Down 2-0 and down a man, few saw a D.C. United comeback coming, especially after a first half that their own head coach called “passive.”
Federico Higuain, in his debut for the club, pulled one back with a patented chip. Then center back Frederic Brillant struck for the stoppage-time equalizer to snatch the 2-2 draw and stun Toronto FC in the opening match for both teams in the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando.
“I’m extremely proud of the way our team dug in and found a point,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen said. “It’s not been an easy road for them over the last 10 days here with all the twists and turns. For these guys to stay mentally tough during that time and then to not to fold 2-0, down a man in that heat, it shows the grit and the mentality of our team. Now we’ve got to get better. We have to grow and get the soccer part better and find out who our best XI is and that’s on me and our players to play at the level they can … When it comes to our mentality that can’t be questioned right now.”
“This tournament is hard. Like I said before this tournament it will be all about mentality and today was like that,” said Brillant, who mentioned how relieved he was to make up for a first-half error. “Like you saw the first half, it’s not very easy for us. We started the game with heavy legs. We tried to switch our minds to be ready for this game, but it was not easy at all. It’s only about mentality and about character and we showed today we have a very good character in this team.”
The momentum of the match seemed to shift after the 84th-minute goal by Higuain, who scored just four minutes after entering the match. It was his first action since tearing his ACL in May 2019 while with the Columbus Crew.
“I’m happy to be back on the field,” said Higuain postgame. “It was a long way for me, plus the COVID [pandemic]. It’s a very difficult moment for everybody, but I’m back on the field. I know this is the first step of my recovery. I’ve got to keep working and I will do it because I want to play as long as possible because this is the game that I love.”
“Even though we’ve only been around him for a short amount of time, [Higuain] is a big part of our team already,” Olsen said. “The guys have a lot of respect for him. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great guy for me, too, to have chats with on the side about our team.
“What his role is with us, that’s what you saw today,” continued Olsen. “But he’s the type of talent that as he gets fitter and more ingrained in this group, he might be a guy that now is hard to take off the field. He has that ability, his tempo, the way he can pull the strings is an important thing and something as you see today, we need it. We’re still not connecting passes in the right way. We’re still lacking a little bit of feel in how we build. Part of that is we’re still a new team trying to figure out how we go about the attacking side. Part of it is just quality and the individuals that was lacking at times. But he’s a guy who can give us that. We’re looking forward to having him.”
D.C.’s second group game comes against the New England Revolution on Friday, July 17 (8 pm ET on ESPN, TSN). The Revs won their opener 1-0 against the Montreal Impact.