Wayne Rooney left Audi Field at the end of D.C. United’s 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Saturday with his first MLS goal, a broken nose and a gash over his left eye that sent blood pouring down his face and later required five stitches.
United brought the English superstar to Washington to score goals and turn its fortunes on and off the field. In his first start at the new venue, wearing the captain’s armband, Rooney also showed he has no intention of coasting into retirement.
Defending a corner kick in stoppage time, Rooney mixed it up with Axel Sjoberg, Colorado’s 6-foot-7 center back, and took a blow to the head. As he received medical treatment on the sideline, he stole glances of the action as his shorthanded team clinched three points before a crowd of 18,931.
“I don’t think it’s the first time he has bled. He is a pretty tough guy,” said Coach Ben Olsen, whose dress shirt had been stained with blood after embracing his star forward. “It shows you what this means to him right now. He’s in the box, putting his face on the line, understanding that’s a big moment. We needed that play to get out of that spot.”
Rooney, whose acquisition last month was the priciest in United history, will continue to undergo evaluation. His status for next Saturday’s match at Montreal is unclear.
Well before the injury, Rooney had provided the lead by slotting an angled shot between goalkeeper Tim Howard’s legs. He also hit the post in the second half and mixed well with Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad and Zoltan Stieber in creating danger throughout the night.
United failed to put the result out of reach and, after conceding the 82nd-minute equalizer, went ahead in the 90th on an own goal.
Ulises Segura, a late sub who this past week returned from a knee injury, crossed from the end line in hope of making something happen. The ball caromed off Colorado’s Niki Jackson and past Howard.
“It’s never luck,” Segura, a Costa Rican midfielder, said through an interpreter. “Whenever you get in the box like that, you try to hit it as hard as you can. So it either hits one of your teammates or hits a defender and you get something out of it.”
Olsen admired his team’s resiliency, saying “to come back and find a goal – okay, it’s a little fortunate – I am very proud of them.”
With a third match in eight days and his team struggling to earn points, Olsen shook up the lineup. Kofi Opare and Russell Canouse, both sidelined much of the year with injuries, made their first starts and Junior Moreno was in the lineup for the first time since early June.
Canouse, who had been terrific as a sub for three matches, was a force in central midfield for United (4-9-5).
“He’s physical. He’s relentless and he’s a fighter,” Olsen said. “It was nice to have that out there tonight because at times we have missed that.”
Rooney’s return to the lineup, at the expense of eight-goal scorer Darren Mattocks, was expected all along after he started last weekend at Atlanta and came off the bench in Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to the New York Red Bulls.
United set the terms in the first half, but thanks to a suspect call, Colorado (4-12-5) had the first genuine opportunity with a 26th-minute penalty kick.
With a challenge from behind on Edgar Castillo, Moreno might have nicked the outside back’s heel. Castillo went airborne. Referee Ramy Touchen was convinced. The video assistant referee did not intervene.
Acosta, a U.S. national team midfielder acquired last week from Dallas, stung the penalty kick off the right post.
After the scare, United returned to form and went ahead on a well-crafted goal.
Moreno won a tackle in the center circle. Stieber linked with Luciano Acosta, who spotted Rooney making a run and supplied a fine ball into the box.
Rooney let the ball do the work, using a clever sidestep to put defender Tommy Smith off-balance. As Howard came off his line, Rooney used his first touch to place an angled, eight-yard bid between the charging goalkeeper’s legs.
Rooney and Howard had been Manchester United teammates for two years and Premier League opponents for 10 before Howard moved to MLS in 2016.
United was the better side for most of the night but couldn’t expand the lead.
In a three-minute span early in the second half, D.C. had three prime opportunities to extend the lead: Acosta’s cheeky footwork led to a tight-angled shot over Howard and off the top of the crossbar; Howard made a hand save on Rooney’s threat, pushing it off the back post; and Rooney’s heavy touch in the box allowed Howard to smother the ball before a shot attempt.
United’s inability to score again came back to haunt it when Jack McBean played a diagonal ball to Kellyn Acosta blazing into the box on the right side. David Ousted charged off his line, but Acosta chipped it over both the goalkeeper and leaping defender Steve Birnbaum.
United was crestfallen, a disappointing draw seemingly inevitable. But a hopeful cross reversed its fortunes again and provided a badly needed three points.
“For confidence and morale, a win was important,” Opare said. “The results haven’t been great, but we believe in each other. And to bounce back from their goal shows the character of this group.”
United notes: Midfielder Paul Arriola served a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. … D.C. will visit the Montreal Impact next weekend before returning home Aug. 12 to face Orlando City.