The U.S. Women's Soccer Team was bounced from the Olympic Tournament on Friday following a shocking 1-1 shootout loss to Sweden.

The USWNT had to once again rally back from 1-0 — as they did against Colombia — with Alex Morgan scoring an equalizer in the 78th minute.

After 30 minutes fo scoreless extra time, the game went to penalty kicks. Morgan and Christen Press missed their attempts, and Hope Solo was unable to stop Lisa Dahlkvist's attempt, snapping the USWNT's 14-game Olympic win streak. It was also the first time the USWNT did not advance to the Olympic gold medal games.

Solo, who has been the focal point of the USWNT's time in Rio due to the chants of "Zika" lobbed her way in the tournament opener, along with her subpar performance in the 2-2 draw against Colombia, once again made headlines following the shocking loss.

While Solo was lauded for the poise she showed following the major gaffe in the Colombia game, she had some choice words for the Swedish team following the loss on Friday.

Solo has never been one to mince words.  

While it was not particularly clear that the Swedish side was playing dirty, Sweden did have 15 penalties to the United States too. The United States outshot Sweden 27-6 and had six shots on goal to Sweden's two. But despite the stat discrepancy, Sweden packed their defense in, forcing the United States to take an increased number of shots from outside. Sweden also did a tremendous job of counter-attacking with deep balls, which the side — coached by former USWNT coach Pia Sundhage — a bevy of uneven scoring chances.

When asked about her "coward" comment, Solo provided clearer detail.

"Sweden dropped off," she said to reporters after the game. "They didn't want to play. They didn't want to pass the ball. They didn't want to play great soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what their game plan was. They dropped into a 50. They didn't try and press. They didn't want to open the game. We had that style of play when Pia was our coach. i don't think they're going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly.

"But they won. They're moving on, and we're going home."

Solo then took to Twitter to clarify her comments.

But the outcome remains the same: A stunning loss before the medal round, and to make matters worse, the result will be overshadowed by critical comments.

RELATED: WOULD THIS TEAM OF MARYLAND NATIVES WIN OLYMPIC GOLD?

U.S. women suffer shocking Olympic elimination in shootout loss to Sweden

U.S. women suffer shocking Olympic elimination in shootout loss to Sweden

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — The three-time defending champion U.S. women's national team will miss the Olympic final for the first time after being ousted by Sweden on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Tied after three rounds in the shootout, Sweden captain Caroline Seger beat Hope Solo and Christen Press' attempt against Hedvig Lindhal went over the net. With the next kick, Lisa Dahlkvist beat an outstretched Solo for the win.

RELATED: HOPE SOLO CRITICIZES "COWARDLY" SWEDISH TEAM AFTER LOSS

As Sweden celebrated, U.S. captain Carli Lloyd crouched on the field at Mane Garrincha Stadium. It was the first time that an Olympic women's match had gone to penalties.

It was the earliest the United States had ever been eliminated from the Olympics since women's soccer became a sport in 1996.

After a scoreless first half, Stina Blackstenius scored in the 61st minute to give Sweden a 1-0 lead.

Alex Morgan scored the equalizer in the 78th and the match went to extra time. Lloyd had a header called back for offside in the 115th minute, and Lotta Schelin was offside on her attempt against Solo a minute later -- although replays appeared to show otherwise.

The reigning World Cup champions, who are also four-time Olympic champions, had not dropped a match this year. But it Sweden that will play either Australia or host Brazil in the semifinals.

Blackstenius, who came in as a substitute in the first half, broke away and shook off defender Julie Johnston to beat Solo and give Sweden the lead. It was just her second international goal.

Sweden's coach, Pia Sundhage, high-fived her assistants on the bench. Sundhage coached the U.S. team for five years and led the squad to gold medals in both Beijing and London.

The United States got the equalizer with Morgan's shot that bounced off a Sweden defender. It was Morgan's team-leading 13th goal of the year. Lloyd nearly put the United States ahead in the 85th but her kick to the far corner went just wide.

The Americans won their first two matches in Brazil before a surprising 2-2 draw in Manaus against Colombia, which had already been eliminated.

Johnston returned to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a groin injury and coach Jill Ellis played all her regular starters after rotating and resting many against Colombia in the heat and humidity of the Amazon. Megan Rapinoe, who started against Colombia after missing more than eight months after right knee surgery, was on the bench but came on as a substitute in the second half.

Press replaced Rapinoe in the extra period.

Sweden had won only five matches against the United States. The two teams played to a scoreless draw at last year's World Cup. The last time the two teams met in the Olympics was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Sundhage was a player on the Sweden team that fell 2-1 to the Americans.

Ranked sixth in the world, Sweden had struggled in its Olympic group with a 5-1 loss to host Brazil and finished 1-1-1.

Lloyd buried her head in her hands early in the second half after her free kick was off the mark. Just moments later, she had another that was off-target, too. The United States struggled to finish throughout the match.

The crowd at Mane Garrincha Stadium in was sparse at the start of the match and never extended much past the lower bowl of the massive 72,000-seat stadium that was reconstructed and expanded for the men's 2014 World Cup.

The fans that were there continued to jeer Solo with shouts of "Zika!" everytime she touched the ball. The fans have taunted her since the opening match in Brazil because of her posts on social media about the virus.

Field condition concerning ahead of USWNT quarterfinal match with Sweden

Field condition concerning ahead of USWNT quarterfinal match with Sweden

The United States is set to play Sweden on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the women’s soccer tournament at the Rio Olympics. The U.S. – fresh off winning their group – is one victory away from advancing to the medal round.

The match will be played at noon ET on NBCSN and while both teams hope to be prepared for Friday’s win-or-go-home affair, the field at Brasilia’s Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha does not appear to be ready for the rigors of elimination soccer.

Friday’s game will be the ninth Olympic match played at Brasilia’s primary stadium. The stadium, named after Brazilian soccer legend Garrincha, hosted a men’s soccer doubleheader (Mexico-South Korea and Argentina-Honduras) on Wednesday night. 

According to a report in the Brazilian publication oLiberal, ‘emergency’ work was done on the field in the three weeks leading up to the Olympics. The Brazilian men’s team opener their Olympic campaign in Brasilia with a scoreless draw against South Africa. 

A men’s quarterfinal between Portugal and Germany is scheduled for Saturday at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the U.S. vs. Sweden women’s game.