Soccer

D.C. United eliminated after draw with Houston

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D.C. United eliminated after draw with Houston

United knew the challenge was formidable: win by three or more goals in order to advance. They also knew they’d need to so without the aid of their leading goal-scorer, Chris Pontius, and a bruised up backline that dearly missed the services of Brandon McDonald.

Unfortunately, the task would prove too difficult for the Black and Red and instead of advancing to their first MLS Cup Final since 2004, the Houston Dynamo will make their second consecutive appearance.

"It’s a lot to ask but we worked our tails off," said DCU defender Perry Kitchen. "We had our chances and it just wasn’t meant to be."

Despite controlling possession and outshooting the Dynamo six shots to three in the first half, United failed to produce on offense and allowed Houston to deliver the final dagger in the 33rd minute. 

Driving to the DCU net, Brad Davis escaped Dejan Jakovic’s slide tackle and chipped one into the box for Boniek Garcia to blast by Bill Hamid. The goal put Houston up 1-0 and United into a three-goal hole.

"We talked about keeping [Houston at] zero," said United coach Ben Olsen. "As much this game was about offense and us having to score a bunch of goals, it was also about keeping them off the board."

"We all still believed. It was still doable," said Hamid. "We sure had enough chances to get back in the game even after the goal that we let in. It’s unfortunate. We played our hearts out and never gave up."

In the second half, Dwayne De Rosario returned to the pitch for United for the first time since suffering a grade 3 MCL injury in early September.

"At that point we’re throwing the kitchen sink and trying to get some looks –and we did, said Olsen. "I think we could have made it a bit more interesting down the stretch if we’d had a little bit more composure in front of goal."

As D.C. United’s patched-up roster continued to press, sending 13 shots to the Houston net, five on target, they did so to the detriment of their defense. United allowed several breakaways on the counter attack in the second half, forcing Hamid to make more saves than the keeper, returning after his one-game red card suspension, would have liked.

Though the Black and Red were able to work De Rosario back into their lineup, defensive authority Brandon McDonald and lead goal-scorer Pontius were unable to return for the deciding match. Though Pontius had been listed as questionable with a groin strain, Olsen admitted after the match that there was no chance of seeing the captain back on the pitch. 

"At some point it’s just not going to be good enough down the stretch if you have injuries and you’re not playing with your full squad," said Olsen. "But I’m glad we hung on this long."

Luckily for United, they would not permit another Houston goal, and were finally able to produce one of their own late in the half as Branko Bokovic notched the equalizer. Unfortunately though, DCU could not undo the 3-goal deficit and their long-awaited playoff run came to an end Sunday night. 

For United it was a bitter ending to an otherwise benchmark season, which included an 19-game unbeaten streak at home and their first playoff berth in five years. 

"I think we can look back and say we had a hell of a year," said Kitchen. "It was unbelievable at times so we should keep our heads high and be proud of everything we’ve done.

"It’s definitely bittersweet because we wanted to win this whole thing, that’s the goal for every team. It’s been a tough year. Nothing’s been handed to us. We’ve had to fight for everything. We’ve battled through injuries and have always found a way. We just fell short this series but we know we’ll be back for years to come and I think this is a great stepping stone to get this club back to where it’s used to being."

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.