Everything was set up for a day of celebration for D.C. United on Saturday as they finally opened their new stadium with an eagerly awaited home match against Vancouver Whitecaps.
D.C. delivered the goods, as Vancouver struggled yet again to a team lowly in the standings, christening the stadium with a 3-1 opening day victory thanks to a brace from Paul Arriola and an opener from Yamil Asad. Three nice goals there, and Alphonso Davies didn’t want to be left out, firing home a stoppage time cracker, but by that time it was way too little too late for the ‘Caps on a night of capital punishment for Vancouver.
Carl Robinson made only one change to last week’s starting XI, with Sean Franklin coming back in for Jake Nerwinski, while Stefan Marinovic could still only find a place on the bench on his road back from injury.
It was D.C. who had the better of the early exchanges, with Rowe saving easily from Luciano Acosta before smothering a through ball before former Whitecap Darren Mattocks could get on the end of it.
Neither team was really threatening to break the deadlock though, but that was to quickly change in the 27th minute when Audi Field was christened with its first goal and what a beauty it was as well.
The ‘Caps did a poor job at pressurising a D.C. attack, allowing the ball to be played to an unmarked Asad on the edge of the box, and the Argentine curled a beautiful shot past Rowe into the postage stamp corner.
Asad's opening goal is the first goal scored at the new Audi Field.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) July 15, 2018
A great play but some sloppy stuff from Vancouver, especially Alphonso Davies who really should have done better seconds before the ball was played to Asad.
Going behind on such an occasion and in such intense heat was then always going to be an uphill struggle for the Whitecaps to overcome. But they tried to get back into the game quickly and could only look on in anguish as Kei Kamara’s header from a free kick crashed off the United crossbar.
Jose Aja came close for the ‘Caps as the half wound down, rising to meet an Efrain Juarez cross but heading wide with David Ousted flapping in the D.C. goal.
And that was to be it for the half. Not a classic, but the home side won’t have been complaining about that.
The ‘Caps half time team talk seemed to breathe new life into them and they took the game to D.C. at the start of the second half.
When Jordon Mutch was brought down on the edge of the box by Frederic Brillant in the 49th minute it looked like Vancouver would be getting a man advantage as well as a free kick. The D.C. defender had already been booked and it looked like he knew exactly what he was doing in bringing the Englishman down as he’d have been in on goal, but no second booking was given by referee Hilario Grajeda, despite Whitecaps protestations.
The free kick was put out for a corner, but Vancouver kept the pressure on and nearly got their reward when Doneil Henry rose unchallenged to meet Felipe’s delivery but headed wide of the right post.
Definitely a huge wasted opportunity for the ‘Caps to draw level, and as D.C. brought on Wayne Rooney for his MLS debut, you wondered how much they would be left to rue that.
Yordy Reyna had been pretty ineffectual up to this point, but tried a shot from the edge of the box in the 63rd minute which Ousted easily saved.
Then it all went to shit.
Sigh, ok, I’ll finish this.
D.C. United found another gear from somewhere, as Vancouver spluttered, and pretty soon the match was out of sight.
Arriola doubled D.C.’s lead in the 69th minute, finishing off a great team move that saw home horrendous defending from a number of Whitecaps, including leaving Rooney unmarked with four ‘Caps players around him but nowhere near enough to stop him playing a night lay off to help switch the play.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) July 15, 2018
That was definitely game over but like a street urchin in Dickensian London, they wanted more.
They nearly got it from a Rooney header in the 79th minute, but Rowe spoiled the narrative many reporters would have been hoping for.
The home side’s pressure didn’t lapse though and Arriola grabbed his second, and United’s third, with a 20 yarder that gave Rowe little chance.
— D.C. United (@dcunited) July 15, 2018
To their credit, and there was little of that to go around on the night, the Whitecaps showed some flashes in the closing minutes and when Reyna crashed a header off the near post, that pretty much summed up the evening.
But Vancouver weren’t to leave empty handed, with some Davies magic deep into stoppage time saw some lovely footwork to make room to drill home a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
90' Here is the wonder-strike from the kid! Take a bow, Alphonso!
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) July 15, 2018
A fantastic goal but scant consolation at a night where it never felt the ‘Caps were at the races. A lack of threat up front, horrible defending yet again, some strange substitutions, and the lack of a real difference maker combined for another poor outing by this up and down team this season.
One of the few plusses is that they didn’t give three points to a playoff rival, but at a time where every point is crucial, their own postseason hopes are hanging by a thinner thread as the weeks go by.
It’s the start of a very busy period for the ‘Caps, with a Canadian Championship semi-final first leg in Montreal midweek and a trip to Seattle on Saturday next up. Two matches that could very well shape how this season will be viewed.
