Soccer

D.C. United looks to keep momentum

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D.C. United looks to keep momentum

Back in January D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen believed his 2012 Black and Red side had the talent and depth to not only be in the playoffs, but to advance in the playoffs. That belief has not been shaken by an injury to Dwayne De Rosario or a super storm named Sandy.

United’s new journey begins against an old foe when they host the New York Red Bulls Saturday in game one of the two-game Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semi-final. United had earned home field advantage, but Hurricane Sandy forced the reversal of home dates.

“I have always said I am not that concerned with the order in which the games are played,” Olsen noted before the decision was made to have United host the first game. “The advantage is the extra thirty minutes if you do get to that point. Can the crowd give you a little extra energy to get through that part and then the PK energy. A lot of times it never gets to that point so it is not a big deal.”

As a player Olsen never accepted excuses and he is the same way as a coach. United supporters no doubt remember the huge banner unfurled in the stands at R.F.K Stadium in June of 2008 for the nationally televised visit of David Beckham and the LA Galaxy. The banner read: Ben Olsen Heart of a Lion.

United in 2012 is playing in the image of its coach. How else do you explain a seven game unbeaten strike to end the season with De Rosario sidelined by a knee injury? No excuses, Olsen’s United has found a way. During that final stretch United only allowed two goals once and that was in a 3-2 playoff-clinching win over the Columbus Crew.

“People continue to think that we’re not for real and we are lucking out with some results,” Olsen added. “That’s okay with us; we will just keep on grinding out results.”

To add to United’s return to the post-season for the first time since 2007 is its opposition. It is a rivalry with some real bite, although United has had the better share of the results. In the playoffs United is 5-1-1 against New York and has won eight of the 11 Atlantic Cups’s contested between the teams in the regular season.

The emotion behind a rivalry is rooted in history and the spark was ignited in Major League Soccer’s first season when United and the MetroStars (as the Red Bulls were known then) met in the 1996 playoffs. United won the playoff series on a Marco Etcheverry penalty kick in the 89th minute of the decisive game three at R.F. K. Stadium. It kept United on course for its first league title.

“It is the fact that they (New York Red Bulls) have no trophies,” United defender Dejan Jakovic said when asked about motivation in the rivalry. “We want to keep it that way and we know the fans want to keep it that way. There is a lot of history and it is going to be a big matchup.”

This past season the offenses flowed when United and the Red Bulls met with 14 goals in three meetings.  United won the Atlantic Cup on total goals after the series finished 1-1-1. The playoffs usually offer a more defensive brand of soccer, although the Red Bulls are the third highest scoring team in the league.

“We are looking to disrupt their rhythm and get going offensively ourselves,” United midfielder Chris Pontius said. “As a team we have come together the past few weeks and the results have shown that we are a tough team to beat right now. I don’t think anyone looks forward to playing us.”

This will be the first playoff series for Pontius who just completed his third season.  The youth of United provides the contrast to this series. United players have collectively played in ten playoff games. New York has galaxy of stars with international experience including Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Marquez.

“They have more World Cup games than we have playoff games,” Olsen joked. “Look it’s a great group. They have put together a star studded lineup. They are playing very well and guys like Henry are playing at their tops. Henry is playing better than I have seen him play in America. It is a big challenge.”

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

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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.