On Wayne Rooney’s debut, DC United storm back to stunning win

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Minutes before the start of DC United’s game against Orlando City on Sunday, Wayne Rooney came up the steps behind the south goal at Audi Field and was warmly greeted by a gathering crowd.

It had been four years since he arrived in Washington as a player, but on this second tour he carried the responsibility of a head coach responsible for rejuvenating a team that was going through difficult times.

What happened over the next two hours in hazy conditions reignited some of the magic Rooney injected as a striker in 2018 and 2019. Looking at another defeat, United not only tied the game in the last moments, but won it in the last seconds of stoppage. time, 2-1.

Chris Durkin scored the equalizer on a pinpoint shot from the heart of the penalty area and then Taxi Fountas flew in from 12 yards out, sparking a ruckus among the 15,805 at Buzzard Point.

“The season has to start now,” said Rooney, who was hired three weeks ago but, until he received his work visa late last week, he was limited to a role as consultant. “Character is a big word that I’ve been using for the last two weeks with the team. We have to be a team that shows a lot of character, fighting and unity.

After falling behind early, United (6-12-3) showed those qualities in an emotional second half and won for only the second time since early May.

“That’s exactly what we needed,” said defenseman Brendan Hines-Ike. “We have to know that we can win games. You lose so many matches that you forget what it’s like to win.

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United’s persistence finally paid off in stunning fashion. As the first minute of stoppage time elapsed, substitute Ola Kamara sent a cross from the left side to Durkin for a growing effort and his first goal of the year.

“When we scored the goal,” Durkin said, “we were still pushing and still wanting to score another goal.”

Martín Rodríguez, a substitute, served a long ball to Kimarni Smith, a substitute. Smith stole the ball from the left side in the center of the box, where Fountas struck it once into the right corner for his team-best 11th goal. Nearly four weeks ago, Fountas recorded a hat trick in Orlando.

“I’m proud the guys didn’t settle for a tie,” said captain Steven Birnbaum.

As a player, Rooney tormented Orlando (8-9-6) with goals, including one from 60 yards, and a remarkable tackle assist streak that cemented his place in United history. As a manager, with United undergoing roster changes and the team bottom of the table, his influence on Sunday had limits.

What he instilled, the players said, was belief and the freedom to express themselves.

“One big thing I’ve seen in my research on the team is that when a player makes a mistake, they suffer and really struggle to recover from it,” Rooney said. “I understand players will make mistakes – no problem. I want them to try things. I want them to risk the ball in the right areas. And if they make a mistake and give the ball away, try again. It’s part of the game. Giving players that freedom of mind and being able to do it starts to make a difference.

It didn’t start well. Orlando took the lead in the ninth minute, the fifth time in seven matches that United had conceded in the first 15 minutes.

After a gift from DC in midfield, Alexandre Pato slid the ball past Júnior Urso in stride for a one-timer from the top corner of the box. As goalkeeper Rafael Romo was far off his line, Urso delicately slotted him into the other side.

In the 28th minute, Romo was caught bounding a long ball and, amid a mad dash from his defenders to cover an open net, Pato missed high. Ten minutes later, Orlando’s Benji Michel missed an open net.

The match began to swing with the half-time entry of Rodríguez, a Chilean winger who had made his debut the previous weekend. Fountas had a magnificent chance to equalize in the 61st minute, but Pedro Gallese made a sensational leg save.

United were buzzing with energy and opportunity, culminating with the two late strikes.

“Now it’s about consistency,” Hines-Ike said. “Can DC United put together a series of results? Or does it go back to the same old same old the past few months? We can no longer accept that. »

Here’s what else to know about United’s win:

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Romo made his eighth consecutive start and Jon Kempin was the usual replacement, but with the acquisition of David Ochoa from Real Salt Lake last week, the pecking order is about to change.

Ochoa, 21, is due in Charlotte on Wednesday and looks almost certain to start. In this case, Romo would drop to No. 2 on the depth chart.

Bill Hamid, the longtime starter who is in the final year of his contract, continues to recover from a hand injury that required surgery on June 30. The original timeline for his return was two to three months.

Estrada left the list again

Striker Michael Estrada has been a healthy scratch for the second straight game, a sign United are likely planning to end their season-long loan from Mexican club Toluca soon. The Ecuadorian national team member has four goals and four assists in 16 league appearances (11 starts) but hasn’t scored since May 21.

United have an option to buy his contract after this season for $5 million. Sending him back to Toluca would free up space on the senior roster, including an international spot. …

Forward Nigel Robertha, who has one goal and three assists in 14 games (five starts), was also forfeited. He is under contract until 2023. …

Midfielders Russell Canouse (leg injury) and Ted Ku-DiPietro (recovery from non-covid illness) were unavailable. Midfielder Victor Palsson, acquired from German club Schalke last week, is awaiting a work visa. …

Rooney’s debut wasn’t his only Sunday. Ravel Morrison, a widely traveled attacking midfielder who played for Rooney at Derby County, logged 90 minutes.

Beginning at the six-minute mark, a minute of applause was held in memory of National Soccer Hall of Famer Len Oliver, a longtime DC-area soccer figure, who died on July 24. He was 88 years old. The family members present wore shirts with No. 6, Oliver’s number as a player.

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