When rumors started emerging that Wayne Rooney was set to join D.C. United, the usual questions followed. There were questions over his passion and desire. There were questions about his fitness and longevity. Most importantly, there were questions about what he could truly bring to a D.C. United team that needed a whole lot of help.
If there were any questions remaining, they were answered in a matter of seconds on Sunday night.
The English forward was brought into score goals, but it was his hustle and effort that lead D.C. United to a 3-2 win over Orlando City on Sunday. With his team tied, Rooney darted back to make a game-saving tackle at midfield before unleashing a perfect 50-yard cross to Luciano Acosta for the game-winner.
The moment wasn’t Rooney’s first signature moment; that belongs to his debut assist or first MLS goal. However, it was the Rooney’s most important moment since joining D.C. earlier this summer.
“To be honest, I saw it happen before we took the corner,” Rooney said. “I normally go in the box for corners, that’s why I stayed out because I tried to anticipate something like that happening. I’ve seen it before in football. And again, just run as quick as you can trying to get back. I was hoping he’d take a touch and he did.”
Rooney called the play “strange”, and strange it was. Even though the match was tied, goalkeeper David Ousted came forward for the corner kick as D.C. decided a push for three points was more important than guaranteeing one. That left the goal unmanned and Rooney all alone to defend on the play.
That play was a massive one. It was a galvanizing force for D.C. United and, by Acosta’s reaction and the roar in the club’s new stadium, it was easy to see.
“He made a hell of a play and it showed what he’s about,” head coach Ben Olsen said. “I think we’ll see that more and more from him here. He’s a a selfless winner and has come here to prove himself, even though he doesn’t need to. He’s here to raise level of the group, including myself. And today, that play is indicative of who he is.”
“We’ve said all along he’s a leader and the first thing a leader does is show it on the field and Wayne does that,” added Ousted. “He wants to make those tackles, he wants to be there. He did it last game, taking one off the nose. This time it was a great tackle. He’s a leader and he’s the leader we need.”
D.C. United will need more Rooney heroics and more Acosta performances to make a push through to the playoffs. The club has a number of home matches on the schedule in the coming weeks but, even with games in hand on the teams above them, D.C. will need to keep winning.
Up next is a major clash with a Western Conference contender in the Portland Timbers as D.C. looks to ride the momentum of a potentially season-defining win and a season-defining sequence.
“It gives us confidence, winning 7 points out of the last 9 with a tough week coming up, game Wednesday then again Sunday,” Rooney said. “It’s a very important win for us. We said before, we want to try to get nine points in these three games coming up. It’s a good start for us, we need to continue on Wednesday and get better in our performance but try to get the win on Wednesday and then go for the three points on Sunday.
“I think the players will take a lot of confidence. The best way to win a game of football is to score in the last minute.”