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D.C. United open 2021 by fighting their way past NYCFC in 2-1 win

The Hernán Losada era started off with a hard-earned victory in front of fans at Audi Field

Caitlin Buckley / Black and Red United

D.C. United started Hernán Losada’s tenure off with a victory, battling their way past NYCFC in a 2-1 win. After falling behind early, United got splendid goals from debutant Brendan Hines-Ike and midfielder Russell Canouse late in the first half to pick up the full three points.

With eight players listed as unavailable, Hernán Losada’s first-ever starting eleven featured only two surprises. Up front, with Ola Kamara left out despite not appearing on the pre-game injury list, Erik Sorga started up top. New signing Tony Alfaro, whose contract was just announced yesterday, was the bigger shock, as he was called in to replace another surprise injury, Donovan Pines.

United were combative from the kickoff, but NYCFC were the more dangerous team to start. A 19-yard free kick from Ismael Tajouri-Shradi crashed off the underside of the crossbar in the 11th minute, before United had managed a shot attempt.

The visitors took the lead in the 15th minute in controversial circumstances. United committed numbers to press a throw-in, but a simple flick from Jesus Medina found Anton Tinnerholm with acres of space down the D.C. left. The Swede crossed for multiple runners in the box, but Brendan Hines-Ike intervened to prevent a back-post shot on an empty net. Valentin Castellanos collided with him, forcing the ball over the line. United were sure there was a foul on Castellanos, but after conferring with both his assistant referee and the fourth official, referee Ted Unkel awarded a goal.

The goal was bad news, but it served to wake the Black-and-Red up. A powerful run up the middle from Joseph Mora saw the wingback force a solid save out of Sean Johnson in the 31st minute, and from the eventual corner, Edison Flores’s slashing run and glanced shot spun just inches over the bar.

United were ramping up the pressure, and finally got level in the 39th minute. DCU started out with possession on the left, but after working it over from the edge of the box to the right side, Junior Moreno rolled a pass towards Hines-Ike. Normally center backs aren’t having a go from 28 yards, but with time and space, the United debutant fired a rocket from long range past Johnson, sending the limited capacity crowd into jubilation.

The Black-and-Red were in the ascendancy, and took the lead in the 44th minute. Julian Gressel’s corner from the left side went to the top of the box, picking out Russell Canouse. With a narrow window to shoot at, Canouse side-footed a volley through traffic, picking out the bottom corner to beat Johnson and give United the lead.

United’s pressure was throwing NYCFC completely off to start the second half, though the closest the Black-and-Red came to padding their lead was a Junior Moreno rip from long range that forced Johnson into a tricky stop. NYCFC finally went close to a response in the 68th minute, with a spell of possession ending with Keaton Parks firing just over the bar from 19 yards.

Losada brought in Nigel Robertha and Adrien Perez for their United debuts as his side started to show some fatigue from their high-octane pressing. Perez, despite an attacking role, ended up with a key block in the 81st minute to prevent a shot from inside the United penalty area from worrying Chris Seitz. Seitz did have to come up big just three minutes later, reacting sharply to deny Castellanos at the near post as NYCFC began to pin United back for long spells.

Losada gave the fans something else to cheer in the 88th minute, with beloved United homegrown Andy Najar returning to action with the club after years playing for Anderlecht and LAFC. Najar, playing an unfamiliar position along the back three, helped United fend off NYCFC in the final minutes, with the late stages going by calmly for Seitz.

United will look to build on a good start to the year in their next match, an 8:00pm kickoff next Saturday night against the New England Revolution. That game begins a difficult swing featuring three straight on the road.

Box Score

MLS Regular Season - Game 1
D.C. United 2 (Hines-Ike 39, Canouse 44)
New York City FC 1 (Hines-Ike 15og)

DCU (3421): Chris Seitz; Brendan Hines-Ike, Frederic Brillant (C), Tony Alfaro (Andy Najar 88); Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Joseph Mora; Edison Flores, Yamil Asad (Adrien Perez 74); Erik Sorga (Nigel Robertha 74)

NYCFC (4231): Sean Johnson (C); Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens (Alfredo Morales 71), Gudmundur Thorarinsson (Malte Amundsen 71); James Sands, Keaton Parks; Jesus Medina, Maxi Moralez, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (Andreas Jasson 71); Valentin Castellanos

DCU - Brillant 9, Gressel 77
NYCFC - Castellanos 74, Tinnerholm 82