The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sloppy first half at funky Yankee Stadium leaves D.C. United at a loss

New York City FC 3, D.C. United 2

D.C. United Coach Wayne Rooney, pictured in a matchup with Orlando City last week, saw his team fall to 1-2-1 on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
5 min

NEW YORK — Yankee Stadium is a funky place to play soccer. The dimensions are tight, and the sightlines induce vertigo. Discolored grass covers the baseball infield, making it look as if watermarks were superimposed on a large swath of the pitch.

In the days leading up to D.C. United’s 3-2 defeat vs. New York City FC on Saturday night, Coach Wayne Rooney considered altering the training field diagonally to re-create the odd setup in the Bronx.

The beginning was as miserable as ever at the famous ballpark for United (1-2-1), which conceded two goals in the first half and seemed in danger of another lopsided defeat. The visitors did adjust, halving the deficit on Christian Benteke’s goal less than a minute into the second half and later pulling within a goal again on Steven Birnbaum’s header.

But “the first half was nowhere near good enough,” Rooney said. “And I don’t know why. You have games where you can’t understand why the performance was so bad. I could have taken every player off, to be honest. I was pleased with the reaction in the second half, but the first half cost us the game.”

United’s winless streak swelled to eight (by a 24-7 scoring margin) at the makeshift venue. D.C.’s only away victory in the all-time series came last season at New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena, one of NYC’s alternative venues when Yankee Stadium isn’t available.

Bronx-based since joining MLS in 2015, NYCFC (2-1-1) did finally gain approval to build its own stadium: It will be in Queens, near Citi Field, and open as early as 2027.

United — and surely every other team in MLS — cannot wait.

Gio Reyna returns to USMNT amid ‘complex situation’ engulfing family and coach

On Saturday, the host team went ahead in the 17th minute, though it needed video review to confirm the goal.

Keaton Parks’s through ball linked with Braian Cufré in stride. A low cross met Talles Magno, who got behind center back Derrick Williams for a five-yard finish. The offside flag rose.

After review, however, referee Mark Allatin saw that Nigel Robertha had kept Magno onside, so he allowed the goal.

Twenty minutes later, Williams and left back Mohanad Jeahze were caught adrift upfield. An instant before Williams’s hard challenge, Gabriel Pereira liberated Santiago Rodríguez for a breakaway and a clinical finish past goalkeeper Tyler Miller.

In the locker room at halftime, Rooney blasted his team.

“I don’t think I can [share] the language I used,” he said, grinning.

“It was needed,” Williams said. “He was shouting, and he got the reaction he needed.”

Rooney made three substitutions. The moves, combined with renewed spirit, paid off in 33 seconds. From the left wing, Mateusz Klich crossed to Benteke, whose eight-yard downward header beat keeper Luis Barraza to the far corner.

United maintained pressure, and in the 70th minute Barraza made a sensational reaction save on Ted Ku-DiPietro’s side volley from close range.

This was not like the previous two visits, when United was buried in 4-1 and 6-0 losses. NYC, however, extended its lead when Rodríguez set up substitute Thiago Andrade for a one-touch finish past Miller in the 88th minute.

“At 2-1, you still have hope,” Benteke said. “And you are feeling like you are going to score, and then you concede the third one. The third one was a killer.”

Birnbaum answered in the 90th minute, heading in Klich’s corner kick, and with nine minutes added (and then another three), United had hope. Birnbaum stung another threatening header, but this one zipped wide.

“The second half,” Rooney said, “was much better than the mess we performed in the first half.”

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

One lineup change

Rooney made one change to his starting lineup, dropping midfielder Pedro Santos after three consecutive starts and reinserting Robertha, a forward who sat out last weekend with illness.

Making his second consecutive start, Ku-DiPietro joined Robertha on Benteke’s flanks.

Homegrown defender Jacob Greene, a third-year pro from Crofton, made his MLS regular season debut, entering at halftime for Brazilian right back Ruan. Greene was a full-time starter for second-division Loudoun United last year.

Santos and midfielder Victor Palsson were also added at the start of the second half. Defender Matai Akinmboni, 16, replaced the injured Jeahze in the 60th minute. Santos also got hurt, leaving in the 78th.

Palsson, Fletcher receive call-ups

Palsson and forward Kristian Fletcher were summoned for international duty and will miss next Saturday’s home match against the New England Revolution.

Palsson will join the Icelandic national team for 2024 European Championship qualifiers at Bosnia and Liechtenstein. Fletcher, a 17-year-old homegrown in his first full season, will report to the U.S. under-19 national team for training camp in Buenos Aires and friendlies against Argentina and Racing Club.

Most first-division leagues pause for FIFA’s international windows to avoid losing players. MLS often doesn’t, so next week dozens of players will miss league matches.

MLS will break for the FIFA windows in October and November, and the schedule is lighter than usual during the June and September windows.

O’Brien observes

Midfielder Lewis O’Brien, acquired on loan from Premier League club Nottingham Forest but ineligible until he receives a work visa, was in attendance to get a feel for the MLS game-day experience. United is hopeful he will debut in a few weeks.

Andy Najar (hamstring), Taxi Fountas (hamstring) and Brendan Hines-Ike (foot) are a few weeks from returning from injury.