D.C. United had high hopes for their final preseason exhibition, but the Montreal Impact had other ideas, handing the Black-and-Red a humbling 3-0 defeat to close out the 2019 Suncoast Invitational in St. Petersburg, FL. Ignacio Piatti struck early for Montreal, while teenager Mathieu Choiniere stole the show late with a highlight-reel goal and assist in the final 10 minutes.
With their 2019 season opener coming in eight days against Atlanta United, Ben Olsen unsurprisingly opted to roll out what figures to be his projected first-choice lineup. That included a return from a minor knock for Leonardo Jara, and a start for offseason acquisition Lucas Rodriguez. “Titi” got the nod on the left wing over Zoltan Stieber and Ulises Segura, though the competition for that job will probably remain heated for some time.
United started the game with a couple of half-decent attacking moves that didn’t turn into a shot, only for a one quick thrust upfield to hand Montreal the lead. A United attack went awry, and Dan Lovitz alertly pushed the ball upfield quickly, catching the Black-and-Red before they could recover their shape. Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taïder combined to find Maxi Urruti, only for the Argentine’s shooting angle to be closed by Junior Moreno. No one tracked Piatti, though, and the Montreal star steered a 19-yard shot into Bill Hamid’s lower corner, putting United 1-0 down in the 8th minute.
Urruti had a shot get through in the 18th minute, with Hamid making a good save to his left, as D.C. struggled to connect their passes in the midfield. United finally settled into something resembling a rhythm around the 21st minute, but Montreal — an opportunistic team if there ever was one — still had the game’s next look, as Bill Hamid’s 26th minute pass to Steven Birnbaum put the center back in deep trouble. Montreal shuttled the ball quickly to Piatti, who lifted his shot well over the bar.
United started to show flashes as Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney became more involved, though Montreal was able to either use physical play or read the angles to prevent any danger with the final ball. Ben Olsen, meanwhile, made a 33rd minute substitution, removing Lucas Rodriguez (who has missed time with an injury) in favor of Ulises Segura.
United carved out a chance in the 41st minute, with their attacking superstars at the center of the move. Acosta fooled Micheal Azira before bursting forward from the midfield to play a quick one-two with Rooney, who got the ball back to his partner in crime despite having three defenders nearby. Acosta opted for a first-time shot, stinging a 23 yarder that flew wide.
A typical Montreal counter in the 44th minute underlined what makes the Impact a threat, though, as Clement Bahiya sprinted into space down the D.C. left after an early pass out of the midfield. The Impact academy winger whipped a cross in behind United’s retreating defense only for Frederic Brillant to dive in for a block that he was relieved to see go wide of Hamid’s left-hand post.
Montreal had another lightning break forward just seconds after halftime after Bahiya stripped Moreno of the ball while the Black-and-Red tried to start with some possession. Bahiya eventually found Piatti in the box, but Moreno sprinted back from midfield just in time to snuff out any potential shot, making up for his earlier mistake.
United had a reply, with Acosta upping the tempo in the 50th minute before finding Joseph Mora in space. Mora’s driven cross may well have been a shot attempt, with Evan Bush tipping the ball over the bar. D.C. didn’t capitalize on the resulting corner, but in the minutes that followed, they had another corner nodded over the bar by Brillant as well as a convincing shout for a free kick on the edge of the box turned down after Zakaria Diallo knocked Rooney down.
The Black-and-Red’s rhythm was vastly improved, but a breakdown at the back nearly put Montreal up 2-0 in the 64th minute. Again, United’s passing out of the back left something to be desired, as Bakary Sagna stepped up to beat Mora to a pass from Birnbaum. Montreal’s attack appeared to be going down a blind alley, but Birnbaum then missed his intervention on Urruti, who walked in alone on Hamid. However, Hamid saw the mistake and was there in a flash, giving Urruti no room before stuffing his low shot. The ball skipped right to Bahiya, and Hamid got up off the ground to make a stunning follow-up save as Bahiya tried to take advantage of the empty net.
United pushed right back, with Paul Arriola’s cross being flicked up hopefully by Rooney. The ball fell to Acosta, who managed to just get a touch to the ball to beat Bush. However, with the ball slowly bouncing to goal, Samuel Piette was on hand to belt the ball clear from the goalline.
D.C. felt sure they were about to get level in the 70th minute, after initially being given a penalty kick. Rooney’s lofted free kick drew Bush off his line, where he slammed into Birnbaum without getting the ball. However, a VAR check revealed that multiple United players were offside as Rooney struck his service, taking the chance away.
A long free kick from Rooney in the 78th minute picked out Arriola, who initially lost the ball to Lovitz only to win it right back. Arriola pushed the ball into the box looking for a shot, but his promising strike was eventually blocked by Diallo.
United were looking like they’d possibly get level, but were caught cold in the 80th minute. With Mora still receiving treatment after a collision (he was later withdrawn, with Chris McCann replacing him), United had to defend with 10, and Lovitz took advantage of the space pushing up the left side. He picked out Impact substitute Mathieu Choiniere, whose vicious cutback put Jara on the ground. From there Choiniere found Urruti, who guided a low curler past Hamid from 17 yards to make it 2-0.
Another long Rooney free kick service caused Montreal problems, as he picked out Brillant at the back post, but Brillant could only head the ball upward rather than getting it on frame, and the Impact escaped the danger.
The Impact put an exclamation point on the game in stoppage time, with the impressive homegrown product Choiniere making it 3-0 with a moment of brilliance. Bush’s goal kick was flicked on by substitute Anthony Jackson-Hamel, and Choiniere got to it in a pocket of space as Brillant and Birnbaum dropped off. Rather than take a touch, Choiniere simply crushed a looping shot as the ball came down, picking out the upper corner from over 25 yards.
United will look to lick their wounds and correct their issues over the next eight days before beginning the 2019 MLS season with a showcase home game against Atlanta on March 3rd.
Highlights will be added when they are made available.
Suncoast Invitational (St. Petersburg, FL)
Montreal Impact 2 (Piatti 8, Urruti 80)
D.C. United 0
Impact (433): Evan Bush; Bakary Sagna, Victor Cabrera, Zakaria Diallo, Dan Lovitz; Micheal Azira, Samuel Piette, Saphir Taïder (Shamit Shome 23); Clément Bayiha (Orji Okonkwo 64), Maximiliano Urruti (Anthony Jackson-Hamel 81), Ignacio Piatti (C) (Mathieu Choiniere 73)
DCU (4231): Bill Hamid; Leonardo Jara, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora (Chris McCann 80); Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola (Zoltan Stieber 81), Luciano Acosta, Lucas Rodriguez (Ulises Segura 33); Wayne Rooney (C)
Impact - M. Choiniere 88
DCU - Canouse 54