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D.C. United midfielder Russell Canouse began his post-game press conference with an apology of sorts.
“Sorry, I’m still catching my breath,” he said with a laugh. “Ran a lot.”
The players will need to get used to that. During the offseason, D.C. United hired Hernán Losada to replace longtime coach Ben Olsen. The 38-year-old Argentina native previously led Beerschot, a Belgian club, and gained a reputation for running an attacking style of play. Since arriving in D.C., Losada has emphasized the importance of fitness and pledged to bring a new identity and culture to the franchise.
On Saturday, April 17, his team delivered as D.C. beat New York City FC, 2-1, in a physical and feisty game in its home opener at Audi Field. Defender Brendan Hines-Ike scored in the 39th minute of his D.C. United debut and Canouse followed with another goal in the 44th minute as the 4,500 fans in attendance chanted, “D.C.! United!”
“Personally, it was fun,” Canouse said. “It was fun to be out there. It was a joy to be back in front of the home fans and go after a game like that, play with that kind of energy, obviously get a win in our first game. The three points was massive. So I enjoyed it. I thought it was a huge team effort. Everybody put a full 90 minutes in and worked hard until the end of the game.”
Last season, D.C. United finished with a 5-12-6 record and failed to reach the playoffs for the second time in the past four seasons under Olsen, who was fired as coach in October after being with the team as a player or coach since 1998.
The team hired Losada in January and has also made several changes to the front office. Danita Johnson joined the club as its president of business operations, becoming the first Black president of an MLS club. Lucy Rushton was hired to be general manager, the second woman in MLS history to hold that position, while former GM Dave Kasper was promoted to president of soccer operations and sporting director. Olsen remains with United as a front office adviser and consultant, according to the Washington Post.
Preseason power rankings by MLS.com had D.C. United ranked 23rd out of 27 teams. Against New York City FC, the team had 10 players out with injuries, including starting goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who is sidelined with a calf strain, and defender Steven Birnbaum, who is set to return in June after ankle surgery.
Losada told reporters earlier this month that he did not believe his players would be ready for his uptempo style by the start of the season. He estimated that the team could only play how he wanted “for 60, 65, 70 minutes, not more than that.” But he said after Saturday’s match that he was surprised by the way the team kept pushing, even as some players began to cramp and slow down toward the end of the game.
“We all made a huge effort,” Losada said. The forwards, the way they run when we don’t have the ball, they are our first defenders and it’s kind of normal that after such a long break, we can’t keep that tempo and that intensity for 95 minutes. But that’s why you need good substitutions, people who is ready to come in and help the team. So I still believe we can be a lot better than what we are tonight. And that’s why I’m so happy with the points against a very good opponent.”
Even with the win, Canouse, who played for 90 minutes, doesn’t think the team is close to the level of fitness that Losada wants. The new look D.C. United is just getting started.
“I think we can refine it,” he said. “I think we have a lot more to grow in this system. But I do think, with that said, the team did well. I think the way we came out in the first half, and we’re attacking and winning the ball, pressing and playing for it, it was exciting to be a part of that.”