SOCCER

On Wayne Rooney’s debut, DC United rally for stunning victory

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Minutes before the start of DC United’s game against Orlando City on Sunday, Wayne Rooney climbed the steps behind the south goal at Audi Field and was warmly greeted by a crowd gathered eager for him to lift the fortunes of the MLS club.

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

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

Chris Durkin scored the equalizer on a one-timer, set up by Ola Kamara. In the dying seconds, Taxi Fountas flew into Kimarni Smith’s center, sparking an uproar at Buzzard Point.

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 coach, his influence on Sunday had limits. But as another defeat approached, the magic returned.

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

Rooney stuck with newly acquired striker Miguel Berry and allowed Fountas, the team’s top scorer and top builder, to float between the lines. Nearly four weeks after recording a hat trick in Orlando, Fountas saw his space shut down quickly for most of this clash.

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

Orlando took the lead in the ninth minute, the fifth time in seven matches that United have 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. With goalkeeper Rafael Romo far off his line, Urso gently shoved him into the far end net for his third goal.

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 from close range.

United didn’t create any high-quality chances in the first half and were lucky to go into the break with just one goal. Another recent arrival, Chilean winger Martín Rodríguez, came on at the start of the second half.

Fountas had a magnificent chance to equalize in the 61st minute when he netted a cross from Durkin from six yards out. But goalkeeper Pedro Gallese made a sensational save, blocking the ball with his back leg.

United were buzzing with energy and opportunity. It didn’t seem like enough. But in stoppage time, this perseverance paid off.

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

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 that case, Romo would drop to No. 2 on the depth chart and Kempin would no longer be in uniform.

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.

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

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

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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