WASHINGTON — D.C. United matched Toronto FC’s comeback with one of its own in a wild MLS season opener Saturday.
Substitute Theodore (Ted) Ku-Dipietro set up Christian Benteke in the 90th minute and then scored the winner in the 98th minute — his first MLS goal — as D.C. United rallied for a 3-2 win at Audi Field.
“We didn’t make some key plays and that’s what cost us,” said Toronto coach Bob Bradley.
Adding to Toronto’s pain, Italian star Lorenzo Insigne limped off in the first half.
“He felt something in the lower leg. (He) couldn’t continue,” said Bradley. “That’s all I know at the moment.”
After going down 1-0 in the 13th minute, Toronto seemed to have salvaged the three points with Federico Bernardeschi scoring one goal and setting up another.
Bernardeschi scored from the penalty spot in the 66th minute to pull Toronto even and then, with a powerful free kick, set the table for Mark-Anthony Kaye’s goal that gave TFC a 2-1 lead in the 83rd minute. D.C. goalkeeper Tyler Miller got a hand on Bernardeschi’s rocket but Kaye reached the rebound first, acrobatically twisting his body to knock the ball home.
“I was really proud of how we showed up in the second half,” Kaye said after registering his first goal in TFC colours.
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D.C. coach Wayne Rooney said he “put the young lads in and said ‘Go and shine.”’
“I’m delighted for Ku. He’s been excellent all-pre-season,” the former England star said of the 21-year-old Ku-DiPietro, a homegrown player who joined the D.C. academy in 2018.
After finding its game in the second half, Toronto will rue both late goals.
It had 10 men defending in the penalty box when Benteke scored the tying goal, with centre back Sigurd Rosted losing his footing after battling the big Belgian international in front of goal. That allowed Benteke a clean header.
On the winning goal, Ku-Dipietro beat Jonathan Osorio to the ball with Rosted preoccupied with Benteke,
D.C. had the better start and pulled ahead in the 13th minute when designated player Mateusz Klich, in his MLS debut, was allowed to drive unchallenged down the middle of the field. The Polish midfielder, who spent the last four seasons in England with Leeds United, beat Sean Johnson with a right-footed shot from outside the penalty box.
Things went from bad to worse in the first half with Insigne having to leave the pitch.
The former Napoli captain was running after the ball when he suddenly stopped, holding his groin area while holding up an arm to tell the Toronto bench that he had a problem. He returned briefly after treatment but hobbled off in the 34th minute, holding his head in his hands as he sat on the bench.
The star winger is the highest-paid player in the league with his salary listed at US$14 million last season.
TFC looked more composed in the second half and Bernardeschi pulled Toronto even from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after fullback Richie Laryea was taken down by 16-year-old defender Matai Akinmboni. The Italian waited for Miller to move and then calmly slotted the ball into the middle of the goal.
Saturday’s contest was a matchup of the league’s two worst teams last season.
Toronto (9-18-7) finished 27th overall, seven points ahead of cellar-dwelling D.C. (7-21-6). TFC and D.C. Before Saturday, Toronto and D.C. had each lost a league-worst 36 games since the start of the 2021 season.
Toronto wrapped up the 2022 season with five straight losses, conceding four goals in four of the games. D.C. won just one of its final 13 outings (1-9-3), a slide that ended with four straight defeats.
Toronto’s last league win was Aug. 27, a 2-0 decision over Charlotte FC.
But with a total of 26 players moving on from the two teams in the off-season, it was a new start for both.
Toronto started five newcomers. Johnson manned the goal behind a revamped back four with newcomers Matt Hedges, Rosted and Raoul Petretta joining the incumbent Laryea.
Norwegian international Adama Diomande, another off-season acquisition, started up front.
Captain Michael Bradley was joined in the midfield by Osorio and Kaye with Insigne and Bernardeschi flanking Diomande.
Miller started in the D.C. goal with former TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono, who holds Toronto franchise records for goalkeeper wins (67) and shutouts (35), on the bench. Miller joined D.C. in the off-season after losing his starting job at Minnesota United to Canadian Dayne St. Clair.
Rooney started Akinmboni, a homegrown defender who became the third-youngest player to make his MLS debut at 15 years 328 days when he started in September in a 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake.
Only Freddy Adu (14 years 334 days) with D.C. United and Canada’s Alphonso Davies (15 years 327 days) with the Vancouver Whitecaps were younger when they made their MLS debuts.
Greek international forward Taxi Fountas, another of D.C. designated player, did not dress because of a hamstring strain.
Toronto, which was a dismal 2-11-4 on the road last, visits Atlanta next Saturday before hosting Columbus on March 11.