DC United-Toronto FC preview

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DC United-Toronto FC preview

D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen spent his 35th birthday on Thursday flying from San Jose to Toronto. Along with checked baggage, Olsen and United are saddled with mixed emotions ahead of Saturdays road match against Toronto FC and it has nothing to do with long airport delays that slowed their journey to Canada.

The mid-week 5-3 loss to the Earthquakes ended Uniteds seven-game unbeaten run. It was a curious game. Dwayne De Rosario provided the dream start for the Black and Red with a wonderful goal eight minutes into the match. The Earthquakes responded later in the half with three goals in a 12-minute span and led at halftime 3-1.

I was proud of the way the guys fought and came back, Olsen said. Overall, Im disappointed in the loss, but there is a lot of fight in this team, and when we get healthy, I think that we are going to be OK.

As United prepares to face winless Toronto, health and fatigue are issues. With three goals and 21 shots Uniteds offense is threatening. On defense injuries have led to inconsistency. The absence of center back Emiliano Dudar, who Olsen described as a stud this season, because of a hamstring was glaring against the Earthquakes.

I think we missed a center back today, and thats not against Perry (Kitchen) or Robbie (Russell), but theyre not center backs, Olsen said after the loss in San Jose. Dudars out, and Dejan (Jakovic), they would have really helped out on a big (guy) like (Steven) Lenhart, who had a good day.

Against the earthquakes, both Kitchen and Russell logged time in the middle of the defense. Kitchen started on the back line, but was shifted to defensive midfield after Marcelo Saragosa struggled there in the first half. Russell then moved into the middle with Andy Najar introduced in Russells position at right back.

Against that backdrop the focus remains on Uniteds defense against Toronto. If Kitchen remains in midfield, the question will be who will partner centrally with Brandon McDonald. Dudar is not an option and Jakovic is listed as questionable with a sprained ankle. Also, goalkeeper Joe Willis should not be blamed for allowing five goals, but Bill Hamid is eager for his second start of the season.

At forward, designated player Hamdi Salihi came off the bench and was finally able to open his United scoring account. Salihis first goal probably should have come earlier, but he was denied by the crossbar and an incredible save by Vancouvers Joe Cannon. On Wednesday Salihi was able to run on to a precise pass from De Rosario and chip it over charging Earthquakes goalkeeper Jon Busch.

With Rapid Vienna in Austria, Salihi scored 36 goals in 67 appearances. Salihis last start was on April 14 against New England when he was pulled after 65 lackluster minutes. Now Olsen must weigh whether to reward Salihi with a start against keeping Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos together.

He (Salihi) looked sharp, Olsen said. He was able to connect on some passes and made some nice runs. Thats what he does. He makes great runs. If we are able to find like De Ro did then he is going to score goals. Its not been an easy road, but he has been a real pro.

Pontius and Santos have formed a strong strike partnership, but failed to connect with each other Wednesday against the Earthquakes. United also needs to get its wide players more involved. Nick De Leon and Danny Cruz were not as effective as in previous games and with Saturday marking the third game in seven days change is possible.

Toronto FC is looking for change in the form of results. The Reds as they are known have yet to win in seven MLS matches. As a team they have six goals and seven assists. De Rosario alone has seven assists and Santos has six goals by himself. They also played mid-week and drew 0-0 to Montreal in the group stage of the Canadian Championship.

I have watched them and they (Toronto FC) are better than their record. Olsen noted. They are low on confidence but can be dangerous because they might just say lets go play free to make the best of the situation.

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.