Felipe - DC United - close-up
USA Today Sports

Once a bitter enemy, Felipe has brought needed grit back to DC United

WASHINGTON -- After watching baseball’s Washington Nationals lock up the city’s first World Series berth in 86 years on Tuesday night, D.C. United midfielder Felipe is asking the city’s soccer fans to believe something special can happen on the pitch this year as well.

“I feel like this year is Washington city’s year for sport,” Felipe told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday, referencing the Nationals and the Washington Mystics’ recent WNBA title. “You saw with in women’s basketball, and now the Nats are going to the World Series. And I’m pretty confident that the fans need to believe we’re going to make MLS Cup and make this city unique in 2019.”

Felipe isn’t daunted the road to land a title, where D.C. begins the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs at Toronto FC in a first round tilt on Saturday (6 pm ET | TUDN in US; TSN4, TVAS2 in Canada). And if he seems unusually comfortable speaking to a city in which he’s only lived for two months, that tells you about the stunning ease of his transition to D.C. at the close of the MLS secondary transfer window.

Having struggled to adjust to Vancouver Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos’ system, D.C. officially acquired the Brazilian in a trade on Aug. 6, marking Washington his fourth stop during eight MLS seasons.

Once a member of hated rivals New York Red Bulls, and earlier reviled by D.C. fans for a devastating tackle on Fabian Espindola while playing for the Montreal Impact, he says his new club immediately felt like he had come home.

“I think D.C. United checks all the boxes about who I am, the way I am, the way I live, the kind of person and player I am,” Felipe said. “Throughout the years, since I came to the league, when I think about D.C. United, one, it’s a team that never gives up. It’s so hard to play against. It’s a team that always has very good mentality. A winning mentality, that is ‘Never give up’.”

Only three days following his arrival in Washington, he played the full 90 minutes to help D.C. gut out a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“That game was something different, because of the atmosphere,” recalled Felipe, who earlier this season called out Vancouver fans for fawning over Ibrahimovic. “It was my first game in that stadium, against Zlatan and the LA Galaxy. It was a game that could show how much we could put in. How much effort. And that when we play as a team, we can win against anybody.”

When Wayne Rooney arrived last summer and helped D.C. to a furious charge to the 2018 postseason, it appeared D.C. had moved into a more glamorous age, and away from the us-against-the-world mentality of much of manager Ben Olsen’s tenure. 

After a stretch of just two victories in 13 games this year, that old edge apparently returned right as Felipe got off the plane. United are 4W-3L-2D since his arrival, finishing the season with an MLS-record tying five consecutive clean sheets.

“We’ve won some key games, we’ve gone to tough places to play, and everyone was counting us out,” Felipe said. “Everyone was saying that we wouldn’t make the playoffs, and here we are.

“Saturday, we play a very important game. But as we said today, we play to win, not to not lose. So we’re going there with the right mentality.”

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