D.C. United were the better team, but had to settle for a 2-2 draw against the LA Galaxy in the MLS preseason finale for both sides. United took two leads, with Steven Birnbaum and Michael Estrada both finishing from Julian Gressel set pieces, but the Galaxy equalized both times on finishes from Javier “Chicharito” Hernández.
One week away from his side’s 2022 season opener, Hernán Losada selected a team mostly full of expected day-one starters in a 343 formation. Moses Nyeman, who seems set for a bigger role in 2022, started alongside Russell Canouse in central midfield, while new acquisitions Brad Smith and Michael Estrada got the nod at left wingback and up top, respectively
United were the early aggressors, with their press pinning the Galaxy back. An early cross from Julian Gressel required a strong intervention from the LA defense to prevent Estrada from having a tap-in, while Nyeman swung a ball over the top for Gressel in the 10th minute, only for Gressel’s touch to let him down, allowing Jonathan Bond to collect.
The pressure paid off, with United taking a 13th minute lead. Gressel’s corner from the far side was glanced down by Brendan Hines-Ike at the near post, and Steven Birnbaum’s shot — awkward though it was — ended up deceiving Bond by looping up over him, with the English goalkeeper unable to keep it from crossing the line.
United’s good start didn’t last though, with the Galaxy growing into the game about ten minutes after the goal. Eventually, some Galaxy pressure prevented a clearance after a D.C. corner, and that recycled possession became an equalizer. Samuel Grandsir swung the ball out to the right for Kelvin Leerdam, who shaped to cross only to slip a pass to Chicharito instead. The Mexican international took a touch on the run before firing a low, pinpoint shot past a charging Bill Hamid, leveling the score in the 26th minute.
The half faded out with few real chances, with Edison Flores going closest. A smart 45th minute move from United eventually saw Smith dip inside from the left before splitting the defense with a pass for Flores. In behind Séga Coulibaly, Flores’ shot across the goal beat Bond low, but missed the bottom corner by a foot.
United ramped their high-press up to start the second half, and were just barely unable to make looks for Estrada and Yow work out in the minutes after the teams returned to play. Yow freed Gressel up for a 57th minute shot that tested Bond as United’s tempo troubled the Galaxy.
All of that danger was a sign of things to come, with Estrada scoring his first goal in a United kit a minute later. The Ecuador striker won a free kick out on the left wing, and Gressel’s inswinger was inch-perfect. Estrada raced away from his marker to power a header past Bond, making it 2-1.
LA nearly equalized straight from the kickoff, only for Chicharito to side-foot Kévin Cabral’s cross well over the bar from a promising spot. With play becoming stretched, Yow smacked a shot off the crossbar in the 66th minute after a well-worked attack on the right involving Andy Najar and Gressel.
United looked the more likely to score, but were caught out by a counter as Chicharito equalized again in the 74th minute. United tried to counter-press, but were not in a good shape, and the Galaxy quickly ended up with three players running at Sofiane Djeffal, who had only entered the game three minutes earlier. The break eventually saw Chicharito with an empty net to shoot on, after Hamid charged out to force Dejan Jovelić to pass, and the Mexico striker’s shot was just fast enough to beat Birnbaum’s clearance attempt on the line.
After both teams made a wave of substitutions, Yow almost gave United the lead after some rugged hold-up work from Drew Skundrich, who was among the changes, in the 81st minute. Djeffal also went close after United pressed a Galaxy goal kick to force a turnover, but the 2nd round draft pick — reportedly close to a first-team contract — shot across the goalmouth from along the endline, beating Bond but not tucking the ball into the corner.
However, that was the last of the major chances, with United able to hold off some Galaxy possession in the closing minutes as the game finished 2-2. United’s preseason ends with the Black-and-Red posting a 2W-2D-0L record in games played in Florida and California. They kick the regular season off this Saturday, when they host expansion club Charlotte FC. Kickoff at Audi Field is set for 6:00pm Eastern.
Highlights will be added when/if they are made available.
LA Galaxy 2 (Chicharito 26, 74)
D.C. United 2 (Birnbaum 13, Estrada 58)
Galaxy (442): Jonathan Bond; Kelvin Leerdam (Julián Araujo 46), Séga Coulibaly (Jalen Neal 78), Nick DePuy, Raheem Edwards (Jorge Villafaña 78); Efraín Álvarez (Jonny Perez 78), Marco Delgado (Chandler Vaughn 86), Rayan Raveloson (Sacha Kljestan 69), Samuel Grandsir (Dejan Joveljić 69); Chicharito (C) (Farai Mutatu 78), Kévin Cabral (Daniel Aguirre 80)
DCU (343): Bill Hamid; Andy Najar (Chris Odoi-Atsem 75), Brendan Hines-Ike (Tony Alfaro 75), Steven Birnbaum (C); Julian Gressel (Donovan Pines 88), Russell Canouse, Moses Nyeman (Sofiane Djeffal* 71), Brad Smith (Gaoussou Samaké 71); Griffin Yow (Jackson Hopkins% 88), Michael Estrada (Azaad Liadi+ 75), Edison Flores (Drew Skundrich 75)
Players not under contract marked with an asterisk. Players under contract with Loudoun United marked with a plus sign. Academy players marked with a percent sign.
Galaxy - Cabral 42
DCU - Liadi 77