What's next for D.C. United?

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What's next for D.C. United?

What’s next? That has to be the question D.C. United and it supporters or asking after the Black and Red navigated through two games, two red cards, one hurricane, and one snow storm to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Houston Dynamo.

“This has been a long week and a half, this series seems like it was such a grueling time period,” said United’ head coach Ben Olsen. “There was just so much going on, but I believe in these guys. They gelled and they believed and sometimes belief is enough.”

United will be forced to make adjustments when it starts the series on Sunday in Houston. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid was red-carded in the decisive game two semi-final victory over the New York Red Bulls and Andy Najar, who was red-carded in game one of the series, has been hit with an additional two-game suspension.

Najar’s extra penalty was issued by MLS because it said, “Najar’s conduct put the league in disrepute.” Najar had thrown the ball at referee Jair Marrufo after being issued a yellow card.  To be sure United could use Najar’s solid defending and clever runs on the right flank, but the team’s depth has prevailed to this point.

Robbie Russell’s season was sidetracked by injury in mid-July, but he looked fully fit as Najar’s replacement on Thursday night. For United it made for a nice finishing touch to the script against the Red Bulls that Russell played the ball to Nick DeLeon for the game-winning goal in the 88th minute.

“I said I didn’t know he (Russell) had an assist in him,” said United midfielder Chris Pontius. “It was a beautiful ball and what a finish by Nick [DeLeon], especially in the 88th minute.”

It all goes back to January when head coach Ben Olsen expressed confidence in the depth his team. Olsen continues to be proven right especially in dealing with his back line. Starting left back Chris Korb missed Wednesday’s game with a hamstring injury, but natural midfielder Lewis Neal filled in at that position.

With Hamid out, Joe Willis will start in goal for United. On Thursday Willis stepped in after Hamid’s red card and saved Kenny Cooper’s penalty kick. Confidence in Willis has been high since his United debut in August of last season when he recorded a 4-0 shutout against Vancouver.

Willis went on to record two more shutouts in 2011 and emerged as the clear second-choice goalkeeper ahead of veteran Steve Cronin. Early this season Willis was called on when Bill Hamid was away for U.S. Olympic team duty. In nine starts Willis only lost twice and helped United launch into the season.

It is still hoped that maybe midfielder Dwayne De Rosario could factor for United in this series. United‘s unbeaten run is now nine games since De Rosario was forced to the sideline with a knee injury. For De Rosario it is more likely he could be a possible option for game two of the series against his old team.

De Rosario helped the Dynamo capture two MLS Cups including the 2007 final at R.F.K. Stadium. The Dynamo under head coach Dominic Kinnear has been an amazing franchise.  Players like De Rosario, Geoff Cameron, and Stuart Holden have come and gone, but Sunday will mark the fifth time in the Dynamo’s seven year history that it will play in the Eastern Conference final.

Under Kinnear’s direction, the Dynamo is a disciplined team that has also had a knack for developing talent. Will Bruin is having a career year with 12 goals in the regular season and now three goals and one assist in the post-season. On defense the Dynamo are particularly difficult to break down in the tight confines of BBVA Compass Stadium.

Even though it is the Dynamo’s own soccer specific stadium, Houston has kept the dimensions of its field similar to its old home Robertson Stadium.  The field at BBVA Compass is only 115 yards long and 70 yards wide. United has never won in Houston and the Dynamo has yet to lose at BBVA Compass in MLS play with a record of 12-0-6.

Maybe the Dynamo’s home record sets up well for United. The Black and Red is getting use to beating the odds.

 

It's official: U.S. Soccer hires Bruce Arena to replace Jurgen Klinsmann

It's official: U.S. Soccer hires Bruce Arena to replace Jurgen Klinsmann

NEW YORK – Bruce Arena is returning to coach the U.S. national soccer team, a decade after he was fired.

The winningest coach in American national team history, Arena took over Tuesday, one day after Jurgen Klinsmann was fired. The 65-year-old Arena starts work Dec. 1.

With the U.S. 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, the U.S. Soccer Federation wants to spark a turnaround when the playoffs resume March 24 with a home game against Honduras.

"His experience at the international level, understanding of the requirements needed to lead a team through World Cup qualifying, and proven ability to build a successful team were all aspects we felt were vital for the next coach," USSF President Sunil Gulati, who fired Arena in 2006, said in a statement. "I know Bruce will be fully committed to preparing the players for the next eight qualifying games and earning a berth to an eighth straight FIFA World Cup."

Arena first took over as national team coach after the 1998 World Cup and led the U.S. to a 71-30-29 record.

"I'm looking forward to working with a strong group of players that understand the challenge in front of them after the first two games," Arena said in a statement. "Working as a team, I'm confident that we'll take the right steps forward to qualify"

A wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk and sarcasm, he coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then led D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. He guided the Americans to the team's best World Cup finish since 1930, a 1-0 loss to Germany in the 2002 quarterfinals.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination by Ghana in 2006. Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Arena was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010.

RELATED: AFTER 18-MONTH DOWNWARD SPIRAL, KLINSMANN FALLS ON HIS OWN SWORD

Marquez's late goal lifts Mexico over US 2-1 in World Cup Qualifier

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USA TODAY Sports

Marquez's late goal lifts Mexico over US 2-1 in World Cup Qualifier

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Rafa Marquez scored on a header in the 89th minute, and Mexico beat the United States 2-1 Friday night in the Americans' first home loss in World Cup qualifying since 2001.

Miguel Layun put Mexico ahead in the 20th minute, but Bobby Wood tied the score in the 49th.

The U.S. dominated the second half before the 37-year-old Marquez, unmarked and drifting across the penalty area, got the back of his head on Layun's corner kick and lifted the ball over goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Guzan lost the goalkeeper job to Tim Howard, who started at the last two World Cups. But Howard injured his right leg on a goal kick and was replaced in the 40th minute.

The U.S. had beaten Mexico four straight times by 2-0 scores in home qualifiers -- all at Columbus -- and the Americans had been 30-0-2 at home in qualifying since a 3-2 loss to Honduras at Washington's RFK Stadium in September 2001.