They were up, then they were down, then they found a late leveler, but it was Theodore Ku-DiPietro’s 98th-minute winner that will define D.C. United’s 2023 season opener against Toronto FC.
Check out Sarah’s full recap and then dive into our thoughts on the 3-2 dub below. Be sure to jump in the comments, too, to let us know what caught your eye.
1. The kids are better than alright
The second half was not going well.
After a very solid first half gave the Black-and-Red a deserved lead through Mateusz Klich, TFC manager Bob Bradley’s halftime adjustments were the story of the second stanza, as the Reds had controlled the ball and the tempo, scoring two goals to take a lead of their own.
In the 86th minute, Wayne Rooney called on 18-year-old Jackson Hopkins and 17-year-old Kristian Fletcher. The two homegrown attackers joined 21-year-old Teddy KDP, who had come on 20 minutes earlier. It proved the pivotal decision of the night.
Hopkins provided width and industry on the right, but it was Fletcher and Ku—along with newly imported left back Mohanad Jeahze—who would steal the show. After combining to set up Christian Benteke’s 90th-minute equalizer, the stage was set:
The story around United this winter has been one of age and experience with the arrival of over-30 reinforcements like Klich and Pedro Santos. And they certainly delivered!
But for a night, Audi Field belonged to the kids. And if Rooney is to be believed, this likely won’t be the last time we’ll say that.
2. But let’s not pretend everything was good
Full marks to Jeahze for that pass in the 98th minute (his second assist on the night); we’ve heard very little about this signing but there has been quiet speculation that it could be one of the more impactful ones D.C. could make; this recent Opta piece equating him to Kai Wagner should make fans drool, as even if he misses, he could be the best left back the organization has seen in a decade.
But it wasn’t completely milk and honey for him, as he watched a ball go over his head and Richie Laryea chase it down to draw the penalty to level things initially, and he allowed Federico Bernardeschi to get by him and almost allow TFC to reclaim the lead late in the second half. Victor Palsson was presumably thrust into center back next to Akinmboni due to Steven Birnbaum’s illness and did himself few favors as well on the second goal, Mateusz Klich’s long-range, early first half shot was an introduction to what was otherwise a solid but anonymous night.
On the flip side, it should be noted that Klich’s central midfield partner Russell Canouse channeled some of the destroyer role that has led the team to wins in the past, and that performance hopefully keeps him in the lineup as health returns to the group.
I like the kids and I like Ku, and I’ve seen him grow into a guy who should be part of the rotation. And yet Ted’s 76th minute half volley shot thing near goal was the first shot the team took in the second half on a TFC backline that was also playing their first game that counted in the standings. I like the olds, I am an old, but the olds had a performance that is going to need to improve over the course of this very long season.
To build on this point, United effectively tripled their expected goals number based on the shots they took Saturday night, and before the game-tying-and-winning flurry at the end, had created all of 0.5 xG. The defense had some rough moments, but the attack simply asked too little of Sean Johnson and Toronto’s back line.
Getting the rust knocked off both physically and mentally will help, as will growing connections and understanding among the squad.
3. Audi Field shines on Apple TV
Buzzard Point was rocking last night. The Chico Stand was full and loud, and the noise, by all accounts, was palpable all over the building.
The supporters’ groups organized a march to the stadium, and, friends, it delivered.
Once the game started, the noise and passion came through loud and clear on the feeds carried on Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass. Which speaks to the supporters and the new streaming setup.
We all know the Chico Stand is the beating heart of Audi Field, and the support and atmosphere in the building will live and die with the north end. After the draining season we all lived through in 2022, to see and hear the stand at capacity and full volume out of the gate in 2023 is something special.
As for the streaming telecast, it was frankly a strong debut from Apple and MLS. As has been noted elsewhere, the sound mix set the crowd volume at a level high enough that the stadium atmosphere—the differentiator MLS has going for it—conveyed to the home viewer in a way it never consistently did in previous years. Extra microphones and smart placement ensured one person’s voice didn’t dominate the soundscape, while the increased number of cameras and strong directing choices from the production truck made the night feel like an Event.
There are still some kinks to iron out on the production side, but the starting point is a lot higher than I think any of us could have expected.
And as long as the supporters and everyone else around the stadium keep bringing it, viewers will feel it at home.
Let us know in the comments what you’re taking away from the season opener—besides the three points.