Soccer

Challenges mount for DC United

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Challenges mount for DC United

When the midway point of the Major League Soccer season was reached with D.C. United in first placed in the Eastern Conference, head coach Ben Olsen was quick to point out that goals were not achieved and that the teams work was far from over.

The workload seems even greater now. Sporting Kansas City is back in first place. The New York Red Bulls managed to survive the heat, and a mid-week match against Chicago, to take all three points and leap over D.C. into second place. Uniteds opponent on Saturday, the Columbus Crew, is in eighth place and should be highly motivated playing at home.

Last week at Crew Stadium, the Crew was blanked by Kansas City 2-0. Forward Emilio Renteria received a red car for a head butt of Paulo Nagamura and will miss the United match. The two argued after Renteria was fouled by Nagamura. Renteria only has two goals on the season, but the Crews leading scorer Eddie Gaven only has 4 goals.

The Crew in 20 matches has managed only 17 goals. Only Chivas USA, with 12 goals on the season, has found the back of the newt fewer times. Injuries have been a problem for the Crew, who lost midfielder Bernardo Anor to a torn ACL, and now the team has 11 players on its injured list.

A wounded team can be a dangerous team, but still the Crew has failed to show real bite in its attack and has been shutout six times. To stay at least within shouting distance of the playoff race the Crew has relied heavily on the goalkeeping of Andy Gruenebaum and the organizational skills of defender Chad Marshall. The Crew has only allowed 19 goals.

United has been playing with less swagger of. As they reached the seasons 17-pgame mark there were troubling signs. The Black and Red managed to hold on to a 3-2 win over New England at home. That was followed by a less than convincing 1-0 road win in Philadelphia and then a collapse in 3-2 loss away to the New York Red Bulls.

Last week United showed plenty of promise in the opening 15 minutes in Houston. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid received a red card in the 16th minute and United was reduced to ten-men. Sometimes down a man teams will play inspired and punch above their weight to get a result. It was not that way for United against the Dynamo.

I thought we could have been meaner, I thought we could have been angrier, Olsen said.
I thought our shape could have been better and you keep the game 1-0 as long as you can. We got a little stretched, and we got impatient.

The first 15 minutes, it was going back and forth, added midfielder Danny Cruz. We had a couple great chances and they had a couple great chances and then the red card changes the entire dynamic of the game. Hats off to them, scoring four goals is not easy to do whether you are up a man or not. We just have to learn from it."

Olsen and United now have to figure out the response to the 4-0 loss to the Dynamo. On the team sheet there will be changes with defender Robbie Russell out with a foot injury and midfielder Branko Boskovic nursing a calf strain. As he did against the Dynamo, Chris Korb likely will replace Russell, but Boskovics replacement is open for debate.

In the last two months Boskovic has played his best soccer with United. Putting Boskovic in an attacking midfield role and then pushing Dwayne De Rosario closer to goal seemed to be the teams way forward. The question now has to be whether De Rosario drops back in the midfield or will Olsen try someone else there and keep De Rosario as a withdrawn striker.

If De Rosario is back in midfield then it likely would mean Chris Pontius would return to forward. That shuffle would then open an opportunity for Nick De Leon to return to the starting lineup and play on the left flank. De Leon is due to get a a chance again to show the spark that made him look like the steal of the MLS draft in the opening two months of the season.

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

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USA Today Sports Images

Game Preview: Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns at Audi Field

The Washington Spirit, one of nine teams in the National Women's Soccer League, will pay a visit to Audi Field later this summer.

The game versus the Portland Thorns FC is scheduled for August 25 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased online via Ticketmaster and start at $31, but will also be available at the door. 

If you're looking for where to watch the Spirit take on the Thorns from the comfort of your own couch, the game will be broadcast on ESPNews starting at 7:38 pm. Dalen Cuff is set to host the pregame show, with USA Women's National Team alumnus Aly Wagner commentating alongside Jenn Hildreth, in her second season of NWSL coverage.

Considering the recent addition of the legendary Wayne Rooney and their move to the new facility, DC United has a lot to celebrate.

Audi Field, which opened in Washington D.C.'s Buzzard Point on July 9, seats 20,000 spectators. For DC United, who previously played at RFK Stadium, the capacity is a step down from the almost 46,000 seats at RFK. But for the Spirit, who call Germantown's Maryland Soccerplex their home, the audience will hopefully far outnumber the Plex's usual 3,000 to 4,000 spectators.

The Spirit have struggled this season, with an unusually high amound of draws and more losses than wins. Though fan favorite and star forward Mallory Pugh is still sidelined with a PCL sprain, the team hopes to improve their ability to close one-goal deficits and gain a sustained offensive advantage. 

Aside from the Audi Field game, the Spirit will host two more home games this season. Utah Royals FC will visit the Soccerplex on Wednesday, August 22, and Sky Blue FC will close out the Spirit's home season on Saturday, September 1. Tickets for either game at their usual field can be purchased through the Washington Spirit's website or upon entry. 

If you haven't paid attention to women's soccer since the USWNT's 2015 World Cup victory, no worries. There's no better time than the present to support women's pro sports. Regardless of the end result, Portland vs. Washington will be a great match-up to watch, and the event has already made DC sports history.

MORE DC SPORTS NEWS:

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Wayne Rooney stuns D.C. soccer fans with surprise appearance during World Cup viewing

Washington Dulles International Airport was flooded by soccer fans alike Thursday afternoon awaiting the arrival of one specific person inside the international arrivals terminal: England's all-time goalscorer Wayne Rooney. 

Over 100 fans packed the halls as the 32-year-old made his way out of the airport while posing for pictures and signing autographs. 

Rooney penned a two-and-a-half year guaranteed contract worth about $13 million, which makes him the highest-paid player in D.C. United history. 

He officially becomes available to play for the club beginning July 10, after the transfer window opens. This means his first game could potentially be against Vancouver inside the brand new Audi Field July 10. 

After greeting fans at the airport, Rooney and his camp piled into two blacks SUVs en route to Northeast D.C. 

Little did World Cup fans taking in the England-Belgium match at Wunder Garten know that they were about to be surprised by Wayne Rooney himself. 

In an appearance that lasted just over seven minutes and included a slew of selfies, short conversations and one television interview, Rooney's presence dazzled fans and left others stunned. 

One England native who is now a D.C. resident told me: "We grew up watching him (Rooney) score in the World Cup and that was really important to us. It's hard to believe he just walked through here."

As you would imagine, management at Wunder Garten was thrilled, too.  

"It was great for us because it put us on the map. For someone as famous as Wayne Rooney to come through our establishment, shake hands and hang out, that means a lot. We loved having him here and would love to have him back," said Michael Keller, a member of the bar's management staff. 

 The Englishman will have his hands full as he attempts to put D.C. United back on the map this season. 

Follow Rooney on Twitter and Instagram @WayneRooney.