Deep in second half stoppage time, tied 2-2, D.C. United had gone out for find a winner against Orlando City. There were just two defenders left on the field after attack-minded substitutions. David Ousted, the team’s goalkeeper, was in the box to try to help out on a late corner. And in the blink of an eye, the Lions cleared their line, and United was scrambling to get back to prevent Will Johnson from scoring, which would have inflicted a devastating defeat.
Up stepped Wayne Rooney, United’s highest-paid player ever, to make an effort which could turn the tide for United’s season. Rooney chased Johnson down, tackled the ball away, and was then heading back across midfield, sending a hopeful ball into the box.
At the other end, Luciano Acosta rose up to head home a winner, a hat trick from the Argentine, giving United all three points in a crucial 3-2 win over the Purple Lions.
“We got Wayne Rooney. He made a hell of a play,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the game. “The play he makes is what he’s about about. He’s a winner.”
Despite Orlando missing four usual starters through injury and suspension, United had to work harder for the result than they would have liked. The Black-and-Red led twice, and played the last 35 minutes with a man advantage, after Cristian Higuita was sent off after a video review for an elbow to Yamil Asad.
Even with those advantages, it took the heroics of United’s two most important players to give United a three points that they desperately needed in their attempt to earn a playoff berth this year.
“Let’s be honest, we needed three points today,” said Ousted, as United began a stretch of three games at home in a week’s span.
Acosta, who had one goal this season coming into the game, a 96th minute equalizer against the Houston Dynamo in March, took up the slack in front of goal for United on Sunday night. He scored in first half stoppage time, a lone moment of excitement in an otherwise drab first half.
Acosta did well to score his second, connecting on a cross from Asad, several minutes after the Higuita sending off. And when his team needed him the most, Acosta, all of 5’3’’, rose above Chris Mueller, and headed past Joe Bendik, sending Audi Field into a state of euphoria.
“He was superman tonight,” Olsen said of his Argentine playmaker.
“Seeing a player like Wayne make that effort to run all the way back, make that tackle, put in that work, motivates all of us,” Acosta said via a team-provided translator in the locker room after the game.
United had to wait a review of the goal, the fifth time that VAR had been used in the game. But it was well worth the wait for the Black-and-Red, who won for the third time in four games at their new stadium at Buzzard Point.
After the game, Rooney’s teammates were in awe of the effort that may well save their season. But Rooney, who was unsure as to whether or not Ousted should have been up in the box for the corner, knew that a situation like the one that unfolded might occur.
“I tried to anticipate something like that happening,” Rooney said after the game.
And in the matter of moments, United went from certain defeat to unlikely victory, as Acosta celebrated the dramatic moment by jumping up on the advertising boards behind the north goal to celebrate with the fans.
“It was strange. We went from losing the game to winning in the space of five seconds,” added Rooney.
Three points was almost a necessity for United on Sunday night, but it’s merely a minor step in the right direction. They are still nine points out of a playoff spot, and have 14 games left to bridge that gap. There are still visits from the Portland Timbers and New England Revolution to contend with in the next week.
The dramatics, the euphoria from Sunday night might just be the catalyst that United needed to make a run to the playoffs.
“Hopefully it gives us a push to keep winning,” said Acosta.