Pontius, Olsen, DeLeon nominated for MLS awards

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Pontius, Olsen, DeLeon nominated for MLS awards

Three of United's finest were listed as finalists today for Major League Soccer's 2012 year-end awards.  DCU head coach Ben Olsen is up for Coach of the Year, captain Chris Pontius is up for Comeback Player of the Year and, as expected, midfielder Nick DeLeon is a finalist for Rookie of the Year.  

DeLeon is the fourth consecutive Rookie of the Year finalist for United, joining teammates Chris Pontius (2009), Andy Najar (2010 winner) and Perry Kitchen (2011). In addition to Najar, United vets Santino Quaranta (2001) and Freddy Adu (2004) also share the honor, each scoring five goals in their rookie seasons to win over voters.

This season, DeLeon notched six goals, which set a new goal-scoring franchise record and has played an integral role in each of United's tallies in the postseason.  DeLeon is up against former college teammate, Austin Berry (Chicago Fire) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps FC). 

The 2012 Rookie of the Year will be announced on Nov. 17.  

In only his second full season as head coach of the Black and Red, Ben Olsen has pulled DCU from the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings to a second-place finish (17-10-7) and the club's first playoff berth in five years. Olsen's competition for Coach of the Year includes Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City) and Frank Yallop (San Jose Earthquakes).

After back to back seasons derailed by injury in 2010 and 2011, Pontius, the club's longest-tenured player, rebounded this year to record his best career season.  Pontius led United with 12 goals and set personal highs in games played (31) minutes (2,339) and shots on goal (29). He became the club's captain in September when Dwayne De Rosario was sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes) and Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC) are also finalists for Comeback Player of the Year.

The Coach of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards will be announced on Nov. 27. 

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.