The Washington Post Sunday
United opens Losada era with fun, frenetic victory
D.C. UNITED 2, NEW YORK CITY FC 1
In the months leading up to his D.C. United coaching debut Saturday night, Hernán Losada promised energy and enterprise, dogged pressure and rapid transition.
Establishing a new way of thinking and playing would, for the time being, be more important than the results. The points, he said, would come — maybe not right away and probably not with a third of the roster injured and almost everyone else lacking the proper fitness for his demanding ways.
As a new era dawned at Audi Field, United performed the way Losada anticipated, with a big exception. It won.
Brendan Hines-Ike and Russell Canouse scored brilliant goals five minutes apart late in the first half as the hosts came from behind to defeat New York City FC, 2-1.
It was frenetic and fun, lifting United from the doldrums of a 5-12-6 season last year and a long offseason highlighted by the arrival of an Argentine with less than two years of head coaching experience.
“They run until the very last second. They went into every duel like it was the last one,” Losada said. “That is the only way for D.C. United. After seven weeks the way we work [in training camp], it’s
beautiful to see a reward for the whole group.”
It brought joy to a crowd of 4,500, the first home spectators since March 2020. The drums and flags in the section occupied by supporters’ groups were welcome sights and sounds after a year of empty seats, artificial noise and shouting players echoing in the vacant stadium.
The opener also brought a new formation and style, featuring wing backs instead of traditional fullbacks and three forwards instead of one or two. It introduced a pressing, proactive and sometimes chaotic style by United that created trouble for itself and its opponent.
“It was fun to be out there,” Canouse said. “It was a joy to be back in front of the home fans and go after a game like that, play with that kind of energy.”
United’s lineup was missing more than half of the probable starters because of injuries: Bill Hamid, Steven Birnbaum, Donovan Pines, Paul Arriola, Yordy Reyna and Ola Kamara. In all, 10 players were unavailable. MLS this season allows nine players on the bench; United managed eight.
The starters included defender Tony Alfaro, a free agent who signed this past week, and striker Erik Sorga, who scored once last year.
United was messy in the early moments, committing fouls in dangerous spots. Ismael TajouriShradi powered a free kick off the crossbar, and in the 15th minute, Anton Tinnerholm drove a low cross through the six-yard box, where Hines-Ike and Valentín Castellanos stabbed it into the far corner of the net. Castellanos was credited with the goal.
United was the aggressor for the rest of the half, launching confident forays that carried growing promise.
“After that goal,” Losada said, “we were the better team.”
The equalizer came in the 39th minute. Júnior Moreno did the dirty work to win the ball, laying it off to Hines-Ike for a 28-yard one-timer that took flight, tailed away from leaping goalkeeper Sean Johnson and splashed into the top right corner.
Defenders do not score often. Defenders certainly do not score often on ferocious strikes from long range. It was Hines-Ike’s fourth goal in league play in a six-season career that began in Europe.
United sustained the pressure, and on a 44th-minute corner kick, it claimed the lead on another goal from distance by a light scorer.
Instead of serving the ball into the tangle of players in the penalty area, Julian Gressel lofted it to Canouse unmarked at the top of the box. With time and space, the defensive midfielder volleyed with perfect placement to the low far corner beyond Johnson’s reach for his fourth goal in five seasons.
At halftime, United left to a standing ovation from an audience that had been famished for goals and excitement.
“We didn’t want the first half to end,” Hines-Ike said, “because the third [goal] was there for the taking.”
In the second half, United kept its shape and composure, drawing cheers for pressure that forced giveaways deep in the visitors’ end.
In the 84th minute, Chris Seitz made a terrific save on Castellanos’s near-post bid from close range.
United saw out five minutes of stoppage time to complete its season-opening surprise. When the final whistle sounded, assistant Nicolás Frutos bear-hugged Losada and lifted him off his feet.
“I still believe we can be a lot better than we were tonight,” Losada said. “That’s why I am so happy with the points against a very good opponent. It’s beautiful to start the season this way.”
Notes: Andy Najar, the 2010 MLS rookie of the year, made his return to United after eight years away, entering in the closing moments . . . .
The match was the first season opener since 1997 that Ben Olsen, Losada’s predecessor, was not on the roster or coaching staff. Olsen, now a front-office adviser, was in attendance . . . .
United will play its next three on the road (New England, San Jose and Columbus) before returning home May 13 against Chicago.