Soccer

For playoff bye, D.C. United must go through Columbus Crew

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For playoff bye, D.C. United must go through Columbus Crew

A late season slumber by D.C. United that turned into a stumble and a six-game winless skid is now starting to seem more like a distance memory. On the heels of consecutive wins, United heads into a Sunday meeting against the Crew in Columbus in control of its playoff destiny.

With a win against the Crew, United will secure second place in the Eastern Conference and with it avoid the single-elimination knockout stage the third through sixth place finishers will have to face. A draw on Sunday and United could still finish in second place, but would need Montreal to win or tie in its home match against Toronto FC.

The Black and Red could drop as low as fourth place with a loss to the Crew, but on paper is in a better position to get a result. Columbus is missing offensive forces Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain because of card accumulation. Kamara and Higuain both received yellow cards in last week’s 2-0 win over Toronto.

United is coming off a resounding 4-0 win over the Chicago Fire last Sunday in its home finale. A crowd over 20,000 at RFK Stadium was treated to a performance that reminded fans why United spent most of the season on top of the Eastern Conference. It was the perfect encore for United to its playoff-clinching 2-1 win over New York City FC.

The challenge:

1. Finding the right mix. United head coach Ben Olsen has used the same starting eleven in the last two matches. It is quite a contrast for a United team that has had 29 different starting lineups this season. In both matches striker Alavaro Saborio was used as a substitute and in both matches he scored in the second half. With Saborio starting the game on the bench, it allows Olsen to partner Fabian Espindola with Chris Rolfe at forward. Simply put Rolfe, with 10 goals, is having a career year and he makes a difference being on the field. Chris Pontius is healthy and playing some of his best soccer in three seasons and has been joined in midfield on the opposite flank by Nick DeLeon who also has been in top form. Encouraging aggressive play by Pontius was rewarded with a goal last week and he has been working the right side to help him link up with outside back Sean Franklin. Just a few weeks ago it would be hard to imagine Saborio being used as a substitute, but now it might be the best option.

2. Beware of the weakened Crew. Make no mistake the loss of Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain is massive to the Crew. On 22 goals Kamara will not have a chance to compete for the Golden Goal. Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco is also on22 goals, but has more assists. With eight goals and nine assists Higuain is the one who has dictated the offense for the Crew from his central midfield position. The Crew has yet to play this season without at least Kamara or Higuain on the field. Higuain’s only miss this season was a 2-2 draw with Vancouver in their fourth week and Kamara’s lone absence was a 3-0 loss to FC Dallas. The danger for United will be dealing with the Crew’s outside options. From the back defender Waylon Francis, with six assists, is capable of igniting the Crew’s offense and flank players Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram are a concern.

MORE D.C. UNITED: DCU coach Ben Olsen discusses high-stakes game against Crew

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.