Soccer

DeLeon squares off with ROY rival candidate

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DeLeon squares off with ROY rival candidate

There's plenty on the line tonight when D.C. United and the Chicago Fire take the field for their final match of the regular season.  First and foremost: playoff seeding.  But beyond the overarching competition for second place in the Eastern Conference is an a equally fierce, and perhaps more colorful campaign for Rookie of the Year honors.  

Saturday evening's showdown in the Windy City will pit DCU rookie Nick DeLeon against Fire freshman Austin Berry.  The two are familiar foes.  Or perhaps more accurately, they're long-time friends, former teammates and roommates, turned rivals.  

"It's crazy," said DeLeon of the ROY competiton.  "Both coming from Louisville, it's just a reflection of how successful the program has become with Ken Lolla and Mario Sanchez. It's just a product of what they've put together there."

DeLeon, who jumped off to a fast start, scoring a goal in his 16-minute debut back in March and notching three goals and three assists before April was over, has experienced a historic yet inconsistent first year.

"It's been an up and down and then up again season for Nick," said DCU head coach Ben Olsen.  "He started off on fire and then hit the rookie wall, so to speak and he hit it for a while."

DeLeon suffered a hamstring injury in May that left him sidelined for four matches.  His minutes waned but his confidence never wavered.  

"As a rookie you hit a wall," explained United captain Chris Pontius.  "I hit it my rookie year and it's about how you respond and overcome it.  I think Nick did a great job of that.  As you can see in the last few games he's been phenomenal. I think that's a credit to Benny and the coaching staff for keeping him on track and more so a credit to Nick for being mentally strong and overcoming it."

"I think it's the mental toughness he had to keep going, keep fighting and keep pushing," said DCU defender Brandon McDonald.  "Obviously his body was tired, making that transition from college to the professional level isn't easy.  He did it and he came back at the right time."

The adjustment from the two-month college season to the eight-month professional season is anything but easy and affects every rookie differently. 

"I always joke that Perry Kitchen hit it for ten minutes and Nick hit it for a good month, month and a half where he just wasn't himself," said Olsen.  "Then he snapped out of it and since then he's been back to the Nick DeLeon that we saw earlier in the season."

DeLeon finally broke his scoring drought in August as he tallied D.C.'s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to Kansas City.  He grabbed another goal later that month and last week set a club record when he notched his sixth goal of the season at home against the Crew.

"It was probably the easiest I'll score this year," DeLeon said while smiling sheepishly about the Leonard Pajoy rebound he tapped home from the goal mouth.

That goal set a new D.C. United club record for most goals scored by a rookie, besting previous record-holders Santino Quaranta, Freddy Adu and Andy Najar.  

"I thought he beat my record!" Olsen exclaimed in disbelief when asked about DeLeon's accomplishment.  The head coach seemed to have been stewing over this distinction since Saturday.  "But didn't I have five goals my rookie year?!" he yelled to United Media Relations Manager Ryan Tronovitch, who stood by smiling.  "Check on that --I think I had five!"

Olsen had four as 1998's Rookie of the Year.

University of Louisville men's head soccer coach Ken Lolla isn't surprised at all by DeLeon's productive first season.  "We felt like of the guys we had that he was the one who was prepared physically, technically and maturity-wise to have the impact coming out."

DeLeon has made 27 appearances for the Black and Red this year, starting in 24 of them.  

"He has a disposition about him, a composure on the field that he doesn't get rattled," said Lolla.  "For a rookie to step in and pull not only the minutes he's pulled and have the impact he's had is a strong indication that he's grown a confident self image and feels he can handle the situations in front of him."

"You see the numbers that he's had but it's been more than numbers," said Pontius.  "His work has been great for us, he's a real threat to defenders.  I don't think anyone wants Nick around one-on-one."

And that's the part of his game DeLeon likes best. As the midfielder says in a recent viral video exchange between D. C. United and Chicago, he "eats defenders for breakfast." 

"I like to go at defenders.  I like to go one v. one.  When I say 'I eat defenders for breakfast' it means skin 'em, take them one v. one and either get a cross or shot off or just create something."

DeLeon's questionable breakfast choices became available for public consumption after Chicago's sponsor, Quaker Oats, featured Berry on a Life cereal box.  DCU's creative team fired back with a smiling DeLeon mowing down on a bowl of Life while proclaiming the catchy slogan. 

"It's fun to banter back and forth and a little trash talk here and there makes it fun," explained DeLeon. 

Chicago's creative team responded with this gem, in which Berry does his best impression of his former U of L teammate. 

"I called him immediately after I saw it just to talk a little stuff and congratulate him because it was a funny video," said DeLeon.  "Overall it just intensifies this next game and puts a lot of meaning on it for this final push."

Were ROY determined by witty retorts and highlight reels alone, Lolla admits DCU would have the edge, but the Cardinals coach doesn't take sides when it comes to accolades for his former players. 

"They've each had an impact on the success of their teams and they're both making the the playoffs so I think that's significant. I'm not going to put it on the line and vote for either one, I think they're both deserving."

But DeLeon's current coach doesn't shy away from taking sides. 

"I think Nick's had a very good year but I'm biased, right?" Olsen laughed. 

As much as he admitted he's enjoyed the back and forth, DeLeon assured that there'd be no video retort on his end. 

"I'll end it with play. I'm just going to go out there and give it everything I have and show everybody that way."

And what better way to sway voters than going up against your biggest rival with playoff positioning on the line?

How to watch D.C. United games in 2019

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USA TODAY Sports

How to watch D.C. United games in 2019

Hello, fellow Black and Red enthusiast! If you’re excited after 2018’s late-season run for D.C. United and the optimism it brings this spring - who could blame you?

The team largely returns intact, including homegrown keeper Bill Hamid, its three-headed monster of Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta and captain Wayne Rooney up front, and the squad added promising young midfielder Lucas Rodriguez to aid the attack.

But alas, the team announced a new multi-year deal with FloSports, putting the majority of their games solely in the streaming space. For those used to watching the squad on TV this comes as a shock, but never fear, we’re here to guide you to ensure you don’t miss any of the action this season.

What’s FloSports?

FloSports is a streaming service that will air all non-nationally televised D.C. United games in addition to original content on FloFC.com. The service is available to all residents in the DMV area, extending as far south as Richmond and all the way to Delaware. They’ll offer both English and Spanish commentary, all in high definition.

Ok, so how much does it cost?

The rate depends on a few factors. If you’re a season ticket holder, partner or a member of a supporter group (Screaming Eagles, Barra Brava, etc.), the price is $5.99 per month. For all others it’s $8.99 per month.

Can I only watch online?

Nope. FloSports can be accessed by downloading its app on iOS, Roku or Apple TV 4.

Are there any other ways to watch the team?

Yes. Audi Field is located in D.C. and offers better-than-high definition views of the team for 17 home matches this season.

What if I don’t want to pay?

Well pushy, 21 of the 34 league matches will be broadcast exclusively through FloSports, so that means 13 other matches will be nationally televised, either on ESPN, Fox Sports or UniMas.

Also, that number could grow later in the season based on the team’s performance and the whims of the major networks enforcing their programming flexibility.

When does the season start?

D.C. kicks off March 3rd against defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United FC on ESPN, where the team hopes to continue the run of results from its late season surge in 2018 and set the tone for a new campaign.

Can I borrow your password for FloSports so I can watch the games?

This article is over.

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.

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