Weary United looks for breakthrough on the road

Weary United looks for breakthrough on the road

The Major League Soccers schedule makers must have a sense or humor. To be sure it must be a twisted sense of humor. The busiest stretch of Uniteds season, five games in 14 days, ends in a place where the Black and Red has only one win in seven tries.

To add to the challenge of Saturday's match in Salt Lake City, United is just not a good road team right now. For all its success at R.F.K. Stadium, only one loss, United has lost five consecutive road games. During that road slide United has been shut out three times and outscored 13-3.

Uniteds last win away from home was an unconvincing 1-0 victory in June at Philadelphia. To add to the concern, Uniteds last two matches at home have been ties that ended up stinging as much as losses. Wednesdays 2-2 draw with New York included Dwayne De Rosarios 100th career goal, but then the Red Bulls equalized in the 88th minute.

A point is okay. We continue to do okay at home, said United head coach Ben Olsen. Im upset we couldnt get a win on the day he (De Rosario) gets his 100th, but he lead by example and I thought it was a good performance from him.

De Rosario is reasserting his leadership role with United. After alternating for most of the season between withdrawn forward and attacking midfielder, De Rosario seems to have settled into a role closer to goal. In 25 games De Rosario has been a forward 12 times and a midfielder 13 times.

Now for United it is in part about finding a true strike partnership up top. Leading scorer Chris Pontius, who has appeared in ten games at forward, has been on the flanks in midfield for six of his last seven starts. Maicon Santos had a stretch of six goals in six games early in the season, but has been saddled with injuries and has only one goal since April 28.

The need for help at forward triggered United to trade Danny Cruz to Philadelphia for Lionard Pajoy. In four games with United Pajoy has one goal, but he has been active and also demonstrated a strength to be able to hold the ball in the final third. The final element for Pajoy, who had five goals in 20 games with the Union, is to develop chemistry with United.

Were very lucky we have him, De Rosario said of Pajoy. The amount of ground he covers is pretty impressive. Hes played more minutes this week than anybody and he just keeps going. He holds the ball up well and hes a handful for defenders.

It is also encouraging for United that rookie Nick DeLeon is healthy and seems to have emerged from a freshman slump. After scoring three goals in the first month of his career, DeLeon did not ignite again until August and now has two goals in the last four matches. In addition his assist on De Rosarios 100th career goal is of the highest quality.

In Real Salt Lake, United will have to deal with a high caliber team. Real is two wins away from becoming the first team since D.C. from 2005-2007 to win 15 games in three consecutive seasons.

Like United, Real had a fairly busy August with four league matches and one CONCACAF Champions League encounter. It was not the best of months for Real with a three game losing streak, including a 2-1 loss at home to Dallas, that was finally ended with a 0-0 draw last Friday in Philadelphia.

Getting a clean sheet and a point in Philadelphia provided a lift for Real. The 0-0 tie came at the end of a grueling stretch of three games in seven days, but also highlighted Reals offensive woes. In their last five games Real has only scored four goals with three coming from forward Alvaro Saborio.

Dealing with Reals midfield will be a high priority for United. U.S. Mens National Team star Kyle Beckerman provides support and wins balls to allow Javier Morales to be a creative force. It has not been an easy summer for Morales who has not scored since June 23rd and only has two assists since then.

For United as much as talent and skill against Real Salt Lake, they will need old fashioned grit and determination to break their road slide. Often in road matches United has unraveled at critical moments and needs to maintain focus.

I think the last five or six games weve been giving up goals on set pieces, De Rosario said. We really have to limit that. Someone has to commit himself, dive in front of the ball, jump in front of the ball, whatever the case is."

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.