On the final match day of the MLS season, dubbed Decision Day, FC Cincinnati beat DC United 5-2 away from home to secure their spot in the playoffs. As DC United was playing for nothing and facing one of the best attacks in the league, Wayne Rooney decided to give some youngsters playing time, the most notable being Kristian Fletcher, Matai Akinmboni, and Theodore Ku-Dipietro. Fletcher scored a goal in his first MLS start and DC United held most of possession, but Cincinnati’s pesky counter pressing and clinical finishing from Brenner (who scored a first half hat trick) and Brandon Vazquez put the young defense under too much pressure.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be a strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, rewatch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: United States
- Age: 17
- Date of birth: 06/08/2005
- Club: DC United
- Career: Bethesda-Olney, Landon High School, Loudoun United
- Position: Left Winger
- Preferred foot: Right
- Other Position(s): Center Forward
Kristian Fletcher is a 183 cm left winger and center forward that played 60 minutes in this match. The quick and pacy attacker holds an English passport and has attracted attention from European giants like Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. He was in Europe for trials before signing with DC United’s USL Championship club, Loudoun United, in the spring. Since leaving high school to turn professional, Fletcher has now scored five goals in only seven starts and has continued to grow. In this match he displayed that he can physically handle the demands of an MLS match, his highest level of play yet. Although knocked off the ball at times, Fletcher did not let that deter him and his physicality persisted. Kristian Fletcher, the athlete, is an impressive player by himself, but with his skills on offense there is so much more to like.
Offensively, the most important action Fletcher made was score his lone shot with a beautiful finish to cut Cincinnati’s lead in half. He struck the ball with excellent placement and the right amount of power to the back right post with his dominant right foot. His ability to find space in the box finally paid off with the perfect ball coming to his feet with space. Due to his dominant right foot, Fletcher worked inside a lot, and was great at creating and/or finding space. When in the box he found the right gaps to exploit, but DC did not get much going in the box other than his goal. When cutting inside from the wing with the ball at his feet, Fletcher would usually show toward the ball for it at his feet in space and then use his tremendous skill with his quick feet to work inside and cause danger to the back line. He had good control of the ball but did get a little risky with his skill moves at times and lost possession because of it. His ability to beat multiple defenders with skill and some pace was evident, though, and will only get better with time which Fletcher has plenty of. Additionally, he would get open in transition when given the opportunity with pacy runs down the left wing, receiving through balls over the top. Fletcher’s pace helped to stretch the defense but the quality in DC United’s squad was not there to take advantage. Piling onto that, when Fletcher would look to get creative not much was there for him to take, so a lot of safe passes from his right foot took place.
On the defensive end, Fletcher displayed the work rate to add value in the press and add pressure upon possession loss. He had a willingness to get the ball back and his pace helped him to try to achieve that goal. Fletcher was also asked to come back on defense as an extra body, and although he did not add much quality, he was visibly aware of the positioning he needed to take to not put his club in trouble.
Rating – A1
Kristian Fletcher was a bright spot in a match where DC United was outgunned by a star-studded Cincinnati attack. Fletcher’s play somewhat made up for it and he really displayed that he could be serviceable at the MLS level next season. Fletcher should be a regular for Loudoun next season and at the top of Wayne Rooney’s mind for DC’s bench. And with his English citizenship, Fletcher could move to a top academy in Europe before his 18th birthday, too. I have no doubt he would hold his own against U19 Bundesliga or U18 Premier League competition.
- Nationality: United States
- Age: 16
- Date of birth: 17/10/2006
- Club: DC United
- Career: DC United
- Position: Left Center Back
- Preferred foot: Left
- Other Position(s): Left Back
Matai Akinmboni is the third youngest debutant in MLS history, and I have covered him in another report in the USL Championship at left back. In this match, he started at left center back before being subbed off in the 76th minute. He is an average build 188cm, but it is very mature for his age, Akinmboni has the stature to handle senior football already. He also glides fluidly on the pitch for his size contributing to some good recovery speed.
This was a frustrating match for Akinmboni, defensively. I saw a lot of what has gotten him this opportunity so early on but the mental lapses and step up in class were too glaring. Having a hand in three of the five goals your defense allowed is not a good look regardless of age. The saving grace is that physically he is already there, the mental game is what Akinmboni must sort out now. The pressure may have been too much for the young defender. The first goal he made a mistake in was on the counter where he lost his marker behind him on a cross, and then a headed pass got dinked right over his head for a shot and score. As that was happening, Akinmboni simply looked lost. The lapse of awareness and positioning really hurt him and his team before the clock even hit ten minutes. On the next, he really could have been pinned for an own goal as he slipped on a goal line clearance after a missed save attempt from his keeper. He mishit it and the second was in the back of the net. That moment showed good recovery and positioning to get in, he just seemed to suffer some untimely teenage clumsiness.
Akinmboni’s positioning and basic defensive skills were decent in this match just inconsistent, which will immediately get exposed at this level of play. Learning to keep focus and not switch off will do wonders for his consistency and thus take him a step up. Technically, his fundamentals are there and not a problem. In 1v1s, his technical ability when breaking down and shuffling combined with his physical presence bothered attackers and forced back passes. He also made a couple of stretching stand and slide tackles in duels to showcase his athleticism and technique to stop counters. Unfortunately, this had its drawbacks too, as his clearances were not very effective afterward or his teammates were not there for the loose ball, creating a second opportunity. One of these clearances led to the third goal against I would consider him to be involved in. Akinmboni made a stretching interception, but the clearance was bad and subsequently led to a dangerous attack in the box. When using his head on clearances he performed better, though. I would like to see more effort in those aerial duels, especially considering his size.
Distributing from the back, Akinmboni was comfortable with his left and calm, applying a soft touch. He kept his composure under pressure and even made a nice turn into a back pass, showing off his movement skills, too. Akinmboni also mixed in his right at times but was not quite as confident. It was a good sign to see him mixing in his weak foot so early in his career. He did not stretch the field match with his passing, preferring to keep it short. Most passes he used to advance were out to his left wing. An outlier happened when Akinmboni received a volley and passed it with his right into midfield. He showed a lot to build on as a ball-playing defender. With more development, the young center back could be decent cover at left back, too.
Rating – A2
Akinmboni is a high-quality talent with plenty of time and room to grow. The MLS proved to be a little out of his depth for the moment but physically he did not look out of place. As of right now, his defense is not nearly good enough to be involved every match day, but I think he deserves a shot to start for Loudoun next season. Akinmboni has a load of potential and is way ahead physically, so it is about finding the level where he will develop most effectively.