D.C. United ensured their participation in this year’s MLS Playoffs with a resounding 3-1 win over New York City FC in front of 20,249 at Audi Field. Wayne Rooney scored on either side of halftime for the Black-and-Red, and Luciano Acosta scored a delightful goal between them as United completed the journey from the bottom of the league table to a postseason berth.
David Villa scored for the visitors to complete the scoreline in the 78th minute, but the day otherwise belong to D.C. After sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference as late as mid-August, the Black-and-Red qualified for the playoffs after missing out in 2017.
Following the midweek win against Toronto FC, head coach Ben Olsen opted for three changes to the lineup against NYCFC. Paul Arriola returned to the starting lineup after the passing of his father, taking Nick DeLeon’s place at right back. Junior Moreno stepped in for Chris Durkin, after the former was away with Venezuela during the international break. Finally, Ulises Segura was given the nod ahead of Zoltan Stieber in midfield.
United didn’t look like a team that was playing their third game in nine days early on, showing more sharpness than a NYCFC side that was playing their first game since September 29th. In the first minute, Segura found Rooney with a cross to the far post, but the striker couldn’t guide his header on target.
In the 5th minute, Rooney took a free kick from further out than the one he scored on Wednesday against TFC. Sean Johnson made an awkward save on the free kick, and then Yamil Asad eventually scrambled home the rebound. However, the goal was chalked off, as Asad had started the play in an offside position.
There was no worry about Rooney’s opener in the 8th minute though, after Acosta’s magic set up the Englishman for a simple tap-in. Dancing around two challenges, Acosta got into the box near the endline from the left flank despite a crowd of blue-clad defenders, and played the ball back in front of goal, where Rooney was in enough space for a simple finish.
It was the best opening spell for the Black-and-Red in a while, but with David Villa on the other side, there was always a danger of a goal coming from nothing. In the 14th minute, sloppy play from Segura and Arriola allowed the Spanish striker a look at goal. Frederic Brillant was able to recover to force the shot out for a corner.
Steven Birnbaum was called into action to head away a cross from Eloi Amagat in the 21st minute. City got a corner moments later, and Villa’s delivery found center back Alexander Callens in the box. The header from Callens had plenty of power, but slammed into the outside netting.
United expanded their lead soon thereafter. Arriola found Rooney with a long ball in the 24th minute, with the striker temporarily holding possession outside the box. Callens was able to get a tackle in as Rooney tried to make his way into the box. The ball fell to Acosta who was following up the play, and the Argentine curled a delicious one-timed shot past Johnson for the 2-0 lead.
Everything was coming up United at Audi Field, but Bill Hamid was forced into two good save to keep the Pigeons off the scoreboard in the first half. First, it was Valentin Castellanos, who nutmegged Joseph Mora to get in the box, only to see a sharp angled bid batted away.
Then in the 37th minute, it was Villa who tried to beat Hamid with a shot from the top of the box. Once again, United’s shotstopper was up to the task.
If not for an intervention from Sebastien Ibeagha in the 48th minute, the Black-and-Red would have been up by three goals. A well-timed run from Acosta was picked out by a pass from Moreno into the box. Acosta turned around and found Segura near the penalty spot. Segura’s first-time shot was going to beat Johnson, but deflected out by Ibeagha.
Segura picked out Asad in the box with a looping pass in the 53rd minute. Asad tried to beat Johnson from an unfavorable angle, but NYC’s number one was able to smother the shot. A moment later, at the other end, Castellanos raced onto a ball near United’s box, but the young forward could not hit the target with his left foot.
The teams traded a couple of chances in the next couple of minutes, but United would pad their lead in the 74th minute. Segura’s attempt to keep the play alive struck Alexander Ring in the hand, and referee Chico Grajeda pointed to the spot. Rooney stepped up and sent Johnson the wrong way, his third successful spot kick since arriving in MLS.
Russell Canouse wowed the crowd with a couple of nice moves, but when United couldn’t get past midfield in the 78th minute, City quickly struck through Villa. Yangel Herrera picked out Villa, and the striker beat Hamid with a low shot that bounced in off of the far post, getting the visitors within two goals.
However, neither team came all that close to altering the scoreline in the final minutes, and after three minutes of stoppage time, United’s playoff dream became a reality.
United, with 50 points from 33 games, wrap up the regular season next week with a trip to face the Chicago Fire.