WASHINGTON – If this was the reception for Declan Rice in the U.S. capital, imagine this season in London.
Arsenal's new midfield star came on as a second-half substitute and helped finish off a 5-0 victory over the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday night. Gabriel Jesus, Leandro Trossard, Jorginho, Gabriel Martinelli and Kai Havertz all scored — but those weren't the only highlights for the many red-clad Arsenal supporters in the crowd at Audi Field.
Rice moved from West Ham to the Gunners for a British-record transfer fee last weekend, reported to be 105 million pounds ($138 million). The crowd roared when he came in just over an hour into the match, and cheered again when he possessed the ball.
U.S. national team forward Folarin Balogun, whose days at Arsenal could be numbered, also came on for the London club at the same time as Rice.
By then, the Gunners had a 3-0 lead.
“I think we were suffocated with the weather ... and we could not really control the game,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “But it's true that we were exceptional in both boxes today. Every time we got in the final third in good position, we put the ball in the back of the net.”
The MLS has defeated the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich in the past in this format, which generally results in competitive games with more defending than some other All-Star events. The MLS team — which did not include recent Miami addition Lionel Messi — received four yellow cards before halftime.
“I thought the referee made the game a little bit about himself once again,” said former Manchester United star and current D.C. United coach Wayne Rooney, who led the MLS team. “I think that's something that needs improving in the MLS. I've said it all season, so it's a good opportunity for me to bring it up again.”
Jesus opened the scoring with a beautiful chip in the fifth minute. His shot from outside the penalty area sailed past goalkeeper Roman Burki of St. Louis and bounced in off the left post.
Trossard doubled the lead in the 23rd with another goal from outside the penalty area, a bit more toward the middle — and struck harder — than Jesus' shot.
Trossard was shaken up early in the second half and was replaced by a substitute.
In the first minute after halftime, St. Louis defender Tim Parker was called for a handball in the penalty area, and Jorginho made it 3-0. Martinelli and Havertz scored late to make it a five-goal margin.
“Arsenal showed the quality which they have,” Rooney said. “I thought the All-Star lads, a little bit nervous and hesitant, especially first half when we got into some good areas.”
Havertz is another newcomer to Arsenal, having been signed away from Chelsea.
“He gives you something very different, with quality, with his size as well, when you have to beat the press for example, and use him as an attacking man” Arteta said. “I'm sure throughout the season and throughout games as well, we are going to have the option to use him in different positions.”
U.S. defender Auston Trusty was in the game at the end for Arsenal along with Balogun.
“I think they deserved to enjoy that moment and get that recognition and play in front of their crowds," Arteta said.
Preparing for its Premier League opener against Nottingham Forest on Aug. 12, Arsenal plays friendlies against Manchester United on Saturday at East Rutherford, New Jersey, and vs. Barcelona on July 26 at Inglewood, California.