Soccer

Who will be the hero of Game 2?

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Who will be the hero of Game 2?

For D.C. United to advance to the MLS Cup Championship, they're going to need someone -or likely a committee- to step up and play hero.

It won't be enough for DCU to simply win on Sunday. In order to fend off elimination, the Black and Red must beat Houston by two or more goals through 90. It's a feat they've accomplished seven times this season, and they'll have the advantage of making a go at eight on their home turf: a place where they haven't lost since Mar. 10.

But unfortunately for D.C., the usual suspects aren't 100 percent, and may not even be in the lineup on Sunday.  Chris Pontius (groin) and Dwayne De Rosario (knee) have contributed 66 percent of United's offense this season. De Rosario has not played a match since Sept. 11 and Pontius was forced to pull himself out of Sunday's match in Houston after just 12 minutes of play.

The jury is still out on either captain's return. De Rosario, listed as probable in the MLS Injury Report, has practiced regularly with the team for over a week now and teammates and coaches are hopeful about what they've seen.  Pontius returned to the pitch Thursday to participate in some drills but is listed as questionable in the latest injury report.

Houston, however, isn't taking any chances.

"We know they're going to play everybody that they can," said Dynamo forward Will Bruin. "They're trying to get guys back from injury as soon as possible, so we're expecting everybody to play. We're going to prepare as that [Pontius and De Rosario] are going to be in the lineup."

Bruin also said that his club is expecting an offensive onslaught from a hungry and desperate United.

But who will lead the charge?

Nick DeLeon has come up huge in each of United's three playoff games thus far.  You can credit the rookie midfielder with each of D.C.'s three postseason goals, all of them a result of some great, and somewhat lucky, positioning. In order to generate enough offense on Sunday, the Black and Red will not only need DeLeon to maintain his hot streak, they'll need some of that luck to rub off on forward Leonard Pajoy as well.

Pajoy, DCU's designated man up top, has yet to score in the postseason and did so just three times through 12 matches after joining the club in August. The forward's ability to put his strikes on target has increased almost 100 percent in the playoffs, but that still leaves Pajoy with just one shot on goal in each of the last three games.  He'll need a faster and more accurate trigger for United to survive the first 90 on Sunday.

"All year people have stepped up when we've needed them to," said DeLeon. "Someone who hasn't done anything special in one game, the next they're scoring the game-winning goal."

DeLeon falls into that category, as does Lewis Neal whose two goals this season were both game-winners scored just moments after being subbed on late in a game. In an ideal situation, Olsen would have full access to his arsenal on Sunday, but the team has shown that it is deep enough to get production from both the starters and backups. After De Rosario's injury, the club went unbeaten in the remaining seven games of the regular season. Their first, and only loss since losing the 2011 MLS MVP was last Sunday.

As Perry Kitchen knows, however, Game 2 won't just be about offense.

"We're going to be patient,"  the DCU defender explained. "The last thing we want to do is be sloppy and give up a goal, which is kind of the knife to the chest. We just have to be smart and execute the plan that we have."

In other words, heros won't just be needed up front, D.C. will also need one in net, where things look significantly better for the Black and Red. Bill Hamid will return from his mandatory one-game suspension. The keeper has a perfect save percentage this postseason, albeit he did commit an own goal and red card penalty in the New York series.

Though Bruin insisted that his club will look at Sunday's match as a must-win, Hamid won't likely be tested too much. Given the dire straights on the offensive side of the ball, however, and injuries forcing reshuffling in the backline, when shots are fired, Hamid must be heroic in order to keep United's hopes alive.

The odds are certainly against them, but United has already shown their ability to overcome adversity this season.

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.