D.C. United just barely held on in central Florida Sunday night, surviving a second-half push from Orlando City to win 2-1.
United had built up a two-goal halftime lead as Steven Birnbaum — congrats on the happy pregnancy news! — turned in a Wayne Rooney restart before Wazza went solo and scored a low-angle another free kick. They spent much of the second half pinned into their own half, but managed to walk out with all three points to reclaim a share of first place in the Eastern Conference.
So, what did we learn?
Wayne Rooney remains great, and vital
On a night when los Capitalinos were well short of their best, Wayne Rooney’s goal and assist were basically all of the team’s offense. Let’s focus on the first, positive part of that for now.
United had two free kick opportunities from wide areas in the first half, and the team’s captain made sure they both counted. First on a perfect cross to the back post for Birnbaum to head in, and then on a Goal of the Week candidate that may as well have been an Olimpico.
Ridiculousness from @WayneRooney! #ORLvDC pic.twitter.com/j33ZBZ7gjT— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 31, 2019
(Aside on the call that led to that free kick: it was the right call. Dwyer’s tackle was dirty as hell and would have been a red card-worthy foul had he made contact; Rooney dodged — thankfully! —and lost both his balance and control of the ball as a result, resulting in what would have been an Orlando throw-in. Dwyer made an illegal action and his team would have benefited from it — that’s why fouls exist in the game. End of aside.)
That makes four goals and two assists for Rooney in the last two games. Not. Too. Shabby.
Other MLS teams will not roll over for United
Orlando City aren’t a particularly good team. (I know you come for this kind of #analysis, fam.) D.C. United were supposed to walk into the Purple Lions’ stadium and cruise to victory.
And that’s how it should be. United really are a better team at this moment than OCSC. The thing is, nobody told Orlando. Or, more likely, Orlando heard it loud and clear and used it as motivation.
I don’t know that the cliched target is on the Black-and-Red’s collective back or anything like that, but what we’ve learned from nearly a quarter century of MLS games is that teams care not at all about who’s supposed to be better than them on a given day. Orlando City won at Red Bull Arena last week by mucking things up, bunkering in, and making the Metros break them down.
On Sunday, the Lions out-possessed, out-shot, and out-created United, no matter what anybody thought about how the game would play out beforehand. This is how MLS has always worked.
#ORLvDC xG. Set pieces. pic.twitter.com/96saEXgFpW— Ben Baer (@BenBaer89) April 1, 2019
The difference on Sunday was D.C.’s defense, Bill Hamid, some luck, and — of course — Wayne Rooney. But as Ben Olsen said in his halftime interview, United are going to have to do better if they’re going to get a second road win to go along with this one.
Short of their best, this team can still win games
That being the case, there’s still something to be said about winning games, and especially road games, when the team isn’t at their best.
To go down the list of cliches:
- This game showed that heart/grit/determination/intestinal fortitude you need to win.
- A win is a win, and these points count for exactly as much as the 5-0 W over RSL.
- You have to find a way to win, and on this night, they did.
You get the idea.
But those lines became cliches for a reason. You do have to gut out games sometimes, and the points you win in ugly games can make the difference in playoff positioning come October.
Winning ugly is a skill, and it’s good to know United has that club in their bag. Obviously, you’re forgiven for hoping it’s not one the Black-and-Red will have to break out with any frequency. But with the matches coming at a ridiculous clip over the next couple months — 13 games in eight weeks is not a lot of down time — and Ben Olsen probably giving more run to depth pieces, it’s good the players know that and how they can win even when they’re not the “better” team on the day.
Let us know in the comments what you’re taking away from this win.