The summer friendly season kicked off today when DC United hosted Eredivisie champs Ajax at RFK stadium. Ajax, a week after their impressive 3-1 win over FC Twente, trotted out five starters from last week’s match and played a total of ten starters from a week ago. DC was without the services of Charlies Davies and Josh Wolff, but still trotted out a first team lineup that included defender Perry Kitchen in the midfield and one-time midfielder Brandon Barklage as a center back.
The match began rather unsurprisingly with Ajax dominating possession. The 4-3-3 was causing the DC midfield trouble and the Ajax forwards were constantly finding space in the DC end. In the 10th minute they finally broke through with Miralem Sulejmani on the break receiving a pass from Nicolas Lodeiro, giving de Godenzonen a 1-0 lead.. It epitomized the first ten minutes – DC looking to string together some passes, Ajax playing keep away and probing, until finding space and creating opportunities. To their credit, DC responded well with the midfield doing a good job holding possession and slowly advancing up the field. Barklage launched a shot from 40 feet out that tailed towards the net but was knocked wide by starting keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
The second half started similar to the first, with Ajax again dominating possession and creating some early opportunities. The difference for DC was the lineup, with head coach Ben Olsen making five changes at the half to get his bench players some playing time. The subs with the biggest impact were third-string striker Blake Brettschneider and Fred. In the 58th minute, Joseph Ngwenya found Brettschneider with a cross into the box that the rookie could convert to tie the score at 1. The rest of the contest saw both sides trading chances with both having the opportunity to go ahead. But it was a mistake by Fred in the 87th minute, who to that point had played pretty well, that gave DC its first loss in a friendly in over a year. Fred was stripped by Vurnon Anita in midfield, with Anita taking the ball and sliding it past keeper Steve Cronin for the deciding goal.
And thus begins a summer that will see numerous European and Latin American teams visit the U.S. and play these friendlies against MLS teams and each other. The question is always asked if they are worth it for fans and the league; for DCU only 10,000 plus showed up for the match and a sizable minority were rooting for Ajax. For the players, it is a chance for them to ply their trade against the world’s best and matchup up with world class players. Ben Olsen himself jokingly admitted after the match he loved friendlies as a player because it allowed him to dream of signing an international contract. The debate will not be resolved from one match, but just like last season’s victory over AC Milan, DC United is again beginning a new season of big-named friendlies.