D.C. United gave Charlotte FC a rude welcome to MLS, rolling past the expansion side by a 3-0 scoreline at Audi Field tonight. In the earliest regular season game in team history, United got two first half goals from debutant Michael Estrada before Ola Kamara added a third off the bench midway through the second half.
United received some bad news before kickoff, with Russell Canouse a surprise absentee due to a reported groin injury. Drew Skundrich stepped in alongside Moses Nyeman in central midfield, with United giving Estrada and wingback Brad Smith their first competitive starts with the team.
Despite a typical high-energy start, United couldn’t crack Charlotte’s conservative set-up, and in fact briefly appeared to fall behind in the 19th minute. McKinze Gaines nodded in a cross from Titi Ortíz after the Black-and-Red’s defense hesitated, but referee Victor Rivas called the goal back after a VAR check.
United was sloppy, but finally started to put some passes together after the midway point of the half. Andy Najar forced Kristijan Kahlina into a save from long range in the 30th minute with a knuckling shot, but in truth the chances were few and far between.
The Black-and-Red eventually got their major look five minutes later. Griffin Yow’s shot appeared to strike Brandt Bronico in the chest, but Rivas pointed to the spot after a moment. Estrada — fittingly for a team that converted 11 of 12 penalties in 2021 — put the penalty kick home away with ease, giving United a 1-0 lead in 37th minute.
Still, Charlotte were uncomfortably involved in the game, with a penalty kick shout of their own later and a Christian Fuchs header in the 45th minute that floated just over the bar. However, their luck failed them again in the fifth minute of first-half stoppage time. A half-clearance fell to Estrada, who took a touch before thundering a shot towards goal. The ball glanced off Fuchs and swerved past a helpless Kahlina, giving Estrada his second and United a fortuitous two-goal lead.
D.C. produced their best attacking move up to that point seconds into the second half, with Edison Flores and Brad Smith combining, only for the Australian’s cross to be volleyed over the bar by Yow. Charlotte responded, with Hamid making two solid saves within the next eight minutes.
United pulled further ahead in the 65th minute on what will be one of the more farcical goals of the season. Julian Gressel’s low cross from the right was into a dangerous spot, but Kahlina’s diving punch attempt cannoned the ball off of Ola Kamara — moments after he’d come on, and seemingly unaware of what was about to happen — and the rebound slowly found its way over the line.
Summing up Charlotte’s luck on the night, former United attacker Yordy Reyna thumped a shot off the post after beating Hamid in the 69th minute, but the rebound zipped right into Hamid’s arms.
The wheels came off a bit for Charlotte from there, with United repeatedly forcing turnovers at midfield and forcing the expansion club to scramble at the back. However, Kahlina was not kept too busy, as the Black-and-Red’s push for a fourth saw several shots go wide. Smith nearly got himself a debut goal in stoppage time, but his curling effort from the left flew just wide.
United will look to build on the win next week, as they head to Ohio to face FC Cincinnati on Saturday, March 5, with kickoff scheduled for 6:00pm Eastern.
MLS Regular Season - Game 1
D.C. United 3 (Estrada 37pen, 50+; Kamara 65)
Charlotte FC 0
DCU (343): Bill Hamid; Andy Najar (Chris Odoi-Atsem 75), Brendan Hines-Ike, Steven Birnbaum (C); Julian Gressel, Drew Skundrich, Moses Nyeman (Sofiane Djeffal 65), Brad Smith; Griffin Yow (Azaad Liadi 82), Michael Estrada (Ola Kamara 65), Edison Flores (Adrien Perez 75)
CFC (): Kristijan Kahlina; Jaylin Lindsey, Guzmán Corujo, Christian Makoun, Christian Fuchs (C), Joseph Mora (Chris Hegardt 86); McKinze Gaines, Alan Franco, Brandt Bronico (Ben Bender 79), Yordy Reyna (Jordy Alcívar 79); Titi Ortíz (Adam Armour 86)
DCU - Najar 15, Estrada 42, Hines-Ike 85, Perez 87
CFC - Ortíz 27