D.C. United storms back, wins season opener on goal deep in stoppage time

D.C. United storms back, wins season opener on goal deep in stoppage time

Updated: 22 days, 15 hours, 58 minutes, 14 seconds ago






D.C. United’s 2023 unveiling Saturday night — with Wayne Rooney and striker Christian Benteke entering their first full season as coach and scoring threat, respectively, and Mateusz Klich making his debut — began and ended on high notes.


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And the hero was not one of the club’s high-priced European imports but a homegrown player who began his career in the second division before joining the MLS squad last year.

Oakton’s Ted Ku-DiPietro assisted on Benteke’s tying goal in the 90th minute, then scored in the eighth — and final — minute of stoppage time as United defeated Toronto FC, 3-2, before 17,397. The season-opening result followed a four-game losing streak and a six-game winless stretch that wrapped up last fall, when United finished last.

Klich’s early goal from distance warmed the Audi Field audience, and after Toronto FC scored twice in an 18-minute span of the second half, Benteke’s 90th-minute header pulled United even. But with time running out, Mohanad Jeahze crossed to Ku-DiPietro, who scored from close range, touching off a wild party in the southeast corner of the stadium.

Federico Bernardeschi had converted a penalty kick in the 66th minute and Mark-Anthony Kaye converted a rebound in the 83rd for Toronto.


United did it without forward Taxi Fountas (hamstring strain), the team’s best player last year. Defender Steven Birnbaum (illness) did not enter the game until late.

Fountas’s absence undermined United’s hopes of having its three designated players on the field together. Klich’s signing from English Premier League club Leeds in the offseason completed the triumvirate, and he and Benteke, a late arrival last season, were in the lineup. Nigel Robertha, who missed most of preseason with a broken wrist, replaced Fountas.

Birnbaum, the captain, had been sidelined by illness for part of preseason and again this past week. He was in uniform but not ready for a full match.

His absence added to a long list of center backs unavailable because of injury or fitness concerns after injury recovery. And so the void was filled by Victor Palsson, a well-traveled defensive midfielder, and Matai Akinmboni, a 16-year-old homegrown who debuted last year.


The task was tall. Toronto featured Italian attackers Lorenzo Insigne and Bernardeschi, the highest-paid and fourth-highest-paid players in MLS last year. Insigne was gone before halftime with a leg injury.

United was ambitious in the first half, playing through Klich, using Robertha’s finesse and targeting Benteke.

The breakthrough came in the 13th minute. A promising buildup provided acres of space in the heart of the field for Klich, who showed conviction. With defenders backing off, Klich ripped a low, 26-yard bid that beat goalkeeper Sean Johnson to the far corner.

Another D.C. newcomer, Pedro Santos, hit the far post in the 41st minute with a deflected shot. Insigne’s replacement, Ayo Akinola, had two chances to equalize before intermission but stumbled entering the box on a partial breakaway and skipped an 18-yarder off the crossbar on the final touch of the half.


Early in the second half, United flirted with disaster as the visitors exploited space and mistakes. Adama Diomande’s goal was rightly nullified after being a step offside on Richie Laryea’s service.

United labored to create any meaningful possession. Klich had to retreat to collect the ball, leaving Benteke stranded. The match turned physical and contentious.

Toronto drew level in the 66th minute. Michael Bradley’s long ball connected with Laryea, who was clipped by Akinmboni in the box. The teenager did all right initially, but his second challenge took down Laryea.

Bernardeschi rolled the penalty kick down the middle as Tyler Miller committed to his left.

United’s first flurry of the half came in the 76th minute, but nothing came of it. Two minutes later, seeking reinforcement, Rooney turned to Birnbaum in place of Akinmboni.


Toronto went ahead after Miller touched Bernardeschi’s free kick off the post. Kaye side-volleyed the rebound for what seemed like the winner before Benteke and Ku-DiPietro intervened.

Here’s what else to know about United’s victory:

Post-Hamid era begins

For the first time in 16 years, goalkeeper Bill Hamid will have no association with United, which did not make him an offer after his contract expired Dec. 31. The 32-year-old will trial with Dundee United this week, according to Scottish media reports.

Hamid’s run with D.C. began in 2007 as an academy player, and two years later he became the club’s first homegrown signing. He left in early 2018 to join Danish club Midtjylland but returned seven months later.

All three D.C. keepers are new, with Alex Bono (formerly with Toronto) and Luis Zamudio (second-division Loudoun United) joining Miller (Minnesota). Bono and Zamudio were both on the bench Saturday — usually there’s just one active backup — instead of another outfield player.

Morrison is off the roster

As expected, English midfielder Ravel Morrison (two goals in 14 games last year) was not included on the season roster before the compliance deadline Friday. He has a guaranteed contract but won’t play. A move within MLS or abroad is possible, and United could buy out his contract.


With Morrison out of the picture and Chilean winger Martín Rodríguez sidelined all year with an ACL injury, United has two international roster slots open. Rooney said he is hoping to fill at least one slot in the next week or two. The transfer window will close April 24 and reopen July 5.

“I am keeping Stewart on his toes to get me some more players,” Rooney said, nodding at technical director Stewart Mairs standing near him.

At center back

Derrick Williams (lower leg injury) and Brendan Hines-Ike (foot) were not in uniform, and fellow center back Donovan Pines is still getting up to speed after missing much of the preseason following offseason hernia surgery.

Fullback Jacob Greene was listed as being out earlier in the week with a thigh injury but received clearance by kickoff.