TORONTO — With the seconds ticking away on D.C. United’s playoff hopes, captain Wayne Rooney sent a corner into the box. Midfielder Lucas Rodriguez sent the set piece in to the roof of the net to equalize against Toronto FC in the first round of the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs.
United roared to life.
But the energy didn’t last. Toronto quickly ravaged United’s defense, scoring four goals in less than 15 minutes of extra time to advance 5-1 Saturday night at BMO Field.
“It’s an unfair scoreline when you look at the game itself in regular time, but they also scored five goals and we scored one,” DC coach Ben Olsen said. “It’s hard to process that.”
In the first half, the battle to advance took place mostly in the middle of the park, with a few chances both ways in the final third. While United started in a high press, it was Toronto which got four shots on goal.
The Reds got a good look on goal in 23rd minute thanks to a ball into the box from Justin Morrow. Alejandro Pozuelo, with his back to goal, quickly redirected the ball to Nicolas Benezet, whose shot hit off his teammate and out of danger.
The tension broke in the 32nd minute when Pozuelo evaded defender Russell Canouse. Toronto’s shot leader rocketed a ball toward Hamid, who had kept a clean sheet for more than 480 minutes prior the Saturday’s game. Hamid blocked the first shot, but in an uncharacteristic mistake, parried into the sprinting feet of midfielder Marky Delgado.
Delgado easily put the rebound past Hamid, who was still getting off the ground.
The first half goal left United in a tough position. D.C. finished the regular season with a record of 1-9-5 after conceding first.
United also lost midfielder Felipe Martins to injury in the 44th minute. Not only did it take away a veteran who has been the glue of United’s spine, but it also forced a switch in formation. Canouse shifted from right back to defensive mid, while Paul Arriola moved from the wing into Canouse’s vacant spot. Forward Ola Kamara came on for Felipe and played high with Rooney moving behind him.
“It’s tough. I think we put a lot of attackers out there to try to score that goal,” Kamara said. “A lot of people were out of position.”
Toronto started the game shorthanded. While forward Jozy Altidore was an expected absence due to a hamstring injury suffered in the final regular season game, the Reds were also without Omar Gonzalez. The defender was a late scratch after suffering a hamstring injury and failing a fitness test, according to TSN reporter Kristian Jack.
While the Reds have found goals without Altidore, the loss of Gonzalez presented a challenge for the Toronto defense. The 31-year-old defender joined Toronto in June from Pachuca in Mexico’s Liga MX. His veteran presence helped Toronto finish the regular season with a 10-match unbeaten streak.
The absence of Gonzalez opened opportunities in the final third for D.C. United. In what was ultimately his final appearance in Major League Soccer, Rooney desperately searched for the back of the net to keep his team’s season alive. He had two close calls around the 64th minute, both coming from distance. And both were saved in acrobatic fashion by goalkeeper Quentin Westberg.
“You’ve got Wayne’s three (chances) and Ola’s 1-v-1,” Olsen said. “We didn’t, over the course of the day, make enough plays to win it in regular time and then we threw so much at it in the end.”
In stoppage time, Westberg made a gutsy play and came well off his line to head a ball away. Arriola took advantage of the open net and attempted a chip in goal, but Chris Mavinga headed the chance away.
United’s playoff dreams were slowly slipping away until the added time corner kick brought new life into the team. Rooney’s corner hit off the head of defender Frederic Brillant and finished with a goal from Rodríguez, forcing extra time.
It took Toronto less than five minutes to take the announced crowd of 25,331 at BMO Field from silence to exuberance as the home side broke the tie with a goal in the 93th minute.
With the attacking momentum, midfielder Michael Bradley passed to Nick DeLeon. The former DC man quickly found the feet of substitute Richie Laryea, whose shot went low past the falling Hamid.
The scoring continued for Toronto as the wheels fell off for United. Jonathan Osorio put in a controversial third goal that lead to Rooney speaking at length with referee Allen Chapman. To no avail for Rooney, the game continued.
Osorio added a second goal in the 103rd minute. This time there was no arguing if the 20-yard screamer counted.
“When you start throwing the kitchen sink at team to try to get the tying goal, when you get it, you are a little bit disorganized,” Olsen said. “That is part of the reason things didn’t go so well.”
DeLeon notched an exclamation point goal for himself and celebrated enthusiastically as his current team advanced in dominating fashion to face No. 1 seed New York City FC at Citi Field on Wednesday.
Rooney exited the field one last time at halftime of the extra time period. He was replaced by defender Leonardo Jara.
Oct 19, 2019; Toronto, Ontario , Canada; Stadium view prior to Toronto FC vs DC United at BMO Field. Mandatory Credit: Gerry Angus-USA TODAY Sports
After the game Rooney did not make himself available for comment, but his teammates shared glimpses into the short window of time that the world-class player donned the black and red.
“It is devastating that it ended the way it did,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “One of the greats. He came in last year and turned our team around completely and we made the playoffs. He has been a great presence for us in DC. We have been lucky to have him.”
As was the case last year, United’s playoff run ends in the first round. More notably, the loss marks the end of Rooney’s short time in MLS as well as possibly the finale of Luciano Acosta’s stint in the nation’s capital.
“We will be ok. We will put a very competitive team out there next year,” Olsen said. “But I am not that concerned with next year right now. I am concerned with picking that team up and making sure they understand that I am proud of them.”