A 22-year wait finally ended tonight for D.C. United, and the Black-and-Red didn’t disappoint against the Vancouver Whitecaps. Yamil Asad scored a stunning first ever goal at Audi Field, Paul Arriola netted twice in the second half, and Wayne Rooney made his debut, as United won 3-1.
For a club with plenty of history, plenty of successes that have defined their existence since 1996, July 14th, 2018 will likely stand somewhere near the top of the list of memorable nights. United finally had a place of their own, and amid all the hoopla, they delivered when it mattered on the field.
“This is one of the great nights in D.C. United history,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said in his post game press conference.
Playing 12 of their first 14 games on the road, United have had plenty of struggles throughout the year. They’ve thrown away leads, dropped points that could have helped them at the end of the year, and had only won two games, entering the night in last place overall in MLS. So it was far from a forgone conclusion that they’d celebrate the opening of Audi Field with three points.
In their way was a Vancouver team, that began the night just outside of playoff contention, having lost three of their past four games.
“They were here to spoil the party,” Arriola said of Vancouver, to reporters in the locker room after the game. “Sometimes when the cops come, you let them leave and you keep partying. We kept partying towards the end.”
But a moment of magic in the first half helped get the party going, one that didn’t end even at the final whistle. Asad one timed a shot from outside the box, and the ball curled around keeper Brian Rowe. The first ever goal scored at Buzzard Point had Audi Field rocking.
“It was a great victory. It was a big night for the club,” Rooney said after the game. “It was important that we got the win. I’m delighted.”
When United began to slip early in the second half, Olsen did not hesitate one bit to bring on his marquee striker. The fans began chanting “we want Rooney,” and moments later he was on the field, to delight of the 20,504 at the stadium.
Rooney didn’t get that dream debut goal, but he played a part in the build up for Arriola’s first goal in the 69th minute, and then had the assist on Arriola’s second in the 80th.
“This guy is unbelievable,” Arriola said after the game about Rooney. “His presence on the field or off the field makes a big difference. “We treat him like another guy, and that’s how he wants to be treated.”
On a night where most the hype around a designated player for United was meant for Rooney, Arriola did his best to steal the show. The midfielder, who earlier this year moved from a wide position to a central role in midfield, has blossomed. In the opener at Audi Field, he scored twice in the second half, his third and fourth strikes on the year.
“To have a party here with the three points is awesome,” said Arriola. “And for me to be the deejay is even better.”
For United, their visit home is short lived, for the time being. They immediately head back out on the road, facing a stiff test next week in Georgia against Atlanta United. And though they moved up a spot in the overall MLS standings, they still sit bottom in the Eastern Conference, 13 points out of a playoff spot.
But they cleared the first hurdle, with only a late Alphonso Davies strike ruining an otherwise perfect night on the field. When the lights shined the brightest for the first time in a long time in the District for the Black-and-Red, United delivered.
“It wasn’t just any other game,” said Olsen. “There was a lot of weight on the guys, a lot of weight on the staff to make sure we opened up this building in the right way.”