District Fútbol Report: DC United’s Berry, Rodríguez make debut with more help on the way

DC United forward Miguel Berry attempts to dribble past a Montreal defender during an MLS match at Audi Field. (Courtesy DC United)

Welcome to the District Fútbol Report, WTOP Sports’ soccer blog by José Umaña, recapping the week’s action from D.C.’s two soccer teams and taking you around the world’s game.

Following the hiring of Wayne Rooney as D.C. United’s new head coach, managing owner Jason Levien said the front office was in “investment mode” to bring talent for a late-season playoff run.

Almost three weeks later, some of the new investments have arrived to D.C. Two players — striker Miguel Berry and winger Martín Rodríguez — have already made their debuts while the club continues to make additions to help Rooney have a smooth start into his coaching tenure.

Berry was D.C.’s first major acquisition, coming in via a trade with the Columbus Crew three days after the Rooney’s hiring. He played 45 minutes in United’s friendly against German Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich last Wednesday, before playing 77 minutes in his official debut in D.C.’s 2-1 loss against CF Montreal on Saturday.

The 24-year-old combined well with D.C.’s Taxi Fountas for multiple scoring opportunities, finishing the game with three shots, two of which were on target. Berry said after the game it was his first real change to play alongside Fountas and some of his teammates.

With Rooney’s new formation change, placing a main striker up top with Fountas, Berry said it will take time to go through “the learning curve” to form a more lethal attack.

“I liked my performance and I had the chances to put the game away [but] didn’t take them,” Berry said. “Obviously, I think the second one, he’s made a really good save … It’s frustrating but if we go from here, I think we showed signs of life and I think it’s a good step forward.”

Watch Berry’s attempt below:

Meanwhile, Rodríguez finally arrived to D.C. last Wednesday after a long visa process. He signed on June 23. The Chilean winger said he had one practice before the Montreal match, where he came in as a substitute in the 63rd minute.

“The club has treated me well,” Rodríguez said in Spanish. “The group has a very familial vibe, which is a great thing. I am also very happy with my debut even though I have very little time to work with my teammates. I hope to get know them better so I can become a better asset to them on the field.”

Once his fitness levels are up, Rodríguez is expected to provide additional firepower coming off the right wing, a position that was left vacant following the departure of Edison Flores. Interim head coach Chad Ashton said Rodríguez has a “good offensive mind” that will be able to take on defenders and create plays for the rest of United’s attack.

Interim head coach Chad Ashton discusses the DC United debuts of Miguel Berry and Martín Rodríguez

While Berry and Rodríguez have appeared on the field, their new coach has remained in the stands, watching matches while awaiting his work visa. However, at United’s training grounds in Loudoun County, Virginia, Rooney has already begun working with players, Berry said, commanding respect from everyone and laying out defined roles for his players.

“Imagine that you’re used to seeing him on your TV and now, he’s your coach,” Rodríguez said in Spanish. “It’s an amazing thing, and it motivates you and makes you dream big.”

The Rooney factor pushed United to make multiple deals, including some high-profile ones, which are out of the norm from its low-cost spending of previous years.

Last week, D.C. added Jamaican international Ravel Morrison, who played in attack for Rooney during his time coaching in Debry Country. Then on Tuesday, United paid an undisclosed transfer fee for Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Pálsson from German club FC Schalke 04, becoming the club’s second designated player.

Both Morrison and Pálsson attended the Montreal game as they await for their work visas before training with their new teammates.

And the moves keep coming: Multiple outlets have confirmed D.C. plans to trade some allocated funds to add goalkeeper David Ochoa from Real Salt Lake. With Bill Hamid out with a hand injury, the 21-year-old Mexican international would instantly battle with Rafael Romo and Jon Kempin for starting minutes.

Berry and Rodríguez said patience would be essential with all the new additions as the team will look to come together immediately. Once players understand each other and communicate on the field, the team hopes it leads to positive results. D.C. enters its match against Orlando City on Sunday looking for its first home win since May 7.

“[I think] a lot of those things require relationships and chemistry and time to turn to develop, and I think we haven’t really had that yet,” Berry said. “But I think when it comes, it’ll be really promising.”

