DCU faces must win vs. Toronto FC

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DCU faces must win vs. Toronto FC

The Major League Soccer league table suggests D.C. United is in a good position to secure three points Saturday in Toronto. Recent history suggests that predicting results in MLS is not that easy.

United has every reason to be confident. The team is riding a four-game unbeaten streak and suddenly showing more resolve on the road. In Uniteds last three matches away from RFK Stadium they have snared four points including last Saturdays 1-1 draw in Portland.

We have to find ways now to kill games off, said United head coach Ben Olsen. We've done a pretty good job of that as of late, but it will help if we can find a way now to get the second goal when we do have the lead and teams are pushing.

United also has reasons to be concerned. The pain of missing the playoffs the last four seasons is real. On the last day of the regular season in both 2008 and 2009 United had its playoffs dreams squashed. Last year United unraveled over the final month of the season with Chris Pontius sidelined by a broken leg.

More recently United has witnessed Chicago, Houston, and Columbus fall to teams below them in the standings. Indeed this playoff push is not for the faint of heart. Only first place Kansas City has clinched a playoff spot in the east and only five points separate second place New York from sixth place Columbus.

In short Saturdays game against Toronto FC is not without anxiety for the Black and Red. Toronto FC is winless in its last eleven games and is starving for success. TFC should also be angry with four goals conceded in each of its last two games to add to league-high total of 59 goals against for the season.

While it is reasonable to assume that Toronto is due for some measure of happiness in front of its passionate and knowledgeable supporters, it seldom has gone that way. Two years ago United added to Torontos legacy of woe when Julius James scored in a 1-0 win that triggered a chorus of the Twisted Sister song Were Not Going To take It from fans at BMO Field.

Thats history and United has to be concerned with the present. The eerie timing of Dwayne De Rosarios season ending injury, similar to when Pontius was lost last year, unsettled supporters afraid of a similar ending, but the United is demonstrating a resolve made possible by its depth and versatility.

In its last two road matches United has gone with a 4-5-1 formation with Lionard Pajoy as the lone forward up top. Reserve midfielder Lewis Neal is starting to take a more prominent role. He has been used on the flank and as a holding midfielder. Against Portland Chris Pontius shifted into a withdrawn striker role behind Pajoy.

With all its possibilities on the team sheet, United can also take confidence in the possibilities should this tight Eastern Conference come down to a tiebreaker. The first two tiebreakers are total goals scored and goal differential. Only New York has scored more goals than United and only New York and Kansas City has a better goal differential.

I have been here since the 2009 season and we have yet to make the playoffs, said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. When I was a kid coming to the games, they (United) were always in the playoffs. I want to do my part to make it happen again.

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.