FINAL SCORE: D.C. United 3 – 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
D.C.: David Ousted; Oneil Fisher, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joesph More; Christopher Durkin; Zoltan Stieber, Paul Arriola (Ian Harkes 84), Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad (Russell Canouse 89); Darren Mattocks (Wayne Rooney 58) [Subs Not Used: Steve Clark, Jalen Robinson, Junior Moreno, Bruno Miranda]
VANCOUVER: Brian Rowe; Sean Franklin (Jake Nerwinski 67), Jose Aja, Doneil Henry, Marcel de Jong; Jordon Mutch (Nicolás Mezquida 72), Efrain Juarez, Felipe Martins (Aly Ghazal 72), Alphonso Davies; Yordy Reyna, Kei Kamara [Subs Not Used: Stefan Marinović, Anthony Blondell, Brek Shea, Russell Teibert]
Thoughts on the game:
“Well I think the game had a little bit of everything. We knew it would be an emotional occasion, especially for D.C. United. A momentous occasion. Sell out. First game at home. You could see that the crowd was very energetic. We came with a gameplan. I think the first goal was always going to be key. Obviously they got a goal. A wonder strike from the edge of the box, which is probably fitting for the opening of a new stadium. We had a couple of chances to get back into it. Unfortunately we were unable to take them, then they got the second and third. I’m disappointed that we concede two goals from well outside the box, which is not very good, and that’s little details that we need to improve on. We kept going. We got the goal at the end, but there were a few players that were slightly off it today.”
On Alphonso Davies’ goal:
“If you look at the set pieces we had, we had a number of chances. We hit the bar, we hit the post. I think it was just reward that we got a goal out of the game. I’m disappointed that we conceded three, but on another day it could quite easily have been 3-3. It was a wonderful strike from the young boy. He kept going, the team kept going, which is credit to them as well, but we need to tidy up on the areas of individual defending. Because if we don’t, we let good players, Arriola was arguably the best players on the pitch today, and if we let good players shoot from distance, then that’s what they’ll do.”
Thoughts overall on the match tonight
Good result for D.C. United. You wouldn’t want to do it a better way. Open your stadium and score a bunch of goals in front of your fans. It was a good result for them.
On bouncing back
It’s still the season. It’s mid-season right now. It was just another game, it just happened to be on a special day, special event, but we just move on to the next game. You know we have a game here in a couple days. We wish we could’ve done better, we wished we could’ve spoiled the party, but it wasn’t good. They came out on top and we just got to be ready for the next game.
Overall thoughts on game
“It’s been a long day with the later game, but I’m pleased with how it went. There was a lot of weight on the guys to open this stadium the right way. The first half looked like we had plenty of energy, but then we lost some of the tempo. I thought we looked sharp in the second half, in particular when Rooney came on. They were all great goals and Paul Arriola came back into form in the second half. He grabbed two goals and I’m happy for him.”
On Wayne Rooney
“We saw what Wayne is – a high quality, elite soccer player. He didn’t lose possession, made some key passes, and got on the end of a few balls in the box. This is what he’s going to do for us. There’s been a lot of talk about where Wayne is going to play. In my mind he’s a number nine, but he’s a versatile number nine. He can drop off as a 10 in scenarios and even make plays as a number eight. It’s nice to have versatility and I think he’s going to be fine wherever he plays.”
“He is looking forward to his role here. I’ve always been a coach with an open door policy. I’m always looking to learn and we’ll have plenty of dialogue. He likes that I am going to be an open coach. With his character, he’s here to help the team get better on and off the field.”
“He just made the right play. There’s a lot of value in that, making the right play in the moment. We’re still a young team so he can help with the soccer aspect and the mentality he brings with his experience. That’s the exciting part about this, we’re lucky to have him.”
On Audi Field atmosphere, the night
“This is one of the great nights in D.C. United history, and we’ve had some good ones. I got here early and took a nice walk and had a look around. With a three goal lead, your heart rate slows down and you can look around and feel good enough to enjoy the moment. After four months on the road, to play the way we played, score goals and be entertaining was just a great night for the organization.”
On Paul Arriola
“When we moved Paul centrally, it changed the season. That’s the kind of impact he can have on this team. We can now press a little higher and we’re more dangerous in transition. He’s a winner and we’re happy he’s back and healthy, I’m glad he got a couple goals tonight.
On challenges the team still faces, the overall team
“We got the difficulty of the travel out of the way. Our challenge is going to be consistency. Staying at the level we were at tonight is going to be a challenge. That’s a normal thing with a young team. We need to find a more consistent high level of play and that will be the challenge over the next couple months.”
“I’m enjoying coaching this group. I think we are capable of playing a variety of ways. We haven’t changed much tactically, but we can. Now that guys like Russell [Canouse]and Júnior [Moreno] are coming back, we can get creative. We can switch it up if we need to be more aggressive. There’s a lot we can do with this group, but for now I’m happy with this win. Now we have to get back to work.”
On taking a big ownership of the team
“I have said this since I committed to the club, I want to win and I am vocal on and off the pitch. Im vocal with the coach, vocal with my teammates and we speak which we think is the best way to win a football match and next week might be completely different how we prepare for the game. I think the most important thing is communication not just for myself but for the players and the players know that. We spoke about that in the preparation. Of course the players might look to me as someone whose career has been with Manchester United and Everton maybe they are yet to get to that level and hopefully they will do but I am a D.C. United player. I am exactly the same as these players and I want to win and what I can bring is my desire to win, and that¹s is every day on the training pitch and every game.”
On the fans desire to see him (Rooney) play
“The fans have been fantastic since I arrived in the airport and then meeting fans out in the city and then today, they were out there chanting it out and I was just as eager to get onto the pitch. It is great and hopefully we can bring the more wins in the next few weeks.”
On what it means to him to get his first assist
“It is great and I think for this team the last few weeks has been difficult. They have had a difficult schedule and it was nice to get a three goal lead. It is important that you enjoy that. I think from the third goal, we knew the game was won so I think it is important we enjoy that and that the fans enjoy that.”