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Messy United drop points to lowly Inter Miami

You might have heard, the Greatest Of All Time is coming to Major League Soccer. Lionel Messi made the announcement himself, informing the world that he will be joining Inter Miami. What he failed to mention last month though was exactly when he would arrive. The mere thought of Messi debuting in Washington, D.C. was enough to sellout the venue, as more than 19,000 fans packed into Audi Field hoping the playmaker would make a surprise debut now that the summer transfer window is officially open.

While Messi did not make a cameo, those in attendance were treated to an entertaining matchup — as DC United and Inter Miami played to a riveting 2-2 draw.

The first half was largely forgettable, as neither team created much in the way of a sustained attack. The most exciting moment of the first 45 minutes featured United defender Andy Najar slotting home an apparent first half goal … only for the match officials to nullify the play because striker Christian Benteke was deemed offside.

Midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi scored in the 59th minute to give Miami a lead on the road for the first time since April 29 against Columbus, their lone away win this season. United forward Taxi Fountas was relieved to tie things up just six minutes laster with his sixth goal of the season, after failing to convert several quality chances earlier in the match.

Miami regained the lead three minutes later on a Noah Allen free kick that managed to allude the swarm of players camped out in front of the net. Fortunately for United, forward Nigel Robertha returned from a three-month injury absence and recorded his first goal of the year on his first touch of the game in the 77th minute. A match that was sluggish to start was suddenly captivating on both sides of the field.

Benteke had one last point-blank chance to secure victory in the final stages of the match, but his wayward header was off the mark forcing the black and red to settle for a draw against a completely beatable opponent. How beatable? Miami is now winless in their last 10 matches. They hold the worst record in the Eastern Conference and have the second fewest points in the entire league.

Re-enforcements cannot get here soon enough for the men in pink. When Messi does finally arrive, he’ll bring with him several prominent sidekicks in former Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, as well as ex-Barcelona and Argentina coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

Locally, this game marked the final home appearance for midfielder Lewis O’Brien, whose loan from Nottingham Forest expires July 16. Despite weeks of negotiations, United was unable to extend the deal with the Premier League club. O’Brien has excelled at ball-carrying, distribution and decision-making during his time in town. United will need to sign at least one new player during the summer window to fill the void created by the loss.


Led by Pepi, U.S. Men’s National Team outlasts El Salvador

After an eight year absence, the U.S. Men’s National Team returned to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and performed admirably. 

Boasting one of the youngest squads in the tournament, with an average age of 25, the USMNT advanced through the group stage and to the Round of 16 before being eliminated by the Netherlands, 3-1. 

The hope moving forward is this collection of young talent comes into its own in the next four years and excels in the 2026 World Cup, which will conveniently take place here in the states. 

With that in mind, the Americans — led by Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Gio Reyna — hosted El Salvador in a Nations League match in Orlando, Florida. Interim manager Anthony Hudson utilized a lineup that leaned heavily on the Americans’ most recent World Cup experience, but it was striker Ricardo Pepi who proved to be the difference maker. The talented 20-year-old, who didn’t make manager Gregg Berhalter’s 26-man World Cup squad, scored two minutes after entering the match against El Salvador to spark a 1-0 victory for the USMNT. 

From midfield, McKennie initiated the play with a beautifully crafted through ball perfectly placed in the path of Pepi, who calmly held off the defender and chipped the ball over the helpless El Salvador goalie, Mario González, in the 62nd minute for his third goal in two games for the U.S.

With the win, the USMNT advances to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas this June, where they attempt to defend their title after defeating Mexico in the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League final 3-2 in 2021.


D.C. United names Wayne Rooney new head coach

After a listless D.C. United squad failed to remotely challenge Nashville SC in front of the first sellout crowd of the season, it felt as if the season — not even halfway completed — was already lost. Without a serious infusion of talent and money, the former pillar of Major League Soccer was destined to remain a small-market club in a town desperate for better.

One match later, an emphatic 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia, management seemingly came to the same conclusion. D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien reached out to a familiar face and convinced one of the franchise’s most famous players to come back to his unofficial home away from home.

With that, Wayne Rooney becomes the ninth head coach in franchise history. Three years after Rooney made a hasty retreat from our nation’s capital back to England, the 36-year-old superstar returns in an effort to once again make the black and red relevant.

During his first stint in town, Rooney admirably served as a team captain/savvy veteran as he lifted D.C. United from the dregs of the league (21st overall in 2017) to qualify for the playoffs in both 2018 and ’19. Now he returns to a club in even worse shape than before in an entirely new role — that of a relatively inexperienced manager. For the last three years, Rooney has been with Derby County — initially serving as a player/coach before transitioning full time into a managerial role.

Rooney’s time with the Rams was far from ideal, as the club faced financial problems which ultimately caused Derby County to be relegated to England’s third division. That said, Rooney received praise for handling such an adverse situation and the development of several of the clubs younger players. After turning down a chance to manage Everton and accepting D.C. United’s offer, England’s all-time leading scorer won’t lose sleep over the possibility of relegation. But he will once again find himself game-planning against teams with much greater talent and resources at their disposal.

Aside from all-star forward Taxiarchis Fountas, there is a serious lack of talent on the current roster. Levien and friends broke the bank, paying a reported million dollars per season (three times more than the previous coach earned) to entice one of the biggest names in world soccer to pick up the phone. Hopefully the new manager received similar assurances from the ownership group that their notoriously tight pursestrings will be loosened as Rooney embarks on his latest reclamation project. Otherwise, 18 months from now, D.C. United might once again be faced with life after Wazza.


