United hopes to avoid trap against Toronto

655092.png

United hopes to avoid trap against Toronto

Two teams in very different places collide Saturday at R.F.K Stadium. D.C. United is tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and has not lost at home since the season opener. Toronto FC has yet to win this season and is coming off the cruelest of road ties.

Torontos last MLS match was the 2-0 loss at home to D.C. United on May 5. Since then Toronto has advanced to the Canadian Championship Final series, but in the opening leg ended up settling for a 1-1 tie on the road Wednesday against Vancouver. The Whitecaps tied the game in the 91st minute.

Eric Hasslis equalizer was a volley rocketed from 14-yards out and fit perfectly in Torontos MLS season of woe. In stumbling to a 0-8 record, Toronto has only led in a league match once and has twice given up goals in the opening ten minutes of matches and lost once in stoppage time.

Those are always tricky, United head coach Ben Olsen said of playing a winless team. They are a pretty desperate team. They are playing much better in the past couple of weeks and they have some keys guys back healthy. We have to be focused and expect a challenge, but we are at home and should take care of them.

Former German international and team captain Torsten Frings missed six games with a hamstring injury and then suffered another setback when he injured his shoulder against D.C. United. While TFC is waiting to get Frings back, it is encouraged that forward Danny Koevermans was healthy enough after a groin strain to be used as a substitute in Vancouver.

United knows all too well about dealing with injuries, but played through a crowded training room and turned in arguably its most complete performance of the season in a 2-0 win midweek against Colorado. Lewis Neal, Branko Boskovic, and Hamdi Salihi were pressed into starting roles and combined on the second goal.

I think we complicated some of the plays in the first half. Early it was sharp and moving, and then we started taking three instead of two touches and complicating the game. Overall, it was a pretty good performance. I was very happy with the depth from some of the guys that havent had 90 minutes. They did a good job.

With Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos out with injuries, Boskovic started in an attacking midfield role with Dwayne De Rosario pushed forward. For Boskovic it was his best game since coming to United in late 2010. He had three shots on target and his fourth shot led to Hamdi Salihis goal. On seven corner kicks, Boskovic also impressed.

Salihi is one of Uniteds three designated players now has three goals in his last four games. It was his first as a starter. Playing with De Rosario up top also allowed Salihi more space for his precise runs. With De Rosario drawing defenders, Salihi was in better position to finish. Neal answered Olsens challenge to be more of an offensive threat on the flank with more crosses.

Ive said from the first game that I like it when I come out here, because we have a clear idea of how we want to work, and we work this way every day, Salihi said. And now everybody can see that every day this is working better and better.

It would seem likely that Salihi would get another start Saturday, but after that Olsens lineup is less clear. It has been a congested schedule with five games in seventeen days and the injury list remains long. Central defenders Emiliano Dudar and Dejan Jakoic are sill nursing injuries and are only listed as probable. Fortunately Daniel Woolard has adjusted to a switch inside from outside back.

Daniel Woolard really seems to like center back, so now Ive got to deal with that, Olsen added. Its a nice problem to have because hes been really good in there, and Brandon McDonalds been a rock as of late. Hes physically been an ironman through this.

D.C. United is closing in on a two-week break after next Saturdays game against New England. They are close to being able to have a chance to heal physically. Mentally United seems to be together. Avoiding a stumble against Toronto will help keep it that way.

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.