D.C. United’s first match without Wayne Rooney lacked the energy and buzz that has defined Audi Field since the celebrated arrival of the English star and the new stadium last summer.
It was downright dull Tuesday night at Buzzard Point, and the outcome reflected it: a 0-0 draw with the Montreal Impact before a frustrated audience announced as 18,116.
The vacuous affair was due in part to Montreal’s conservative approach, but United was also at fault for failing to solve problems and build a coherent attack. United had no shots on goal, while Montreal had one.
Until Quincy Amarikwa’s spectacular bid in stoppage time, United (3-1-2) enjoyed few exciting moments. In two home matches over four days, D.C. did not score.
“We didn’t create that many chances, but that was [Montreal’s] plan,” United Coach Ben Olsen said. “We knew it and they make things very difficult. We could have used Wayne’s quality out there, for sure, but I still think with the crew out there, we could have produced more opportunities. That part was a little disappointing.”
Rooney, United’s captain and leading scorer, served a one-game suspension for receiving a red card in a 4-0 defeat to Los Angeles FC on Saturday. In his place, Olsen started Ulises Segura, who is a natural midfielder. Midway through the second half, Amarikwa filled the lone-striker role.
Besides settling for one point, United suffered additional injuries to its corps of outside backs. Chris McCann, who started in place of injured Joseph Mora on the left side, appeared to strained a hamstring; he will probably miss a few weeks, Olsen said.
Right back Leonardo Jara’s shoulder popped out after a hard fall. He returned, then left in the waning moments, holding his shoulder. Olsen said he might miss a week.
On the bright side, goalkeeper Bill Hamid and United recorded their fourth shutout. Montreal (2-2-2) threatened a few times in the second half and Hamid made one outstanding save.
United seemed as if it were alternating between a man advantage and a man disadvantage.
The appearance of an advantage stemmed from Montreal’s defensive tactics, which allowed United to dictate terms and move the ball freely in nondangerous spots. The feeling of a disadvantage derived from Rooney’s absence, which left United without one of the most lethal players in the league.
Montreal tested D.C.’s patience, content to concede possession, absorb mild pressure and contain Luciano Acosta, who, with European clubs eyeing him and United preparing to make a contract offer before the current deal expires in December, needed to show he can work without Rooney.
The Impact’s plan worked to almost perfection.
“It was pretty ugly,” Segura said through an interpreter. “We couldn’t really play the ball well. "
Olsen’s decision to start Segura at forward should not have come as a surprise. He had experimented with him there in preseason — albeit briefly — and had come to rely on Segura as his top substitute all spring.
From a positional standpoint, Amarikwa made the most sense. The veteran forward had been signed to provide cover for Rooney and made his debut in the second half Saturday.
Olsen did not need to make a midfield change, but did anyway, awarding Zoltan Stieber with his first start and resting Lucas Rodriguez. Stieber, whose $1 million contract is among the largest on the roster, had logged 11 minutes before Tuesday. Beyond the technical skills Stieber could bring, Olsen needed to make him feel wanted.
Playing the last of six straight to start the season, Montreal arrived without two influential attackers: MLS star Ignacio Piatti (knee injury) and forward Maxi Urruti (red-card suspension). The latter had scored four times in five meetings against D.C.
Without them, as well as some other regulars, the Impact sat back while United moved the ball from side to side and labored to crack Montreal’s code. The Impact is a counterattacking team and was even more so on this night. In possession, the visitors were careful and deliberate.
“I am sure how it looked to the fans it felt to the players,” D.C. winger Paul Arriola said. “They are a tough team to break down. We just didn’t move the ball quick enough.”
United’s attempts to work combinations fizzled amid constricted space. The first genuine opportunity came in the 55th minute and belonged to the Impact. Hamid made a diving save on Zachary Brault-Guillard’s angled bid.
Needing a spark, Olsen inserted Rodriguez and Amarikwa. Amarikwa’s overhead shot from six yards almost shattered the deadlock.
“It’s a point,” Olsen said. “Not how we want to walk away from home games, but it sets up in some ways with Wayne coming back in and the way we managed some bodies to go into Colorado [on Saturday] and hopefully get some points out of that one.”
United notes: After reviewing Rooney’s red card, MLS’s disciplinary committee decided not to extend his suspension to two matches, clearing him to play against the Rapids (0-4-2 entering Wednesday’s home match against Seattle). . . .
With Rooney and Mora (broken jaw) out, rookie defenders Donovan Pines and Akeem Ward were included on the 18-man game day roster. . . . In Rooney’s absence, Steve Birnbaum wore the captain’s armband . . . Two days before the Stanley Cup playoff opener, the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos were in attendance.
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