“It is an important time of the season. It was an important game,” United captain Wayne Rooney said. “It was a must win tonight.”
The win against Seattle marks a three-game winning streak for United, who has outscored opponents six goals to zero. The spike in performance that lifted United in the standings came after a time of introspection for the team.
Prior to the recent run of form that started with a 3-0 win in Montreal, United lost three games in a row, conceding in the first 20 minutes of each game.
“We talked about that before the game against Montreal,” defender Frédéric Brillant said. “We told the truth to each other and after that everybody was looking out for each other and the team and the club. After that, it changed completely; 180 [degrees].”
The Sounders opened the game against United with five quick shots, including a 25-yard hit from Raul Ruidiaz and an ensuing set piece that ended with a Seattle shot tipped out of danger by goalkeeper Bill Hamid. But unlike their late summer woes, United found the back of the net first.
“Both sides were very sharp and that was for the duration of the game. That has been difficult for us to put together that full performance in the last couple weeks,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “To sustain that is going to be critical if we are going to become a team that can raise silverware.”
In the the 14th minute, midfielder Ulises Segura broke through with a quick pass that defected off of a Sounders defender to the chest of Lucas Rodriquez. The midfielder capitalized to give United the early lead.
Rooney had a chance to double that lead minutes before halftime with a free kick, but his attempt clanked off the crossbar.
With a one-goal lead at the restart, United bunkered defensively. For five minutes, United defended with 11 men in the penalty area until United’s attack eventually broke through on the counter. The team earned a second free kick in the final third.
Rooney did not miss on his second attempt. This time he went for the low ball instead of the high shot into the upper corner. The captain hit a laser-focused cross through Seattle’s defense to the foot of defender Brillant. The French defender’s second goal of the season doubled United’s lead.
Sep 22, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United forward Wayne Rooney (9) celebrates with D.C. United defender Joseph Mora (28) after scoring a goal on a free kick against the Seattle Sounders in the second half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
“I spoke at halftime to some of the players,” Rooney said. “If we get another [free kick], try to collapse thier defense a bit more because the keeper will be expecting the one to the far post.”
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei took the bait, leaving the opening for Brillant to finish. After the game, Rooney joked with his coach that the goal was his.
“He makes those decisions,” Olsen said. “He knows what he is doing out there. You can see the way his brain works out there. It’s fun to watch.”
But Rooney made sure to clarify to reporters that it was all part of the plan.
“He stole it off me,” Rooney joked after the game. “I tried to put the ball into a dangerous position and make it difficult for the keeper … It was either going straight in or Fred was going to knock it in. Doesn’t really matter. It was a good goal.”
On the other end of the field, Hamid made an acrobatic save in the final minutes to keep the clean sheet.
The next milestone for United is a potential second-ever home playoff game at Audi Field. With the win against Seattle, United moved into fourth place, but Toronto FC and United’s next opponent — the New York Red Bulls — are close behind. United heads to Red Bull Arena to meet their Atlantic Cup rivals next Sunday.
“We have been talking about it all day. That is where we need to be and where we want to go and the only way to do that is through New York,” Olsen said. “If we get the right points here down the stretch, we put ourselves in a good spot.”