For most of the 2018 Major League Soccer season, D.C. United was where everybody thought they would be. Last in the Eastern Conference and showing no signs of consistency or improvement.
Recent weeks have shown otherwise as Ben Olsen’s side are fighting for a playoff place thanks to a 5-2-1 record in their last eight matches. Wayne Rooney’s arrival in the middle of July, the opening of Audi Field, and the help from other attackers has been huge reasons for D.C.’s latest success.
A 2-0 home triumph against New England on Sunday made it three consecutive wins for D.C. in an eight-day span. The 32-year-old Rooney may not have gotten on the scoresheet, but he has seen some changes that opponents are taking with the current risers in the East.
“I think what you’re seeing now is teams respecting us a bit more,” Rooney said. “I think in previous games, New England have pressed a lot, I think today you could see their hesitance in doing that. And leaving the space for us to get on the ball. I think you’re seeing teams showing that little bit more respect to us, and Red Bulls I’m sure they’ll have more to think about than what they did last time.”
In their last eight matches, D.C. has outscored their opponents 16-9 and posted wins against Portland, Vancouver, Colorado, Orlando, and most recently New England. It may not be the most impressive slate of wins, but for a team that had only two wins before Rooney’s arrival, they’ll be ecstatic with the turnaround.
Rooney has not only been able to help with his goal scoring ability, but also by being able to take fellow young players under his wing. Yamil Asad and Luciano Acosta are talented attackers that are gaining valuable experience in the club’s sudden surge back into the East’s playoff picture. Defenders Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, and Kofi Opare are learning what it takes to buckle down and finish off strong performances. The return of Bill Hamid adds an experienced keeper eager for first-team minutes. Everything clicked for D.C. on Sunday when they dominated and grabbed their first clean sheet since April 1.
“I thought today, the first half, we played some of the best football you’ll see in the league,” Rooney said. “[And] the second half was probably a better half for us because it was tougher. We dug in, we kept a clean sheet, it was a good performance all around.”
“We had to kid of dig in and show a physical presence that this team hasn’t dealt with in the greatest way over the last year and a half,” Olsen said.” [The Revolution] came here to pick a fight. And I thought we, for the most, did very well matching a very physical team.”
With their win on Sunday, D.C. moved to two points back of the Revs for seventh place and are six points out of the final playoff spot. They have 12 matches left, including nine at Audi Field. That sets them up for a huge opportunity to spoil several teams chances of slipping into the playoffs.
Two meetings with both the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC won’t be easy, but a pair against Chicago poses a good chance at points. Still, if D.C. wants to extend their season to November and beyond, then they will need to continue this exciting run by showing other top teams they belong with them.