In Wayne Rooney’s debut, DC United climbs to a stunning win


Minutes before DC United’s game against Orlando City kicked off on Sunday, Wayne Rooney climbed the steps behind Audifield’s south goal and received a standing ovation from a hungry crowd for him to lift MLS club’s sinking fortunes.

Four years ago, Rooney took the same short path of a player tasked with turning a good team into a championship team. Now as head coach, he faces an even bigger test. What happened in front of him on a misty late afternoon began with despair but ended with unbridled joy.

In Rooney’s debut, United scored twice in stoppage time in the second half to seal a 2-1 victory. United (6-12-3) ended a four-game winning streak in a row and won only for the second time since early May.

Chris Durkin scored the equalizer in one time, by Ola Kamara. In the final seconds, the cab hit Fontas in a Kimarney Smith cross, leading to a hoot at Buzzard Point.

As a player, Rooney spoiled Orlando (8-9-6) with goals, including 60 yards, and a superb streak of assisting tackle cemented his place in United history. As a coach, his Sunday influence had limits. But as another defeat approached, the magic returned.

Rooney’s debut wasn’t the only Sunday. Ravel Morrison, the well-traveled attacking midfielder who played with Rooney at Derby County, started.

Rooney stuck with newly acquired striker Miguel Perry and allowed Fontas, the team’s top scorer and creator, to go between the lines. After nearly four weeks of scoring a hat-trick in Orlando, Fontas quickly closed his space for most of this confrontation.

Jackson Hopkins, the 18-year-old local midfielder who caught Rooney’s eye, started for the fourth time in a row.

Orlando took the lead in the ninth minute, the fifth time in seven games that United conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes. After a bosom from the capital in midfield, Alexandre Pato slid the ball forward to Junior Urso with a one-time move from the top corner of the penalty area. With goalkeeper Rafael Romo drifting off the goal line, Orso hit the ball with precision into the far side netting to score his third goal.

In the 28th minute, Romo was caught running forward on a long ball, and amid a crazy scramble by defenders to cover the open net, Pato missed aloft. Ten minutes later, Orlando’s Benji Michel missed the open net from close range.

United did not create any high-quality chances in the first half and were fortunate to enter the first half only one goal behind. Chilean winger Martin Rodriguez was newly introduced at the start of the second half.

Fountas had a great opportunity to equalize in the 61st minute when he fired in Durkin’s cross once from six yards. But goalkeeper Pedro Galizzi saved the ball with his back foot.

The United States is brimming with energy and opportunity. It doesn’t seem enough. But in added time, that insistence was paying off.

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

Romo made his eighth straight start and John Kempin was the regular substitute, but with the acquisition of David Ochoa from Real Salt Lake last week, the standings are about to change.

Ochoa, 21, is scheduled to fly to Charlotte on Wednesday and looks almost certain to start. In that case, Romo would drop to number two on the depth chart and Kempin would no longer be in uniform.

Bill Hamid, a longtime freshman in the final year of his contract, continues to rehabilitate a hand injury that required surgery on June 30. The initial schedule for his return was two to three months.

Leave Estrada from the list again

Striker Michael Estrada was a health scratcher for the second game in a row, a likely sign that United are planning to end their season-long loan from Mexican club Toluca soon. The Ecuadorean national team player has four goals and four assists in 16 league matches (11 starts), but he hasn’t scored since May 21.

United have the option to buy his contract after this season for $5 million. By bringing him back to Toluca, the club will clear a senior roster space, including an international slot. …

Striker Nigel Roertha, who scored one goal and three assists in 14 matches (five starts), also had a scratch. He is under contract until 2023. …

Midfielders Russell Kanoz (leg injury) and Ted Coe DiPetro (non-Covid recovery) were not available. Midfielder Victor Balson, who was acquired from German club Schalke 04 last week, is awaiting a work visa.

Sunday’s game was the start of six games in 21 days for United. On Wednesday, DC will visit Charlotte FC Expansion (8-12-2), whose home game Saturday night against Columbus Crew was halted due to thunderstorms. (An appeal date has not been announced.)

United host the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, then face their toughest period of the season: the New England Revolution (6-7-9) on August 13, at Los Angeles FC (15-4-3) on August 16 and the home game against Philadelphia Union (12-2-9) on August 20.

Beginning at the six-minute mark, a minute of applause was held in memory of Len Oliver, the National Football Hall of Fame and DC area football veteran who died on July 24. He was 88 years old. Family members present were wearing jerseys with number 6, Oliver’s number as the player.

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