The moment encapsulated everything D.C. United could have imagined from Wayne Rooney.
With D.C. and Orlando City tied 2-2 in second-half stoppage time Sunday at Audi Field, United took a risk and sent goalkeeper David Ousted up to play a last-gasp corner kick. Orlando promptly cleared and countered, with midfielder Will Johnson racing toward an empty D.C. net.
That’s when Rooney put his head down, sprinted some 40 yards and ran down Johnson, winning the ball with a clean slide tackle. Picking his head up, the forward sailed a cross toward 5-foot-3 midfielder Luciano Acosta, whose header floated inside the far post to seal his hat trick and a pulsating 3-2 win.
“Seeing a player like Wayne make that effort and run all the way back and make that tackle, put in that work — it motivates all of us, especially with the euphoria of the game,” Acosta said.
Rooney added: “It was strange. We went from losing the game, basically, to winning in the space of five seconds.”
United’s season may well pivot on those five seconds. D.C. (5-9-6) returns to Audi Field to face the Portland Timbers (10-4-7) on Wednesday (8 p.m., WJLA 24/7 News) sitting nine points out of a playoff spot with 14 matches remaining.
United has long pinned its hopes on a glut of home matches necessitated by Audi Field’s mid-July opening. But the midseason addition of Rooney also has given the roster a substantial upgrade.
The former Manchester United star’s statistics — one goal and three assists in six matches — have been solid. They also only tell part of the story for a veteran whose communication, movement and one-touch play have sharpened his club’s attack.
“When you talk about how certain guys can elevate other guys, sometimes it’s that simple,” coach Ben Olsen said of Rooney. “Good soccer players find other good soccer players on the field when they play together. It’s not coaching — it’s just what it is.”
After facing the Timbers, United will cap a stretch of three home games in eight days against the New England Revolution (7-8-8) on Sunday. By the time the homestand ends, D.C. should have an idea of whether Rooney’s epic effort was an isolated highlight or the start of something bigger.
“We have a tough week coming up,” Rooney said. “I think the players will take a lot of confidence. The best way to win in a game of football is to score in the last minute.”