In Wayne Rooney’s debut, DC United rally for an impressive win

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Minutes before DC United’s game against Orlando City kicked off on Sunday, Wayne Rooney walked up the steps behind the south goal of Audi Field to a warm welcome from an assembled crowd.

It had been four years since he arrived in Washington as a player, but on this second tour he took on the responsibility of a head coach tasked with rejuvenating a team going through tough times.

What happened over the next two hours in foggy conditions rekindled some of the magic that Rooney injected as a striker in 2018 and 2019. Staring at another defeat, United not only leveled the score in the final moments, they won it in the final moments. seconds of stopping. time, 2-1.

Chris Durkin scored the equalizer on a count from the heart of the penalty area, then Taxi Fountas volleyed from 12 yards, sparking chaos among the 15,805 at Buzzard Point.

“The season has to start now,” said Rooney, who was hired three weeks ago but was limited to a consultant role until receiving his work visa late last week. “Character is a great word that I have used in the last few weeks with the team. We need to be a team that shows a lot of character, fight and unity”.

After falling behind early, United (6-12-3) displayed those qualities in a thrilling second half and won for the second time since early May.

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

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United’s persistence ultimately paid off in amazing fashion. As the first minute of stoppage time wore on, substitute Ola Kamara sent a cross from the left to Durkin for a rising effort and his first goal of the year.

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

Martín Rodríguez, substitute, served a long ball to Kimarni Smith, substitute. Smith volleyed the ball from the left side into the center of the area, where Fountas sent it a lone shot 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 draw,” captain Steven Birnbaum said.

As a player, Rooney tormented Orlando (8-9-6) with goals, including a 60-yarder, and a remarkable string of tackles and assists that cemented his place in United history. As a manager, with United going through roster changes and the team at the bottom of the table, his influence on Sunday had limits.

What he has instilled, the players said, is faith and freedom to express themselves.

“One important thing that I’ve seen in my research on the team is that when a player makes a mistake, he suffers and it’s really hard for him to recover from that,” Rooney said. “I understand that the players will make mistakes, there is no problem. I want you to try things. I want them to risk the ball in the right areas. And if he makes a mistake and gives the ball away, he tries again. That’s part of the game. Giving players that mental freedom and being able to do that is starting to make a difference.”

It didn’t start well. Orlando went ahead in the ninth minute, the fifth time in seven games that United had conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes.

After a DC draw in midfield, Alexandre Pato calmly passed the ball to Júnior Urso for a unique shot from the top corner of the area. With goalkeeper Rafael Romo well off his line, Urso delicately finished off the other side.

In the 28th minute, Romo was caught off guard with a long pass and, in the midst of a mad rush by his defenders to cover an open net, Pato missed high. Ten minutes later, Orlando’s Benji Michel missed an open net.

The game began to waver with the entrance to the break of Rodríguez, a Chilean winger who made his debut the previous weekend. Fountas had a glorious chance to equalize in the 61st minute, but Pedro Gallese made a sensational leg save.

United vibrated with energy and opportunity, culminating in the two late goals.

“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 thing of the last few months? We can no longer accept that.”

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

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

Ochoa, 21, is scheduled to travel to Charlotte on Wednesday and seems almost certain to start. In that 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 rehab a hand injury that required surgery on June 30. The initial timeline for his return was two to three months.

Estrada was left off the roster again

Forward Michael Estrada was a healthy scratch for the second game in a row, a sign that United probably plan to end their season-long loan with Mexican club Toluca soon. The member of the Ecuadorian national team has four goals and four assists in 16 league games (11 starts) but has not scored since May 21.

United have the option to buy out his contract after this season for $5 million. By returning him to Toluca, the club would clear senior roster space, including an international spot. …

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

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

Rooney’s debut wasn’t the only Sunday. Ravel Morrison, a well-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 Len Oliver, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and a long-time figure in DC-area soccer who died on July 24. . He was 88 years old. Family members in attendance wore jerseys with The Number 6, Oliver’s number as a player.

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