DCU ready to make history

D.C. United vs. Red Bulls

DCU ready to make history

When D.C. United takes the field this Saturday for the first game of their two-game Eastern Conference Semifinals series, they'll be lining up against a side featuring two of the league's top scorers in Kenny Cooper (18 goals) and Thierry Henry (15 goals).  Thanks to the pair's goal scoring prowess the Red Bulls rank third in the league in goals with 53.  In addition, Henry and company bring a wealth of playoff experience to the pitch. 

"They've got more World Cup games than we have playoff games," said DCU head coach Ben Olsen.  "It's a great group they've put together, a star-studded line up and they're playing very well right now. Guys like Henry are playing at their tops --he's playing better than I've ever seen him play in America."

D.C. United has not seen a playoff match since 2007 and not a single player from that team remains in the line up.  For captain Chris Pontius, DCU's longest tenured player, Saturday's match will be the first playoff game of his career.

"They have experience and they have very good players," said Pontius.  "I think as a team we've really come together these last few weeks.  I think the results have shown that.  We're a tough team to beat right now and I don't think anyone looks forward to playing us."

Though New York's roster boasts players with experience in just about every soccer championship in the world, the team is overwhelmingly top heavy.  Two players account for 62-percent of the Red Bulls' high-flying offense.  After Cooper and Henry, scoring drops off sharply.

"We've got a big job ahead of us," added Olsen.  "But I like our team.  We've got a good team, a good group, and sometimes that gets you past a team that has great individuals and that's kind of what I think is what this is about right now: it's a team versus some really experienced, good individuals and we'll see what ends up happening.

"Rarely in this league have teams been very very good on the offensive side and very very good on the defensive side.  Usually it's been one or the other or a balance of both.  I'd like to think that we're a balance of both right now, but make no mistake: their attack is real.  They've got some offensive weapons and some real experience up there so you try to keep them off the board."

Olsen was a part of D.C. United's rich history --one that includes winning more championships than any other team in the league.  Now in his coaching role, Olsen is ready for a new chapter in United's history. 

"The past is the past here. I want to start creating the future and making some history of our own."

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.