Things go from bad to worse as Music City routs Chocolate City

When D.C. United hired Hernán Losada, he was hailed as a young and innovative manager who would introduce the nation’s capital to modern day, offensive-minded soccer. Just 15 months later and only six games into the MLS season, Losada was fired.

“We felt like we should be doing better,” said D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien. “A lot of an organization’s role with players is to inspire them to play their best. We felt like we weren’t getting that. Unfairly or not, sometimes that falls on the manager.”

Firing Losada a month into the season clearly changes the trajectory of the current season for United, but it’s not unfair to question how competitive the squad was going to be this campaign anyway — after the club spent the offseason sending away its best players.

Earlier this year, D.C. United sold talented midfielder Kevin Paredes to German club Wolfsburg for a fee of more than $7 million and traded winger Paul Arriola to FC Dallas in exchange for $2 million in allocation money. Paredes and Arriola were two of the team’s best players last season and, thanks to their time with the U.S. Men’s National Team, were quite possibly the only two assets on the current roster worth the price of admission.

Without them, and without the highly-touted manager who was supposed to stabilize the franchise, D.C. United looks completely lost. Forward Taxiarchis Fountas, who the club acquired from Rapid Vienna, looks to be the real deal, but he’s basically a one-man show these days as the black and red continue to plummet down the MLS standings. After falling to Nashville SC 3-1 in a game that remained competitive for roughly five minutes, it’s clear that this franchise is in need of a serious infusion of talent and money. Until then, D.C. United will continue to be a small market club in a town that is desperate for better.


As England falters, D.C. United rises to the occasion

While millions worldwide turned their attention to the European Championship as England battled Italy in the finals, our nation’s capital hosted an international soccer tournament of its own — with D.C. United taking on Costa Rica’s Alajuelense in the 2021 Capital Cup finals.

When the inaugural tournament was originally announced last month, it was intended to be a four-team event. Unfortunately, due to health and safety protocols, both Alianza FC (El Salvador) and Club Puebla (Mexico) were unable to participate, so the “tournament” became a two-game tie between the remaining parties.

After D.C. United scored a 1-0 victory over Alajuelense via midfielder Felipe Martins’ free kick in the 87th minute Wednesday, the black and red entered Sunday’s finale with the narrowest of leads.

While both teams had several chances throughout an entertaining matchup, it was forward Jovanny Bolivar’s 68th-minute tally that ensured D.C. United won the 2021 Capital Cup over Costa Rica’s Alajuelense (2-0 on aggregate).

Forward Kairou Amoustapha appeared to score for the home team three minutes later on a link-up play with Bolivar, but the would-be goal scorer was deemed to be offside on the play. 

Although Gareth Southgate and the Three Lions were unable to “bring it home” in the Euro 2020 finals, Bolivar’s goal and several key saves by goalie Jon Kempin ensured D.C. United avoided a similar fate and actually earned some hardware during one of the most soccer-crazed weekends of 2021.


As Gonzalo Higuain goes up in flames, D.C. United smokes Inter Miami

It’s probably a good thing Inter Miami owner David Beckham is currently focused on the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship because his club is a bit of a disaster on and off the pitch these days.

After making a name for himself playing for some of the heavy hitters in world soccer — including Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus — Inter Miami striker Gonzalo Higuain made a business decision to take his talents to South Beach last year.

“I thought I would come here and play with a cigarette in my mouth and, instead, it is difficult,” Higuain said of Major League Soccer last week.

“It is a tough league,” he added.

In related news, Inter Miami coach Phil Neville opted to leave his team’s highest-paid player home until Higuain improves his fitness. Considering the 33-year-old is the third highest paid player in MLS at $5.79 million, showing up in shape and ready to contribute shouldn’t even be a topic of conversation.

Thanks to Higuain’s bloated paycheck, Inter Miami tops the league in salary spending this season (at $17.8 million), while D.C. United ranks 20th ($10.3 million). And yet, for the second time in three weeks, the black and red easily dispatched Inter Miami — this time 1-0.

Striker Ola Kamara converted a penalty kick in the 72nd minute for D.C., while Miami was forced to finish the match with just nine players after midfielder Gregore picked up a second yellow card and defender Ryan Shawcross earned a straight red card for his overzealous goonery in the second half.

With the win, D.C. United improved to 4-5-0 on the season, while Inter Miami dropped to 2-5-2 after being shut out for the fifth time in seven matches.


New-look D.C. United shows signs of life in loss to Orlando City

For more than two decades, Ben Olsen was the heart and soul of D.C. United. After spending 11 seasons in the nation’s capital as a player, Olsen became the team’s coach in 2010. When D.C. United and the 44-year-old parted ways last fall, it meant the club would need to establish a new identity. 

Meet Hernán Losada. The 38-year-old Argentine was clearly not a household name before he was announced as Olsen’s successor, but his arrival signaled an absolute changing of the guard in D.C.  

No longer will D.C. United sit back and go passively into the night. Losada’s brand features a high-pressing, high-energy style of play that will definitely make the black and red more fun to watch … once his current players are up to speed with the system and the front office adds a few more pieces to the roster.  

In the meantime, frustrating matches like this one – where D.C. United had the bulk of possession, a 10-2 advantage on corner kicks and outshot Orlando City SC 13-6, but lost 1-0 – are bound to happen. Optimistic fans should remain hopeful that better days are ahead for one of the original titans of Major League Soccer. 

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