NWSL commissioner praises Spirit’s direction during visit

Almost a year after multiple scandals engulfed women’s soccer, National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman said she believes the Washington Spirit is on the “right path.”

Berman, who visited D.C. on July 17 as part of a listening tour, said some of the Spirit’s recent front office and coaching hires are a sign of progress for the future.

National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman prepares for her news conference at Audi Field in Washington, D.C. (WTOP/José Umaña)

“We’re both involved in a reset,” Berman said. “Where we’re really trying to rebuild the professionalism and operational rigor that supports each of our organizations, and obviously, our mutual success is critically important.”

Last year, the Spirit was one of five clubs rocked by coaching abuse scandals. Former coach Richie Burke was banned from the league after an investigation into claims into misconduct toward a player.

Allegations of “verbal and emotional abuse” toward female employees also forced former owner Steve Baldwin to sell his controlling interest in the club to Michele Kang, the founder and CEO of health care consulting provider Cognosante, in the offseason.

Berman was hired in early March, weeks before Kang officially became the Spirit’s controlling owner. The commissioner said she has spent a lot of time with Kang and believes Washington and the NWSL are on “parallel tracks” to recover from their respective scandals.

“We’ll be here to support them every step of the way,” Berman said.

In other news, Berman said the league is “not in the position” to respond to a report by The Athletic stating D.C. would be hosting the 2022 NWSL Championship. She added that the league hopes to make a formal announcement on the final “in the not too distant future.” A Spirit spokesperson told WTOP that it had not received official confirmation that D.C. will host the championship game.

See her entire news conference on the Spirit’s Twitch page.

Goal of the Week

As England led 2-0 against Sweden in the women’s Euro’s semifinals Tuesday, Alessia Russo found a creative way to score. After having her first shot blocked, the Manchester United forward quickly regained possession and flicked a backheel shot past the Swedish defender and goalkeeper for England’s third goal. The Lionesses went on to win 4-0.

Enjoy this filthy goal:

Did I miss something? Send your picks for Goal of the Week to jumana@wtop.com and see if your goal makes the next report!

Upcoming matches to watch

The Washington Spirit travels to North Carolina on Friday at 7:30 p.m., while D.C. United takes on Orlando City at home on Sunday at 5 p.m.

JUST ANNOUNCED: The U.S. women’s national team will play African champions Nigeria in a pair of friendlies with one of those games taking place at Audi Field. The match will take place on Sept. 6 at 6 p.m.; tickets will go on sale to the public on Aug. 1.

From the Mixed Zone: Welcome to the family

After international matches around the world, soccer journalists do not have locker room access. Instead, media members wait in a designated area for player interviews. In honor of that tradition, this section where I give you something to think about from a reporter’s point of view.

Dave Preston … Welcome to the family.

The WTOP sports anchor made a plea last Monday, calling for MLS, NWSL and the WNBA to play more games during baseball’s All-Star break.

WTOP's Dave Preston calls out MLS, WNBA and NWSL on lack of games during MLB's All-Star week.

While the comment was tongue and cheek (no need to go after him fam. Dave Johnson has enough for us), Preston is not wrong.

If anything, get in line with that take! Almost every soccer commentator, journalist, observer and fan in the U.S. has made this comment once in their lives.

Your wish will soon be realty with MLS as its new Apple deal creates a stable schedule with matches on Wednesdays and Saturdays only. So we should hopefully expect a nice slate of matches next year to enjoy instead of a fake awards show.

I expect to hear Mr. Preston and my favorite WTOP Sports team personalities embrace not just the Black and Red of D.C., but the pink of Inter Miami, Portland’s Timbers Army and the jumping for Los Angeles.

Embrace MLS Dave and love it.

The take from Lot 8

In honor of the supporter culture that existed in Lot 8 before D.C. United games at RFK Stadium, this section will focus on learning more about soccer through some of the best or more interesting stories available online so you can ready for your next tailgate. Become a more well-informed fan and give these stories about the world’s game your attention.

Jose Umana

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

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