Fulham’s French forward Moussa Dembele led the way with a hat trick, firing Shahid Khan’s Fulham to a 3-0 victory over Major League Soccer franchise D.C. United in a club friendly Saturday night at EverBank Field.
The exhibition match opened a glittering night that included the unveiling of the stadium’s new record-setting video boards and a country music concert by Carrie Underwood.
“I’m very happy, not only with the result but with my team,” Fulham manager Felix Magath said. “They played very well. I asked them to play it forward and he [Dembele] played very well.”
Early afternoon thunderstorms couldn’t drench the enthusiasm of a crowd that arrived slowly but eventually turned out in droves for a night billed as a “mega-event,” culminating with a performance by Grammy-winning singer Underwood.
Fulham looked radically different from the underachieving squad that finished 19th of 20 teams last year in the Premier League and suffered relegation to the second-tier League Championship.
The midfield duo of Chris David and American teenager Emerson Hyndman, along with speedy 18-year-old Dembele, represented the new generation for Fulham and gave reason for fans to hope that the club’s Premier League return might come sooner rather than later.
“I was impressed with our control,” Magath said. “For a lot of the game we had control of the midfield. They mixed very well, stayed in their positions, and from that position played good passes forward.”
Midfield playmaker David, a 21-year-old from Amsterdam, nearly tallied the first score in the shadow of the 362-foot-long boards, bending a ninth-minute free kick that grazed the United defensive wall and clanged back off the goalpost.
But it took just 12 minutes more for Fulham to achieve the milestone.
David aimed a perfect pass to split the United defense and launch a breakaway for Dembele, who controlled the ball and chipped it past D.C. keeper Andrew Dykstra.
Dembele added a second when D.C. captain Bobby Boswell failed to clear a cross from left back Konstantinos Stafylidis, leaving Dembele free to tap in from five yards in the 43rd minute.
He put away the match in the 72nd minute, sliding home a low shot from the top of the box after a United giveaway.
“It was a good trip,” Dembele said. “It’s tough at the beginning of the year, but we played well and got the win.”
Dembele’s effort was the first hat trick at the stadium since Landon Donovan scored three for the United States against Scotland in May 2012.
D.C. United rested many of its normal starters, including Palm Coast’s Eddie Johnson and top scorer Fabian Espindola, and seldom threatened to break down a Fulham defense solidified by Shaun Hutchinson and Scottish teenager Cameron Burgess.
It was a splendid birthday gift for the 61-year-old Magath, who was also presented with a commemorative jersey in a pre-match ceremony with Khan and Mayor Alvin Brown. Now, he’s looking forward to rebuilding Fulham’s fortunes – and perhaps a return trip to the First Coast.
“It’s been a good place for us,” Magath said. “I hope and I think that we’ll come next year again.”
Line-up: Dykstra (Hamid 52′); Kemp, Shanosky, Boswell (Birnbaum 52′); Porter, Jeffrey, Martin, Neal, Caskey; Seaton, Doyle
Unused substitutes: Franklin, Silva, DeLeon, Francois, Korb, Kitchen
Line-up: Joronen; Voser, Burgess, Hutchinson, Stafylidis; Hoogland, David (Eisfeld 76′), Hyndman, Williams R (Roberts 45′); Dembele (Williams G 84′), Rodallega
Unused substitutes: Bettinelli, Amorebieta
Scorers: Moussa Dembele 21, Moussa Dembele 43, Moussa Dembele 72