D.C. United rallies late to beat Toronto FC 3-2 in wild MLS season opener

D.C. United rallies late to beat Toronto FC 3-2 in wild MLS season opener

Updated: 1 month, 4 days, 16 hours, 10 minutes, 27 seconds ago

WASHINGTON — Substitute Theodore Ku-Dipietro scored in the 98th minute as D.C. United completed a remarkable comeback to defeat Toronto FC 3-2 in a wild MLS season opener Saturday at Audi Field.

WASHINGTON — Substitute Theodore Ku-Dipietro scored in the 98th minute as D.C. United completed a remarkable comeback to defeat Toronto FC 3-2 in a wild MLS season opener Saturday at Audi Field.

The 21-year-old Ku-Dipietro poked the ball home from in front of goal for his first MLS strike after setting up Christian Benteke's tying goal in the 90th minute with a well-flighted cross for the Belgian international forward to head home.

Toronto seemed to have salvaged the points with Federico Bernardeschi scoring one goal and setting up another.

Bernardeschi scored from the penalty spot in the 66th minute to pull Toronto even and then, with a powerful free kick, set the table for Mark-Anthony Kaye's goal in the 83rd minute. D.C. goalkeeper Tyler Miller got a hand to Bernardeschi's rocket but Kaye reached the rebound first, acrobatically twisting his body to knock the ball home.

Adding to Toronto's pain, Italian star Lorenzo Insigne limped off in the first half.

D.C. had the better start and pulled ahead in the 13th minute when designated player Mateusz Klich, in his MLS debut, was allowed to drive unchallenged down the middle of the field. The Polish midfielder, who spent the last four seasons in England with Leeds United, beat Sean Johnson with a right-footed shot from outside the penalty box.

Things went from bad to worse in the first half with Insigne having to leave the pitch.

The former Napoli captain was running after the ball when he suddenly stopped, holding his groin area while holding up an arm to tell the Toronto bench that he had a problem. He returned briefly after treatment but hobbled off in the 34th minute, holding his head in his hands as he sat on the bench.

The star winger is the highest-paid player in the league with his salary listed at US$14 million last season. 

TFC looked more composed in the second half and Bernardeschi pulled Toronto even from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after fullback Richie Laryea was taken down by 16-year-old defender Matai Akinmboni. The Italian waited for r Miller to move and then calmly slotted the ball into the middle of the goal.

There was an edge to the game with some hard challenges in the second half.

Saturday's contest was a matchup of the league's two worst teams last season. 

Toronto (9-18-7) finished 27th overall, seven points ahead of cellar-dwelling D.C. (7-21-6). TFC and D.C. Prior too Saturday, Toronto and D.C. had each lost a league-worst 36 games since the start of the 2021 season. 

Toronto wrapped up the 2022 season with five straight losses, conceding four goals in four of the five games. D.C. won just one of its final 13 outings (1-9-3), a slide that ended with four straight defeats.

Toronto's last league win was Aug. 27, a 2-0 decision over Charlotte FC.

But with a total of 26 players moving on from the two teams in the off-season, it was a new start for both.

Toronto started five newcomers. Johnson manned the goal behind a revamped back four with newcomers Matt Hedges, Sigurd Rosted and Raoul Petretta joining the incumbent Laryea.

Norwegian international Adama Diomande, another off-season acquisition, started up front.

Captain Michael Bradley was joined in the midfield by Canadians Jonathan Osorio and Kaye with Insigne and Bernardeschi flanking Diomande.

Miller started in the D.C. goal with former TFC 'keeper Alex Bono, who holds Toronto franchise records for goalkeeper wins (67) and shutouts (35), on the bench. Miller joined D.C. in the off-season after losing his starting job at Minnesota United to Canadian Dayne St. Clair.

D.C. coach Wayne Rooney started Akinmboni, a homegrown defender who became the third-youngest player to make his MLS debut at 15 years 328 days when he started in September in a 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake. 

Only Freddy Adu (14 years 334 days) with D.C. United and Canada's Alphonso Davies (15 years 327 days) with the Vancouver Whitecaps were younger when they made their MLS debuts.

Greek international forward Taxi Fountas, another of D.C. designated player, did not dress due to a hamstring strain.

Trailing 1-0, Toronto had a chance to pull even in the 17th minute when Bernardeschi found Insigne at the far post with a cross. But Insigne, with a defender all over him, was high with his redirect.

As it was last season. Toronto looked vulnerable to counterattacks. D.C. came close to adding to its lead in transition in the 20th minute, only to see Portuguese midfielder Pedro Santos miss the target with his header off a dangerous Chris Durkin cross.

A minute later, Petretta turned the ball over and Toronto was stretched thin. The ball eventually made its way to Santos whose deflected shot bounced off the goalpost.

Substitute Ayo Akinola got behind the D.C. defence in the 45h minute but the ball got caught under his foot and he could only manage a weak shot right at Miller. Akinola hit the crossbar with a shot soon after.

Laryea sent Diomande in on goal and the Norwegian scored after rounding Miller in the 50th minute, only to see the assistant referee's flag go up for offside.

D.C. midfielder Russell Canouse was yellow-card in the 56th minute for scything down Bernardeschi. Four minutes later D.C. forward Christian Benteke was cautioned for catching Rosted with his arm as they challenged for a ball in the air.

Toronto was almost caught in the 75th minute after a giveaway but D.C. could not convert with Johnson punching the ball away. Midfielder Brandon Servania, acquired in the trade that sent Spanish forward Jesus Jimenez to FC Dallas, made his Toronto debut off the bench in the 77th minute.

Toronto, which was a dismal 2-11-4 on the road last, visits Atlanta next Saturday before hosting Columbus on March 11.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2023.

The Canadian Press