Dynamo beat United 3-1 in first leg of East final

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Dynamo beat United 3-1 in first leg of East final

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Dynamo are 90 minutes away from their fourth MLS Cup final since 2006.

Andre Hainault, Will Bruin and Kofi Sarkodie each scored second-half goals to give the Houston Dynamo a 3-1 win over D.C. United on Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference finals.

The win gives Houston a two-goal aggregate lead heading into next Sunday's decisive match at RFK Stadium in Washington.

"We played a wonderful second half," said Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear. "That just shows the great character we have to score three in the second half after being down 1-0 early."

The Dynamo extended their home unbeaten streak to 30 games in all competitions, dating to June 18, 2011, when they lost to Columbus. Houston is four wins or ties shy of matching Real Salt Lake's league-record 34-game home unbeaten streak.

Nick DeLeon scored for United in the 27th minute.

Trailing 1-0 at halftime, the Dynamo tied it in the 51st minute when Hainault one-timed a pass from Boniek Garcia high into the net. It was Hainault's first goal of these playoffs and third of his career.

Houston defender Bobby Boswell made the save of the match in the 66th when he stopped a point-blank shot by Lionard Pajoy on the goal line with Dynamo keeper Tally Hall just out of position.

That set up Bruin's go-ahead goal one-minute later. Sarkodie got his first MLS goal in the 80th minute to seal it for the Dynamo, who are in their fifth conference final in seven seasons.

"The stop by Bobby really changed the game for us," said Bruin, who has scored six goals in seven career matches against United. "That was good awareness, and he is a smart player. It is the little things like that that really have made a difference for our team all year."

DeLeon scored when he put a rebound past Hall. After Lionard Pajoy bounced a shot off the far post, the rebound came back to DeLeon, who fired a shot into the net off Hainault.

Backup goalkeeper Joe Willis made four saves for D.C., while Hall had two for Houston.

"At the half, the mood in the locker was normal, I will say," said Kinnear. "There was no panic, our heads were not down. The guys were a little disappointed to be down 1-0, but by no means were we frustrated."

D.C. captain Chris Pontius left the game in the 12th minute with a left groin strain. Lewis Neal replaced the United striker and recorded the first shot of the game in the 17th.

In the 23rd, Houston fanned on its first legitimate chance of the match. Boniek Garcia sent a free kick into the middle of the box to a wide-open Hainault, but his header was wide.

Houston took the regular season series 2-1, but United won the only game at RFK Stadium back in May. Houston outscored D.C. 7-3 in three games during the regular season and is 9-2-4 all-time against United.

The Dynamo played without several starters due to injury. Jermaine Taylor and Calen Carr sat with left knee and left hamstring injuries, respectively, and Ricardo Clark did not play because of an adductor injury.

"The weeklong break will be good for us," said Kinnear. "It will be a time to heal and get ready for what will no doubt be a hard-fought finish to this series."

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.