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New-look D.C. United faces playoff-tested NYCFC in opener

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D.C. United has a new coach and an even newer general manager as it opens the season against visiting New York City FC on Saturday night.

The franchise fired coach Ben Olsen (2010-20) during the latter stages of last season and finished with 21 points, tied for second fewest in MLS.

Hernan Losada was hired as coach to ignite the offensive attack, and he sees one problem — the players aren’t in top-flight condition.

“I didn’t expect to have the team so unfit,” the 38-year-old Losada said earlier this week. “If we want to compete with teams that are going to be better than us, teams that have more budget and better players than us, we need to be the fittest team in the league.”

Earlier this week, D.C. United took another step in revamping the organization by hiring Lucy Rushton as general manager. Rushton is just the second woman to be GM of an MLS team.

While D.C. United has missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons, NYCFC has been part of the postseason in each of the past five campaigns.

Second-year coach Ronny Deila certainly expects the streak to continue.

“We’re in a very good place right now. At the same time, we have open spots we can fill during the season,” Deila said earlier this week. “Here in the U.S., playoffs is everything so we can get stronger and stronger during the season.”

NYCFC won’t have standout forward Heber for the first few months of the season after the Brazilian tore the ACL in his right knee last September. Heber scored 15 goals in 22 matches in 2019 in his first season with the franchise.

NYCFC is looking for midfielder Maximiliano Moralez to regain his form after a 2020 knee injury. The 34-year-old Moralez had just one goal and four assists in 13 matches last season after combining for 20 goals and 45 assists over the previous three campaigns.

D.C. United won’t have defender Steven Birnbaum due to ankle surgery. The club hopes midfielders Julian Gressel (two goals, three assists) and Edison Flores (three assists) will improve on quiet 2020 seasons.

–Field Level Media

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