Soccer

United look to avenge playoff loss to Red Bulls

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United look to avenge playoff loss to Red Bulls

It really is a new season for DC United. After a less then steady end to the regular season, including a six-game winless skid and a 5-0 thumping by Columbus to close the campaign, United is energized after rallying to beat New England 2-1 in the Knockout Round.

United’s energy and confidence will be put to the test against the New York Red Bulls Sunday at RFK Stadium in game one of the two-legged aggregate goal MLS Eastern Conference semifinal series.  The Red Bulls closed the regular season with four wins in their last five matches to not only claim first place in the conference, but the Supporter’s Shield for best record in the league.

United and the Red Bulls met last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals with the roles reversed from this season. United won the Eastern Conference last season and received a bye in the first round of the playoffs. It didn’t matter. The Red Bulls ambushed United at home in the first match of the series 2-0 and advanced after a 2-1 loss in Washington.

“I still believe this is the best rivalry in the league,” said United general manager Dave Kasper. The history between the two franchises in the playoffs goes back to the first year in 1996. There is no question the attitude around the club is we owe them (Red Bulls) from last year for putting off the playoffs and ending a promising season.”

To add to the challenge of United’s quest to avenge the 2014 playoff loss to the Red Bulls, defender Bobby Boswell will miss Sunday’s match.  Boswell was suspended for one game by the league’s disciplinary committee for an incident in Wednesday’s match.  Off the ball Boswell made contact with New England’s Juan Agudelo. Boswell at the time received a yellow and Agudelo was injured and was removed from the game.

The challenge:

  1. Living in the moment. Whether the players and coaches say it or not, United and Red Bulls want to play each other with something on the line. There really is an extra bite in training for United, and probably for the Red Bulls, leading up to a game between the two teams.  It has to do with history. United is sore about losing to the Red Bulls in the playoffs last year. Three years ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals United recovered from a 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls to pull out a 1-0 win in the second leg on Nick De Leon’s goal in the 88th minute. The win in that series led to the now famous quote by goalkeeper Bill Hamid, “You can’t hold us back, we are United.” In short the mental approach by the players in this series might be just as important as the skill on the field.
  2. Dealing with the Red Bulls. In 2015 the Red Bulls won the Atlantic Cup, the regular season competition with United, by securing two wins and a draw. In its wins the Red Bulls outscored United 5-0 and in earning a draw with the Black and Red rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 2-2 final.  The Red Bulls can score and found the back of the net 62 times this past season to United’s 45 goals.  Without Thierry Henry providing this service Bradley Wright-Phillips did not score 27 goals, but he still had a good season with 17 goals. The Red Bulls have a strong midfield with Sasha Kljestan orchestrating the creative while Dax McCarty and Felipe offer a mix of distribution and defense.
  3. The United way.  With Bobby Boswell suspended, it is likely United will go with either Kofi Opare or Markus Halsti in the center of defense with Steve Birnbaum.   Over the last month Halsti has been starting in the center of midfield with Davy Arnaud recovering from a concussion and Alvaro Saborio has been used as a substitute. That might change against the Red Bulls because Chris Pontius has been dealing with some tightness in his hamstring since Wednesday’s match. Pontius scored against the Revolution and has two goals in his last three matches. It would be a blow to United as well as Pontius has been playing if he is forced to the sideline, but it would open up an opportunity for Alvaro Saborio to return to the starting lineup with Chris Rolfe and Nick De Leon on the flanks. While Saborio has played some of his best soccer with United when used as second half substitute over the last month, the playoffs would be the perfect for him to rekindle his magic with Fabian Espindola.

 

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.