WASHINGTON — D.C. United kicked off Audi Field’s inaugural match Saturday with a bang, beating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 thanks to a brace from midfielder Paul Arriola.
“It wasn’t just any other game,” coach Ben Olsen said. “There was a lot of weight on the guys and a lot weighing on the staff to open this building in the right way. I am very pleased that we did it in the fashion we did it in.”
United Designated Player Wayne Rooney rocked Audi Field when he subbed on in the second half. The former English Premier League star seamlessly transformed Major League Soccer’s last-place team into an offensive power and grabbed a late-match assist on Arriola’s second goal in the 80th minute.
“This guy is unbelievable,” Arriola said. “His presence on the field or off the field makes a big difference.”
Excitement filled the Buzzard Point stadium as fireworks accompanied the starting lineups. Midfielder Yamil Asad struck first with a screaming finish just outside the 18-yard box less than 30 minutes into the match.
The former Atlanta United player made history as the first person ever to score at Audi Field. The goal was his eighth of the season.
“[Asad’s] goal was just pure class,” Olsen said. “It was a great way to open up the building for Audi Field.”
The cheers after United’s first goal were no match for what was to come.
“The [eventually] energy got there,” Olsen said. “It took a couple goals to get that building rocking. Both the fans, and even our team for the most part, were a little nervy.”
At one point, the stadium fell complacent and quiet. Supporters have seen United go ahead early seven times this season, and five times lose that lead.
But this time was different.
This time, United had a not-so-secret weapon in Rooney.
Rooney made his first appearance in the Black-and-Red in the 59th minute, assuming the No. 9 role as a straight substitution for Darren Mattocks. Rooney quickly changed the pace and sharpened the precession of United’s game.
“It is great to work with young players with a lot of legs around you, but also I feel like I can give them a lot of experience to help them,” the 32-year-old veteran Rooney said. “That really showed in the last 30 minutes when I came on the the pitch. They played with a little more freedom. We planned how I was going to play throughout the week.”
It took Rooney 10 minutes to make his first major impact. Hee orchestrated a series of one-touch passes that allowed D.C. United’s offense to dominate Vancouver’s backline. Quickly — from Asad to Rooney to Zoltan Stieber to Arriola — United pinballed their way into the net.
Audi Field is a fresh start for D.C. United, but the real difference came from Rooney.
Coach Ben Olsen used all three substitutes Saturday, in part to get as much of his young team minutes on the field with Rooney as possible. Olsen added midfielders Ian Harkes and Russell Canouse in the waning minutes of the match to bolster the defense.
“It was good for [Canouse] to see five to six minutes of that speed of play,” Olsen said. “We can play a bunch of different ways, but we haven’t really changed that much tactically. Now that Canouse, Juníor Moreno, and Ian Harkes coming back, we have a bunch of different looks in particular in the central midfield.”
United’s clean sheet looked almost certain until Vancouver wonder Alphonso Davies worked his way through the home team’s back line — but it was to no avail.
United secured its first home win at Audi Field in an entertaining fashion in front of an announced sold-out crowd, but the celebration can’t last long.The club remains at the bottom of the table and heads to enemy territory next weekend to face Atlanta United at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“There is a lot that still needs to play out with this group, but for now, I am happy for the win,” Olsen said. “We will get back to work. We have a very difficult game next weekend against Atlanta. There is a lot of work to do.”
Check back soon for full recap, highlights and photos.