United look to make dreams a reality vs. Dynamo

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United look to make dreams a reality vs. Dynamo

If D.C. United can turn belief into goals, then the Black and Red will make it through to their sixth MLS Cup appearance. The home side is confident, but the reality is United is down two goals heading into Sunday's Eastern Conference finale against Houston at R.F.K. Stadium.

It's a total-goal series and the Dynamo is in the lead in its bid to return to MLS Cup for a second consecutive year after a 3-1 win over United last Sunday. The Dynamo entered the post-season as the last seed in the Eastern Conference, but reached this point with a win over Chicago and two-goal victory in game one of its series with Sporting Kansas City.

"We cannot go out and expect to get two goals in the first ten minutes," said United midfielder Perry Kitchen. "We expect them to have a similar approach to when they played K.C. in K.C. with the same sort of scenario. They might sit back and with stand the pressure. We need to be patient; we need to move the ball, still keep the width, and hopefully get chances."

A two-goal cushion was enough to put the Dynamo through to the Eastern Conference finals after a 1-0 loss to Kansas City in the second leg. United will be trying disrupt that pattern by the Dynamo and is hoping the return of Bill Hamid from red card suspension and the availability of Dwyane De Rosario makes a difference.

De Rosario has been sidelined since mid-September with a knee injury suffered in a World Cup qualifier for Canada. Without De Rosario United surprisingly put together a nine-game unbeaten run. It is not clear if De Rosario will start, but his assistance will likely be needed for a team that is also dealing with other injuries.

"It does seem like a game that you might want to use a guy like Dwayne De Rosario, but a lot of things happen in ninety minutes of soccer," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "You prepare in certain ways and you have to be ready to adapt. Dwayne is pretty gutsy and he can find through more than your average player from my experience with him."

"We just have to get one first," added De Rosario, who sounded ready to have his number called. "We know we have to score multiple goals, but we have to get one first. If we get that first goal with the fans and playing at home everything else will follow with the momentum. We have to get that first one and of course we canít concede."

Certainly De Rosario, who won two MLS Cups with Houston, would be a welcome addition to United's team sheet. Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald and Marcelo Saragosa all failed to finish the first game in Houston because of injuries. Olsen called the groin injury to Pontius the most severe of his ailing players, but did not rule him out for Sunday.

Despite the injuries and two-goal deficit, United remains convinced it still has enough to earn a chance to host MLS Cup 2012. Recent history probably helps United believe with players like Lewis Neal, Branko Boskovic, and Hamdi Salihi all playing a part in decisive moments in allowing United to grab points and second place in the Eastern Conference.

"We have adequate backups and we know that everyone of us will be ready to step up regardless of who is in there," said Hamid. "Throughout the season we have had to lean on every single player in this locker room. We know anyone can go out there, stay tuned in and perform and get the job done."

Houston was on its heels in the first leg after a goal from United rookie Nick De Leon. The game then slowly unraveled for United after a no-call on a now much debated challenge by the Dynamo's Andre Hainault. Regardless of the call, the Dynamo showed its quality and playoff pedigree with three second-half goals.

"We can't be silly in particular on set pieces where they have shown they are pretty darn good at," said Olsen. "Of course we have to make things happen, but that's what we do at home. We know we have to be aggressive and go after them, but we have to be patient. It is that fine balance."

While the Dynamo has the most important factor, the score line, in its favor, United is looking forward to playing at home. The Black and Red worked hard to earn the home field advantage, although Hurricane Sandy forced them to surrender it in the New York series. Now United is hoping the wider field, Houston's field was only 115x70, and passionate fan base will make a difference.

"Every home game we come out and put our stamp on the game as early as possible," Hamid said. "If we do that then maybe the game opens up and we take advantages of some chances. If we take advantage of our chances and tuck those away, then we can definitely make our mark on this game."

United fans are counting on that and there is really no other option.

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.