Before Wayne Rooney put on a show at Audi Field on Wednesday night, there was a moment against the Portland Timbers when a result for D.C. United seemed in peril. Samuel Armenteros, who two minutes before, had given Portland the lead in the first half, was tracking a cross into the box from Sebastian Blanco. A two goal deficit seemed imminent, until Bill Hamid, in his return to the Black-and-Red, raced off his line, and saved the header.
From there, Rooney scored twice, and United stomped on the Timbers in the second half, running away with a 4-1 win that put the hosts up into 8th place in the Eastern Conference, after a long spell in the basement.
“It was a great win for us,” Rooney told reporters in the locker room after the game, after United’s first come from behind victory in 2018.
After Hamid’s heroics, Rooney netted his second goal for the club just before the end of the first half. Racing onto a pass from Yamil Asad, Rooney slotted a shot home under keeper Jeff Attinella, the type of goal that made him the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United, and the men’s English national team.
Rooney made it three for himself and the team in the second half, curling a free kick home past Attinella. While not perfectly placed, the two goals showed off all the skill and class that United wished for when they made Rooney the highest paid player in team history.
Sandwiched around Rooney’s goals were strikes from Oniel Fisher and Darren Mattocks, as United responded from going down a goal, rallying around the big save from Hamid.
“Over the last month, you’ve seen us be a more mature team in the moments that let us down in the first half of the season,” head coach Ben Olsen said in his post game press conference. “That’s been the difference.”
On a short turnaround, United also had to manage the emotions from the thrilling victory on Sunday night against Orlando City. “The Buzzard Beater” was the talk of the league, and on all corners of the internet, it was possible to watch Rooney chase down Will Johnson, win the ball, and fire in the cross that Luciano Acosta headed home for the win.
But there was no visible hangover on Wednesday, even after United fell behind to the visitors.
“We moved on from Sunday quickly,” Rooney said after the game. “You have to when you have three games a week. You have to just focus on the next game.”
“I was concerned about that after the other night,” Olsen added, wondering if his team would readjust after beating Orlando. “Emotionally, those games can take their toll. For a young group to reset, and bring that energy we needed tonight, I thought was going to be difficult. But they did a great job.”
In beating Portland, United made one big leap in the playoff race. The Black-and-Red, up to 24 points from 21 games, jumped the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC, and Orlando in one swoop. They now trail the Montreal Impact by six points for the final playoff spot, with four games in hand over the Canadians.
However, moving up in the table brings no relief for a club that has aspirations of moving into a playoff spot, despite just winning two of their first 14 games.
“We will be relieved when we start to move higher, and get above the playoff line,” said Olsen. “We’ve got a long way to go, we can’t get caught up in the emotion of these two games.”
On Sunday, United have the opportunity to complete a perfect week, and get even closer to the team just ahead of them in the table. Having picked up maximum points from Orlando and Portland, United host the New England Revolution on Sunday, the 7th place team in the East. A win would get United within two points of the Revs, with two games in hand to make up.
There’s still plenty of season left for the Black-and-Red, but nine points out of nine just might completely change their outlook on the season.
“Our intention was to get 9 points this week,” said Rooney, “and we’ve put ourselves in a good position.”