When Wayne Rooney joined D.C. United back in early July, the Black-and-Red’s playoff hopes looked bleak. The team, which was spending the first half of the season almost exclusively on the road, had just two wins to their name by the time Audi Field, and Rooney, made its debut on July 14th. On Sunday though, after a resounding 3-1 win over New York City FC — a fifth straight win for the club — United were back into the playoffs, thanks once again to their stars.
Luciano Acosta turned on the magic once again to supply Rooney’s early opener, before adding a peach of a finish before the break. Rooney netted his 12th in the second half from the penalty spot, and a consolation goal from David Villa couldn’t spoil the party on Buzzard Point.
D.C. United is going back to the playoffs after missing out in 2017, after having spent 15 weeks in a row mired in last place of the Eastern Conference earlier in the season.
“It feels great,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the game in his press conference. “For the guys, the club, the ownership, the fans, the city. It’s been fun. I’m glad it is going to continue.”
A lot of factors played into United’s dramatic second half turnaround. Playing almost exclusively at home, getting Russell Canouse back healthy, and bringing Bill Hamid back to the club all played a crucial part in D.C.’s resurgence. But Rooney and Acosta have mostly stolen the show, putting on a show on Sunday to seal United’s spot in the playoffs.
Acosta’s goal made him the first Black-and-Red player with at least 10 goals and 10 assists in a season since Jaime Moreno back in 2008. Meanwhile, Rooney’s tallies gave him 12 on the season, having played in just 19 games.
“It’s incredible, that’s what he can do,” Rooney said of Acosta, who put Rooney’s first goal on a platter. “He’s a fantastic player. For a striker, it’s easy to put yourself in position knowing he’s going to create something like that.”
Praise for Acosta came from the other side, albeit with a bit of frustration.
“Acosta seems a Maradona or a Messi,” NYC Head Coach Domé Torrent told reporters after the game. “He was able to [get] between five players.”
Having won the award as the Player of the Month for September in MLS, Acosta had gone somewhat quiet in United’s recent run. But he showed back up on Sunday, shining in several key moments during United’s win.
“[It’s] really emotional for me,” Acosta said through an interpreter about making the playoffs. “I’ve had a couple of years here fighting and trying my best to get into the playoffs. [I’m] very happy.”
And proceedings didn’t just favor United at Audi Field on Sunday. Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Union lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls, while the Columbus Crew suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Orlando City. Those results mean that if United beat the Chicago Fire on the road next Sunday, they will host the knockout round game, which would be played either on October 31st or November 1st.
Given how well United have played at home, picking up 13 wins in 17 games, getting back home for that knockout game might be the difference in extending their season.
“On the surface, a home game is a big deal,” Olsen said. “Especially for a knockout game. Then you weigh the risk about how quick the turnaround is. We are in a really good rhythm. That’s all stuff I’ll ponder tonight over a quiet bourbon.”
Whether the game is at home or not though, United will fancy their chances, given how well their season has gone since July 14th.
“If we host the game or we don’t, we have to be confident wherever we play,” said Rooney in the locker room. “We have to take that belief into the game, and be ready whether it’s here or away.”
United’s success this year, now that they have made the playoffs, will ultimately be measured in how well they do in the playoffs. Still, there will be time to savor what the team accomplished, especially in the last month, as they have run off five consecutive wins to book their playoff spot.
“We had a task on our hands when a few of us arrived in the middle part of the season,” Hamid told reporters in the locker room. “Thankfully we accomplished that. It took a lot of hard work, it took a lot of grit, it took the whole team.”