D.C United began a seven game home stand on Wednesday night against Minnesota United, and came out of the gates not looking like a team that had to have three points. There was a lack of sharpness, lethargy in their play, and moments after the start of the second half, the Black-and-Red found themselves down a goal to the Loons.
Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta had done their best to create a goal up until that point, but had come up empty on several occasions. Just before the hour mark, Head Coach Ben Olsen brought on Jamaican striker Darren Mattocks, fresh off of two goals against Cayman Islands on Sunday in Concacaf Nations League play.
After Ulises Segura scored the equalizer in the 65th minute, Mattocks made the most of a run from Joseph Mora in the 69th minute, netting his team leading 10th goal, as United won 2-1.
“As soon as I seen [Mora] turn the corner, I’m like okay I need to get into the box,” Mattocks told reporters in the locker room after the game of the goal he scored. “I put the ball in the back of the net, and that is important.”
Mattocks, who never had scored more than seven goals previous to this season, had eight tallies as United spent most of the first half of the season on the road. But when United opened up Audi Field, they had Rooney as a new center piece at striker. Mattocks hasn’t started a game since July 25th, but the striker made the most of his opportunity on Wednesday, when his team needed him the most.
“When your number is called upon, you have to take your chance,” Mattocks said in response to a question poised by B&RU after the game. “And I definitely took my chance tonight.”
“It was good to get more than ten minutes off the bench for once.”
With the win, United moved within two points of the Montreal Impact, the team the Black-and-Red are chasing for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They still have a game in hand over the Canadians, but a showdown at Buzzard Point looms at the end of the month, when the sides meet for the second time this season.
But that game might have been made moot had United not overcome the Loons on Wednesday night. Angelo Rodriguez made the most of an opportunity early in the second half, capitalizing after Kofi Opare had blocked the first attempt from the striker.
“It just seemed like we were lethargic,” Head Coach Ben Olsen said after the game in a press conference. “It wasn’t a mentality issue. I just think there have been a lot of games on these guys.”
United couldn’t rally immediately, but found a fortuitous equalizer in the 65th minute. A pass from Acosta just missed Rooney in the box, but ended up at the feet of Segura. The Costa Rican, not known for his goal scoring ability, was able to turn his man in the box, and scored his second goal of the season, the first since April.
That seemed to spur on United, and set the stage for Mattocks’ winner four minutes later.
“I understand the situation that he’s in,” Rooney told reporters after the game, about coming in and replacing a striker who was already scoring goals. “We need him. He was the match winner tonight, and that’s a great credit to him.”
Mattocks celebrated his only other goal since Rooney’s arrival, a late tally against the Portland Timbers last month, with the gusto of a player who looked like he might need a confidence boost. Wednesday night’s goal showed that Mattocks might have never lost the confidence that he exuded earlier in the season, despite the fact that his playing time has fallen way off since July 14th.
“He’s going about it in a professional manner,” Olsen said of how Mattocks is responding to finding himself on the bench. “He’s been nothing but helpful to this club. I thought he gave us the spark we needed today.”
“My confidence never leaves. Once I’m out there, I’m going to give my best effort,” surmised Mattocks. “And I’m always going to be confident to take goals when they come.”