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D.C. United rallies behind Taxi Fountas to earn draw at Miami

Greek attacker Taxi Fountas scored one goal and assisted on another to help D.C. rally for a draw at Inter Miami on Saturday night. (Hannah Wagner/D.C. United)
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Chad Ashton took heat this past week for bailing on the U.S. Open Cup to better position D.C. United for three regular season matches in quick succession. The first of those games — and the first chance to judge that decision — came on a stormy Saturday night against Inter Miami.

Close to full strength, United showed alarming deficiencies in conceding two first-half goals. But with Taxi Fountas leading the way, the visitors rallied for a 2-2 draw in a match that started 69 minutes late because of a severe thunderstorm.

“Any point on the road is a good point and, especially if you are down 2-0, you definitely walk out of it feeling pretty good about yourself,” Ashton said.

A week after a sterling defensive performance against Houston, United (4-5-1) sprung leaks in conceding goals 14 minutes apart. Fountas then scored before intermission with his fifth goal in five appearances since he joined the club from Rapid Vienna, and substitute Ola Kamara equalized in the 74th minute on a sequence orchestrated by the clever Greek attacker.

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Fountas beat two defenders near the sideline before feeding Russell Canouse, whose one-timed cross linked with Kamara for a close-range finish amid a crowd.

“I see Taxi getting the ball and he does those kinds of things,” Kamara said. “Let him play and do his magic.”

The match, before an announced 13,317 at DRV PNK Stadium, fell four days after Ashton rested almost all his regulars and fielded a largely young squad for a 3-0 Open Cup defeat to the rival New York Red Bulls at Audi Field. His approach did not sit well with fans and contributed to an early exit from the 108-year-old tournament, which United last won in 2013.

Ashton attributed the wear and tear last weekend’s regular season match against Houston had taken on his regulars and on the approaching schedule, which also includes home games against reigning champion New York City FC on Wednesday and Toronto FC next Saturday.

After the storm passed here, United utilized its wing backs to create two early chances against Drake Callender. Bill Hamid thwarted Miami’s first genuine threat, protecting the near corner with a diving save on Robert Taylor’s bid.

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Miami went ahead in the 31st minute. Christopher McVey beat three players in tight space and supplied Leo Campana just inside the box. After a one-touch pass wide to Ariel Lassiter, Campana made a near-post run.

He redirected Lassiter’s cross inside the six-yard box and beat Hamid to the near corner for his team-leading sixth goal, which ended Miami’s scoreless streak at 236 minutes.

United’s problems deepened just before halftime when it conceded a goal off a set piece — a liability all season. Jean Mota served a corner kick to the edge of the six-yard box, where Damion Lowe beat Michael Estrada and Donovan Pines to the header.

“Set piece again — we’ve got to do better,” Ashton said. “It’s hurting us, and it’s hurting us bad.”

United pulled one back deep in first-half stoppage time. Estrada’s clever touch redirected Julian Gressel’s cross to Fountas for a 10-yard one-timer between two defenders.

“That gave us a lift to our spirits coming into halftime,” Canouse said. “There was a good belief we could come back. We were patient.”

An open second half fueled D.C.'s optimism. Fountas seized on space and delivered two dangerous crosses.

“The game started to open up a little bit, and now he was able to find more space, was able to operate, move, get on the ball a little more,” Ashton said.

Fountas parlayed his influence into setting up the tying goal, Kamara’s fifth of the season.

“He’s been a great addition,” captain Steven Birnbaum said. “He brings a different dynamic. We need to get him on the ball. He makes things happen and opens space for other guys.”

Hamid then made a fine save on Campana, and United ended the game with 10 players after substitute Chris Durkin received a second yellow card early in the six minutes of stoppage time.

The draw extended United’s unbeaten record to 3-0-1 against Miami (3-6-2), which entered the league in 2020.

“It’s a very good point,” Kamara said. “We’re a better team than Miami, so there is a small disappointment not going home with three points. But when you go down 2-0, it’s a strong mentality to get back to 2-2.”

Here’s what else to know about United’s draw:

Lineup details

Hamid returned to the lineup after recovering from a cut on his lower leg, suffered last weekend against Houston. Rafael Romo, Hamid’s replacement against the Dynamo and starter in the Open Cup match, was the backup, bumping Jon Kempin (two starts) to third string.

Estrada received his fifth start at striker, chosen ahead of Kamara (five starts). Rookie Sofiane Djeffal was in the lineup for the fifth time, getting the call ahead of Durkin, who started in the Open Cup.

Kamara and Durkin entered in the 63rd minute.

Forward Nigel Robertha returned to active duty, as a sub, after missing two games with a concussion but did not play.

South Florida vibes

United made its second regular season visit to Fort Lauderdale since the Miami franchise launched. It won here last May, 3-0, on the strength of Kamara’s two goals. (It also won a 2022 preseason match at DRV PNK Stadium.)

United, though, has a long history of playing at this location, if not this stadium. From 1998 through the 2001 season, the Miami Fusion was an MLS member, based at Lockhart Stadium. Aside from regular season and playoff matches, United won the 1998 InterAmerican Cup here, defeating Brazil’s Vasco da Gama in the second leg, 2-0, after a 1-0 defeat at RFK Stadium.

When Inter Miami formed, a new, larger venue was constructed on the same footprint. Long term, Inter has been approved to build a mixed-use complex in Miami, including a 25,000-seat stadium, adjacent to the international airport. The goal is to open it in 2025.

The Family Lassiter

Miami’s starting lineup included Lassiter, son of former United star Roy Lassiter, whose 88 goals rank 14th in MLS history. The elder Lassiter played for D.C. in 1998-99 and 2002. The younger one is in his first season with Miami after playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo.