“A word was used that I think is unacceptable in society,” Neville said. “A word was used that I think is the worst word in the world.”
Miami defender DeAndre Yedlin said Lowe was walking away after a tussle with Fountas when “the guy called him the n-word” and teammate Aimé Mabika reacted angrily. Lowe and Mabika are Black. Yedlin said Miami decided to “not continue until something was done with that player.”
Fountas, who had scored his team-leading 12th goal of the season moments before, was not made available for comment amid an investigation by the club, MLS and the Professional Referee Organization, a club spokesman said. Referee Ismail Elfath told a pool reporter that no official had heard racist or abusive language and that none was detected via video review.
“The referee came over and spoke to me and Phil and there was a complaint, which I’m sure will get investigated,” United Coach Wayne Rooney said. “So there’s nothing really much more I can say.”
In a statement, United said: “D.C. United are aware of the allegations involving a player during the match against Inter Miami CF. The club will work closely with Major League Soccer and Inter Miami to investigate the incident.”
“MLS has zero tolerance for abusive and offensive language and we take these allegations very seriously,” the league said in a statement. “An investigation into this matter will begin promptly.”
Spirit beats Gotham FC, has postseason hopes dashed a short while later
Six weeks after United made Christian Benteke the most expensive player in club history, Rooney finally had an opportunity to deploy his prize summer signing alongside Fountas, the club’s lone all-star who had missed Benteke’s first four matches with a concussion.
Sure enough, Benteke and Fountas found the net Sunday. But Miami got a pair of goals from Leonardo Campana and, after Fountas exited, a stoppage-time winner from Gonzalo Higuaín.
For a last-place D.C. team (7-19-6) that had failed to score in eight of its past 10 matches, the burst of offense was welcome. Fountas’s comeback, however, was soured by the allegation, as was the crucial win for a Miami team in the midst of a playoff push.
“It makes a really nice moment for us kind of dark,” said Yedlin, a member of the Black Players for Change group in MLS. “This is something I’ve been outspoken about my whole career, so it’s really unfortunate to see it live.”
Benteke opened his D.C. scoring account in the 22nd minute. United midfielder Chris Durkin curled a one-time service into the box that the Belgian striker stabbed home at the far post.
Miami (12-13-6) drew level in the 39th on Campana’s scrappy finish during a goalmouth scramble, then took the lead in the 53rd as the Ecuadoran striker again finished from close range.
Fountas pulled United level four minutes later. Miami cleared a D.C. free kick to the top of the box, where the Greek forward launched a one-time volley that took a healthy deflection on the way in.
But the subsequent delay, in which Elfath stopped to convene with Rooney and Neville multiple times, and Fountas’s 66th-minute substitution halted any momentum from United’s equalizer.
“We were trying to put pressure,” Benteke said. “With that break, it just slowed down the game.”
Both teams pushed for a winner before Miami broke through on a counterattack in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Indiana Vassilev touched a pass wide to Yedlin, whose low cross was steered in by Higuaín.
“It doesn’t even feel like a win,” Yedlin said. “Now we’ll see what the MLS does about [the accusation]. My eyes will be on that a lot. It’s now up to them to take action and take a stand and show that this not only has no place in the game but no place in society.”
Here’s what else to know about D.C. United’s defeat:
FIFA keeps Ecuador in the World Cup field, dismissing claim from rivals
Ex-England teammates meet
The match was the first meeting between Rooney and Neville since Rooney took over as United’s coach in July. They were teammates at Manchester United in 2004-05 and with England’s national team from 2003 to 2007.
Neville praised Rooney for his decision to remove Fountas from the game.
“I must give massive, massive respect to Wayne Rooney for dealing with it in the way that he did,” Neville said. “I’ve always known him as a class act. I think today he went up in my estimation more than he’s ever done, more than any goal he’s ever scored.”
International break looms
United is off next weekend as most of MLS goes on hiatus for the final international window before the World Cup in Qatar as national teams fine-tune their tactics and get a final look at players before submitting their rosters. D.C. visits CF Montreal on Oct. 1 before hosting FC Cincinnati on Oct. 9 to close the season.