D.C. United kicked off the 2023 campaign by snagging all three points at Audi Field, sending Toronto FC home empty-handed.
The offseason left us uncertain about what we would see from head coach Wayne Rooney and the Black-and-Red formation-wise due to a roster that is clearly still a work in progress. Mentality-wise, however, we are crystal clear on what our expectations should be. Rooney has been adamant that each player must earn their time on the pitch and unwaveringly show up to win at each and every match.
Mounting their attack early toward the Chico Stand, D.C. started the match with the upper hand. The Black-and-Red staged a threatening press and tested Toronto’s defense with a series of attempts to find a way to Sean Johnson. In the 13′, the pressure paid off. Star signing Mateusz Klich found an opening to slip a shot past Johnson and open his account in Black-and-Red in front of a cheering home crowd.
After the match, Klich told The District Press, “I think we showed today the way we want to play and then how we want to win the games. And we can be very successful, very organized and dangerous because we have players to do it.”
While D.C. United remained on the front foot for much of the first half; Toronto’s Ayo Akinola found his way past the Black-and-Red’s back line to make a dangerous run at Tyler Miller. A stumble kept D.C. in the lead, but Akinola came back for more, weaving around Victor Pálsson and firing off a dangerous shot that thankfully hit the post.
Closing out the first half, the Black-and-Red held the lead, 1-0. Toronto responded with tenacity, going on the offensive to route out any opportunity on goal.
The second half was fiery, despite the steadily dropping temperatures at Buzzard Point. D.C. and Toronto, each struggled to gain an edge. In the 65′, Richie Laryea drew a penalty after a dustup with Matai Akinmboni. DP Federico Bernardeschi stepped up to take the penalty for Toronto, converting to put the visitors on the board in the 66′.
Toronto didn’t have to wait long to find another opportunity, Mark-Anthony Kaye capitalized on a shot deflected by D.C.’s Miller to rebound and find the back of the net in the 83′. The tension seemed to balloon as supporters’ hopes dipped. Just last season, the Black-and-Red would usually be overcome by an opponent’s late lead.
Something has shifted through the offseason, though. The Black-and-Red might have been down 1-2 in the waning moments of the match but certainly not out.
Christian Benteke found the equalizer at the death, capitalizing on a cross by Ted Ku-DiPietro to snap a header past Sean Johnson. The crowd burst to life. Their cheers were so loud you’d think the home side had already won.
Eight minutes of stoppage time would make all the difference for the Black-and-Red. In the final moment of the match, Mohanad Jeahze found a waiting Ku-DiPietro in the center of the box. Ku-DiPietro fired the final shot of the match and buried it in the net to seal the win and claim all three points for D.C. United.
In the end, it was their mentality that pushed D.C. United to a strong comeback against Toronto. Rooney said, “especially throughout the preseason, we spent a lot of time with the players creating that mindset and mentality and character to keep going, and I actually said before the game there’s a possibility you might be losing the game and someone will come off the bench and win the game. And it’s exactly what happened.”
D.C. United next faces Columbus Crew at Lower.com Field on March 4 at 7:30 pm ET.
- Klich is a danger to the Black-and-Red’s opposition. Scoring in the 13′, Klich easily found an early opportunity against Toronto. Given his record, we’re anticipating many more goals to come this season.
- Miller brings relief to D.C.’s defense (and the rest of us). After an anxiety-inducing patch for Black-and-Red goalkeepers, Miller’s competence is a breath of fresh air.
- The right mentality. Wayne Rooney has demanded the Black-and-Red embrace a winning mentality over the offseason and into the preseason. The way the team showed up tonight against Toronto and fought to a dramatic comeback isn’t something we’ll soon forget. We look forward to seeing this mental toughness on display as the season wears on.
MLS Regular Season – Game 1
D.C. United: 3 Klich 13′, Benteke 90′, Ku-DiPietro 90′ + 8′
Toronto FC: 2 Bernardeschi 66′, Kaye 83′
D.C. United: Tyler Miller, Mohanad Jeahze, Pedro Santos (Jackson Hopkins 86′), Andy Najar, Matai Akinmboni (Steven Birnbaum 78′), Russell Canouse, Chris Durkin (Kristian Fletcher 86′), Mateusz Klich, Victor Pálsson, Nigel Robertha (Ted Ku-DiPietro 67′), Christian Benteke
Toronto FC: Sean Johnson, Matt Hedges, Sigurd Rosted, Richie Laryea, Raoul Petretta, Michael Bradley, Federico Bernardeschi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Jonathan Osorio, Lorenzo Insigne (Ayo Akinola 34′), Adama Diomande (Brandon Servania 77′)
D.C. United: Canouse 56′, Benteke 60′
Toronto FC: Bernardeschi 79′, Laryea 85′