D.C. United leans on youth in scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake

With a misplaced season winding down, D.C. United Coach Wayne Rooney has pledged to check younger gamers as a part of his roster analysis and planning for 2023. New to the job and with no hope of constructing the playoffs, he has the luxurious of experimenting.

On Saturday night time, he began two youngsters.

At 18, midfielder Jackson Hopkins was the weathered veteran.

On the again line stood 15-year-old Matai Akinmboni making his MLS debut.

Throughout United’s 0-0 draw with Real Salt Lake in Sandy, Utah, the 6-foot-3 homegrown heart again from Higher Marlboro grew to become the third youngest participant in league historical past to look in a daily season match. Solely Freddy Adu (D.C., 2004) and Alphonso Davies (Vancouver, 2016) had been greener.

“I thought he’d done very well,” Rooney stated. “I thought he was composed on the ball. He made the right decisions at the right times.”

The extent of Akinmboni’s prior expertise on the professional stage was 101 minutes in 4 appearances as an beginner for second-division Loudoun United. On Saturday, he performed the primary half in serving to to compensate for the absence of captain Steven Birnbaum (yellow card suspension).

“I just told him, ‘Play your game. You’re here for a reason and to showcase your skill and know we will back you up as much as possible,’” defender Donovan Pines said. “He’s a very, very smart young player and he’s going to grow into an incredible center back. He played very well for being 15 years old playing his first game.”

His debut got here 10 days after 17-year-old attacker Kristian Fletcher, The Washington Publish’s All-Met Participant of the 12 months at Landon final fall, made his first look. Hopkins has began 10 instances, all however as soon as previously two months.

Akinmboni acquitted himself nicely, although he did obtain a yellow card for an ill-timed problem within the fortieth minute. That card was a part of the rationale Rooney determined to exchange him at halftime, to keep away from a second yellow.

Rooney additionally cited a formation change, which led to veteran Tony Alfaro changing Akinmboni.

Akinmboni earned the beginning by means of his performances in coaching, Rooney stated.

“I am a man of my word, and what I said to the players when I came in, which I’ve stuck to, is if you perform well in training, you will get your chance to play,” Rooney stated. “He’s been excellent in training and he deserved to come in.

“Yeah, he’s 15. And yeah, I have to protect him. But I just felt he was ready to come in and play. Is he going to play every game? Of course not. He’s still a very young boy, and for us to see him playing in an away game in difficult circumstances and perform the way he did as a 15-year-old, he has got a very bright future. So I got everything I wanted from the 45 minutes he played. I will keep trying to develop him and hopefully we’ll see more of him this season and in the years to come.”

Real Salt Lake’s pressure grew as the first half transpired but United reached intermission on level terms. David Ochoa, a former RSL standout, made two high-quality saves.

United’s opportunities came early, but Ola Kamara failed to finish twice from close range. Christian Benteke, the prized summer signing from England’s Crystal Palace, was quiet as his new teammates labored to supply him the ball and build chemistry with the Belgian striker.

Locked in a tight playoff race, RSL (11-9-10) remained ambitious. Under duress, United (7-17-6) kept its cool.

For Wayne Rooney, D.C. life is work, work and more work. Just what he wanted.

The pressure waned at times, offering the visitors time to catch their breath and push forward for fleeting forays. United was the better side for a brief spell, and in the 72nd minute, RSL’s Zac MacMath (University of Maryland) was forced to make a kick save on Kamara’s serious threat.

Ochoa, 21, was at it again in the 80th minute, springing to make a sensational touch save on Anderson Julio’s six-yard header.

“He was magnificent,” Rooney said. “He made some really important saves at good times for us, but also his game management, his temperament, everything was first class. With every game, he has gotten better.”

United extended its unbeaten streak to three — the longest of the season — and earned consecutive shutouts for the first time since opening the campaign with victories over Charlotte and Cincinnati.

“I was delighted with the character the lads showed defending the box,” Rooney said. “Donovan Pines was excellent. We showed a really strong mentality.”

The attack, though, has gone scoreless in seven of the past nine matches and 14 times overall.

Right here’s what else to learn about United’s draw:

Ochoa was an RSL hero last season, but after a falling out with the organization, he was relegated this year to nonleague matches and lower-division games.

With Ochoa’s contract expiring this offseason, RSL traded him to United on July 28 for up to $375,000 in allocation money. If Ochoa signs overseas this winter, RSL will receive only $75,000 from United. United and Ochoa’s agent are in negotiations.

“I’m grateful for the club for the opportunity they’re giving me,” Ochoa said Friday. “I wouldn’t mind staying in D.C. I really like the style of play Wayne wants to play.”

With United flying directly to Kansas City from Salt Lake City for Tuesday’s match against Sporting KC, Rooney brought four players who weren’t in uniform Saturday: Birnbaum, goalkeeper Jon Kempin, rookie midfielder Ted Ku-DiPietro and forward Nigel Robertha.

Robertha hasn’t been in uniform since the July 20 friendly against Bayern Munich because Rooney doesn’t rate him highly and, recently, he has dealt with a hamstring injury.

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