United have to get creative against Dynamo

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United have to get creative against Dynamo

R.F.K Stadium is big, but on the field space will be at a premium for D.C United in Saturday's home match against the Houston Dynamo. An organized and disciplined Dynamo side has found a way to 8 points from 5 matches and will test United's six-game unbeaten run.

"They (Houston) know each other very well," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "You don't get a lot of chances against Houston, you never do. You have to take advantage of those few opportunities you have."

Olsen's standing desire to have his team switch the point of attack will be especially important against the Dynamo. An offense without invention or creativity will struggle against the Dynamo's defense that is particularly strong in the middle with central defenders Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell.

United's flank players, which likely again will include Danny Cruz and Nick De Leon, will be needed to help the stretch the field. In addition United could use its outside backs to help in the attack. That is not the strength of left back Daniel Woolard, but it's possible for right back Robbie Russell to pick his spots and go forward.

Heading into Saturday's match United's offense is showing plenty of signs of life. Now playing at forward, Chris Pontius had his first career hat trick in Sunday's 4-1 win over New York and was named the MLS Player-of-the-Week. United is averaging nearly 15 shots per contest, and that means goals -- United has 12 on the season, trailing only New York (17) and San Jose (13).

On defense, United worked extensively on set pieces this week. The Dynamo has only 5 goals on the season, but two have come off corner kicks. However United should be confident with only eight goals allowed this season compared to 19 goals conceded at the same time last year.

"It's been a good run but we have long way to go," Olsen said. "We are starting to become a group that is tough to play against and that is committed every time that we step on the field. Now the soccer part and all the intricacies need to get a little better and sharper and I think k that will come with time. We are still a group that is new."

The work rate of United forward Maicon Santos is proving to be a critical ingredient in the Black and Red's early success. Santos has 4 goals and 1 assist to lead the team, but his active play has led to other goals and scoring chances. At 6'1'' and 186 pounds Santos gives United a different dynamic.

"He (Santos) gives us that physical presence that we have been missing up there," Olsen added. "Guys are doing a good job of playing off of him and that's one side of it. The other side is he is putting the ball in the back of the net. On the defensive side, he is working hard to put their backs under pressure and create turnovers."

Along with drawing attention for their six game unbeaten run, United is raising eyebrows for accomplishing it without goals from reigning league MVP Dwayne De Rosario, who is operating out of the midfield and not at forward. Through eight matches this season only four players in MLS have taken more shots. Still despite having 26 shots De Rosario remains goalless.

"He is in a different spot," Olsen explained. "No doubt if you pout De Ro right around the goal for 90 minutes he is going to get his goals. Right now we need him in the midfield. We are looking for him to be our rhythm guy to get the ball and get us out of pressure and be a link guy and then came late to play in and around the goal."

Saturday is an important test for United. Next week United travels to San Jose on Wednesday and Toronto on Saturday. Then on May 12 United will be in Houston when the Dynamo opens its new stadium. Three points at home are vital for United in an Eastern Conference table that is crowded below first place Sporting Kansas City.

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.