New York City FC knew it could use a fast start to the Major League Soccer season.
The last two campaigns began with long winless stretches, and after a disappointing playoff exit in 2020, everyone around the club wanted to keep the good vibes of preseason going as long as possible.
NYCFC succeeded for a while, coming out aggressive in its season opener Saturday against D.C. United and scoring within a quarter hour.
Unfortunately for New York City, the next 75 minutes still needed to be played.
NYCFC fell flat after the early goal by Valentín Castellanos, looking sluggish for large stretches of both halves, and found itself unable to recover from a pair of high-class D.C. United strikes in a 2-1 loss at Audi Field in Washington.
"It was not even close to the performances we’ve had lately. It was a step back," said head coach Ronny Deila. "Overall a disappointing day. We can be better than this."
The defeat is the third consecutive disappointment to begin a season for NYCFC, now 2-4-1 in its MLS openers.
NYCFC’s starting 11 looked to be on the same page immediately after the opening kick, getting Castellanos his first chance within a few minutes. The striker got on the board in the 15th minute after impressive build-up play. From the center of the pitch, Maxi Moralez found a streaking Anton Tinnerholm, who carried the ball into the box and crossed low for Castellanos, who slid into the pass and redirected the ball into the net.
Not much went well for NYCFC after that. City failed to get another shot on target until the 85th minute, holding possession at times but rarely executing any plan and giving it away too often.
Soon after the NYCFC goal, D.C. United turned things on, nearly breaking through a few times before Brendan Hines-Ike ran onto a pass in open space from nearly 30 yards out and firing past Sean Johnson and into the bottom right corner.
D.C. went ahead just five minutes later on a clever corner kick. Julian Gressel perfectly lifted a floating pass across the field toward Russell Canouse, who settled under it at the edge of the box and slammed it on a volley through the NYCFC defense for the winner.
"After the first goal I thought we did all right," Johnson said. "But just little things, we have to get right in games. We lost our discipline and got away from the way we wanted to play."
Things got marginally better for NYCFC late after a handful of changes. Starting at left back following the departure of Ronald Matarrita, Gudi Thórarinsson looked tired by the end of the first half and often was struggling to get back from compromising positions. He was replaced in the 71st minute by newcomer Malte Amundsen, who got his first MLS minutes after only a few days of training with the club.
Veteran Alfredo Morales and homegrown player Andres Jasson also made their NYCFC debuts, coming on for Alex Callens and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, and the trio of subs gave City enough to make the last bit of game somewhat competitive.
Still, the shot creation never came. NYCFC finally got an attempt on target with a header by Keaton Parks in the closing minutes, but D.C. keeper Chris Seitz had little issue and NYCFC’s season again is off on the wrong foot. The club has a chance to get things right next Saturday against FC Cincinnati at Yankee Stadium.