WASHINGTON, D.C. — D.C. United played to a 1-1 draw Wednesday in its final international friendly of the 2019 season against Liga MX side Club Puebla at Audi Field.
“It was better than the last one by about seven goals,” coach Ben Olsen joked while referencing United’s 8-1 loss to Olympique de Marseille earlier this year. “This is what these should look like. You play a mix bag of players on your squad to get minutes and also to keep sharpness.”
For United, the friendly was a chance for captain Wayne Rooney and midfielder Luciano Acosta to regain fitness, after the pair of play-makers missed time recently due to a suspension and benching, respectively.
While Rooney missed the last two-and-a-half MLS games with a red card suspension, Acosta has been on-and-off the bench during United’s recent run. Both players played a full 90 minutes against Puebla.
“It is a friendly game at the end of the day,” Rooney said after the game. “It was important to get the minutes in and get myself ready for Portland.”
While Rooney took up his typical role in the attack next to forward Quincy Amarikwa, Olsen opted to put Acosta deeper in the formation to accommodate getting more players much-needed minutes.
“It is not something we are looking forward to doing in the future,” Olsen said. “ If you want to get Quincy and Wayne minutes, that means Lucho, he is very versatile and tactically sound, so he can figure that out.”
Neither Rooney nor Acosta would find the back of the net for United. Giving the Black-and-Red an early lead was Amarikwa, whose fourth minute one-touch strike gave the home side a 1-0 advantage. The 31-year-old forward had scored just once in his previous 20 appearances for United.
The Liga MX side played hard tackles against United. They committed 14 fouls, including a particularly hard foul by midfielder Rodolfo Salinas, who was shown a yellow card. Offensively, Puebla was able to get 21 shots to United’s nine. The Liga MX competitors closest chance for an equalizer in the first half came in the 36th minute when a ball from Jorge Zarate kissed off of the netting.
The new non-MLS members of United’s starting lineup were defenders Shane Wiedt and Robert Dambrot, who were called-up from D.C.’s USL Championship affiliate, Loudoun United.
“I will say this about the two centerbacks that we grabbed on Wednesday, and who have never played with the team, I thought they did great” Olsen said. “What a great experience for them to step into this game on the field with essential a first team MLS team.”
Both players recorded a full 90 minutes.
At halftime, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen inserted forward Gordon Wild, midfielder Russell Canouse and defender Marquinhos Pedroso for Ulises Segura, Felipe Martins and Joseph Mora. Right back Leonardo Jara slipped into the defensive midfield role alongside Acosta.
Attacking midfielder Lucas Rodriquez had an opportunity for a score in the 66th minute, but his 35-yard shot soared over the net.
In the 71st minute, rain came in a downpour over Audi Field. As fans filed out of their seats, Puebla took a free kick 3o yards away from goal. After a mess in the penalty box, forward Diego Abella hit a pinpoint accurate shot past goalkeeper Chris Seitz for the equalizer. The rain let up moments later.
United had two close chances to claim the lead in the final five minutes of the game. In the 84th minute, Pedroso sent a long cross into the box for Canouse, whose header was saved by goalkeeper Jesus Rodriguez. United’s final attempt on goal came in stoppage time when Acosta won a free kick. Rooney stepped up to take a shot on goal, but his chance hit off the woodwork. It was the captains second free kick and second shot of the night.
While Rooney and Acosta played valuable minutes, Untied failed to secure a win in its final international friendly of the year. Puebla, who played mostly second choice players, returns to the Apetura of Liga MX currently in 17th place with an overall record of 1-3-3. Meanwhile, United was 1-3-1 in club friendlies during the 2019 season prior to the draw with Puebla, and can finally turn its head back to the final stretch of the MLS season.
“From a coaching standpoint of what you would want out of a friendly, this was exactly what we wanted,” Olsen said. “Of course you want to win the game, but good minutes against a good opponent for guys that haven’t been seeing a lot of game action, keeping the guys sharp that have, no injuries and now we can send them away for a few days and get a break.”