Soccer

United looking to clinch playoff spot

chris-pontius-united-crew.jpg

United looking to clinch playoff spot

Watch D.C. United battle the Columbus Crew NOW on CSN!

D.C. United and the Columbus Crew are two of Major League Soccer’s original franchises and they have shared plenty of drama. There is more on the way Saturday at R.F.K. Stadium when the two teams meet in game with major playoff implications.

For United it is real simple. A win or tie against the Crew will secure United’s first playoff berth since the 2007 season. The current playoff drought is similar to the stretch from 2000-2002 when United also failed make the post season. United ended that drought in dramatic fashion when they went on to win MLS Cup 2004.

“We are not thinking beyond making the playoffs,” said United’ head coach Ben Olsen. “I think this team has improved from last year. I think that is pretty evident. That is enough. We still have to get in the playoffs to make that progress valid.”

That the Crew is involved in such an important match for United is nothing new. In the early years of MLS United against the Crew was one of the league’s strongest rivalries. In three seasons from 1997-1999 United eliminated the Crew in the playoffs to advance to the championship game.

More recently it was the Crew that prevented United from being a part of the 2008 MLS Cup playoffs. United was only a year removed from winning the Supporter’s Shield in 2007 and needed a win against the Crew on the final day of the 2008 season to make the playoffs. The Crew won at home 1-0.

This time it is Columbus that is facing an almost must-win situation against United. The Crew is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and only one point behind Houston for a playoff spot. The Crew has been resilient getting late goals in its last two games to secure valuable points. A loss to United would not eliminate the Crew, but make its road to the playoffs more complicated.

The loss of Dwayne De Rosario to a knee injury in Canada’s now failed World Cup bid was expected to complicate United’s post season path. De Rosario has been missed, but United is unbeaten in five games without him. United has secured points from its last four games with just one goal in each game.

“We have put balls away when we have needed to,” United leading scorer Chris Pontius. “Our defense has been clutch. Obviously I would like to get the offense going. We have had De Ro (Dwayne De Rosario) out and we have had to shuffle guys in. But part of it has been sloppiness on offense by me and some other guys.”

In the last four games United has received its four goals from four different scorers. Lionard Pajoy saved United in a road win over Philadelphia. Branko Boskovic delivered  United a 1-0 win over Chivas USA. Chris Ponitus scored in a 1-1 draw with Portland and in it s last game Hamdi Salihi’s 88th minute goal was the difference in a1-0 win at Toronto.

For Salihi it was his first goal since the end of June and a credit to United’s team spirit. Roles have changed on both offense and defense, but as team the players have stayed together. Now for the first time since 2007 United has a chance to determine its playoff fate before the final day of the season. It would be helpful with United closing the season at Chicago.

“When I first realized we had the opportunity to do it (make playoffs) in front of our fans that added extra incentive on top of everything,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid who grew up a United fan. “The fans deserve this opportunity as well. They have been with us through thick and thin and they deserve an opportunity to celebrate with us.”

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

audi-field-silhouette.jpg
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.