United looking to clinch playoff spot

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United looking to clinch playoff spot

Watch D.C. United battle the Columbus Crew NOW on CSN!

D.C. United and the Columbus Crew are two of Major League Soccer’s original franchises and they have shared plenty of drama. There is more on the way Saturday at R.F.K. Stadium when the two teams meet in game with major playoff implications.

For United it is real simple. A win or tie against the Crew will secure United’s first playoff berth since the 2007 season. The current playoff drought is similar to the stretch from 2000-2002 when United also failed make the post season. United ended that drought in dramatic fashion when they went on to win MLS Cup 2004.

“We are not thinking beyond making the playoffs,” said United’ head coach Ben Olsen. “I think this team has improved from last year. I think that is pretty evident. That is enough. We still have to get in the playoffs to make that progress valid.”

That the Crew is involved in such an important match for United is nothing new. In the early years of MLS United against the Crew was one of the league’s strongest rivalries. In three seasons from 1997-1999 United eliminated the Crew in the playoffs to advance to the championship game.

More recently it was the Crew that prevented United from being a part of the 2008 MLS Cup playoffs. United was only a year removed from winning the Supporter’s Shield in 2007 and needed a win against the Crew on the final day of the 2008 season to make the playoffs. The Crew won at home 1-0.

This time it is Columbus that is facing an almost must-win situation against United. The Crew is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and only one point behind Houston for a playoff spot. The Crew has been resilient getting late goals in its last two games to secure valuable points. A loss to United would not eliminate the Crew, but make its road to the playoffs more complicated.

The loss of Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury in Canada’s now failed World Cup bid was expected to complicate United’s post season path. De Rosario has been missed, but United is unbeaten in five games without him. United has secured points from its last four games with just one goal in each game.

“We have put balls away when we have needed to,” United leading scorer Chris Pontius. “Our defense has been clutch. Obviously I would like to get the offense going. We have had De Ro (Dwayne De Rosario) out and we have had to shuffle guys in. But part of it has been sloppiness on offense by me and some other guys.”

In the last four games United has received its four goals from four different scorers. Lionard Pajoy saved United in a road win over Philadelphia. Branko Boskovic delivered  United a 1-0 win over Chivas USA. Chris Ponitus scored in a 1-1 draw with Portland and in it s last game Hamdi Salihi’s 88th minute goal was the difference in a1-0 win at Toronto.

For Salihi it was his first goal since the end of June and a credit to United’s team spirit. Roles have changed on both offense and defense, but as team the players have stayed together. Now for the first time since 2007 United has a chance to determine its playoff fate before the final day of the season. It would be helpful with United closing the season at Chicago.

“When I first realized we had the opportunity to do it (make playoffs) in front of our fans that added extra incentive on top of everything,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid who grew up a United fan. “The fans deserve this opportunity as well. They have been with us through thick and thin and they deserve an opportunity to celebrate with us.”

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.