United after fresh start against Fire

United after fresh start against Fire

With a missed penalty kick and three red cards in the games closing minutes, its hard not to focus on the end of D.C United 1-1 draw on Sunday against Philadelphia. The late dramatics masks the real concern for United ahead of Wednesdays home game against Chicago.

I think that it is our mentality and our focus we need to chamge, said defender Brandon McDonald. You see the way we played the first 15 minutes of that game and it wasnt good enough. In those games with so much on the line you have to stay focused for the whole game.

To be sure it was hard for United fans to witness Dwayne De Rosario score the apparent the goal-ahead goal on a penalty kick only to have it nullified because of encroachment. The argument between players that followed the call led to a red card for Branko Boskovic.

De Rosarios second penalty kick attempt sailed over the goal. Then Uniteds defender Emiliano Dudar was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge. Before the final whistle was blown, the Unions Sheanon Williams received his second yellow. There was anger all around with teammates McDonald and Chris Korb arguing while leaving the field.

Yes the finale of the game was messy, but its beginning was even more of a concern.

The way we started was unacceptable from an emotional standpoint, said United head coach Ben Olsen. Also tactically we were a little off. I didnt like the way we responded at the end with Korb and McDonald, but I dealt with it and that should be something that stays in the locker room.

I dont mind the passion and the fight, added Olsen. I saw some commitment from guys I have not seen all year and I have been asking for that. I would like to see that from word go when we are in a situation where we are fighting for our lives in the playoffs.

The heat is very much on in Major League Soccers Eastern Conference. United is on 37 points and back in a playoff position sitting in fifth place. The Fire is four points ahead of United, but has played one more game. It is the first meeting of the season between sides eager to end playoff droughts.

The Fire last made the playoffs in 2009 and is gaining in confidence with three straight wins for the second time this season. United has not been in the post-season since 2007 and Sundays draw with Philadelphia ended a seven-game home winning streak. In its last eight games United has struggled to three wins, four losses, and the one tie.

Its tough right now when you have guys in and out of the lineup, noted United captain Dwayne De Rosario. We have to make it tougher for them (opponents) and set the tone from the opening whistle. We are fortunate that we had a good start; otherwise we would be in a lot of trouble right now. Now we have to wake up and realize every play matters. We cant afford to take plays off.

With Boskovic and Dudar suspended on red cards, Uniteds options are reduced. Boskovic made a difference on set plays and in distribution when he came off the bench against the Union. Dudar had worked his way back into the starting eleven and was especially needed with Robbie Russell and Daniel Woolard sidelined by injuries.

Russell with plantar fasciitis and Woolard, who is recovering from concussion symptoms, are not ready to return. Recently acquired Mike Chabala started at left back against Kansas City. Dejan Jakovic played right back against Philadelphia, but with Dudar out might return to a central partnership with McDonald.

Regardless of how the back is constructed for United, it is the area where critical lapses have to be avoided. United has a talented but young defense. The goalkeeper Bill Hamid is also young and to add to the challenge is the multiple lineup changes brought on by injuries on defense.

For us when we are communicating, we have to be more receptive, McDonald noted. I think the information is there, but sometimes it is not coming in and being processed. We are being more reactive, instead of getting there before the action occurs.

Uniteds defense needs to be ready for a new forward combination that has the Fire excited. Chris Rolfe is back from Denmark and he has picked up where he left in MLS with five goals in twelve matches. Dutch striker Sherjill McDonald in his only his second start with the Fire scored his first goal in a 2-1 victory over New England.

I like that guys understand now it is time to fight, Olsen said. Yes we have to be better, but I thought the second half (against Philadelphia) was probably some of the best stuff we have put together as far as getting after a team and getting our outside backs forward.

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.