In a game originally billed as a matchup of two European titans, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was the collective effort of a scrappy United team that got the job done.
United faced LA without Rooney, who was a game-day scratch due to a respiratory illness. Without its captain, and Argentine playmaker Luciano Acosta on the bench, United matched the Galaxy with all starting 11 players playing the full 90 minutes. Olsen risked fatigue for capitalizing on rhythm, which was hard to come by in a week plagued by illness, shifting rosters and transfers.
“It is a tough one because you want to get fresh bodies on there,” Olsen said. “Risking the fatigue for familiarity out there, sometimes it bites you in the [expletive]. Tonight I got away with it.”
Until Sunday, Rooney and Acosta accounted for 16 of United’s goals this season, the same amount the rest of the roster scored combined. The lineup was patch-worked during the week to accommodate the injuries and absences. Forward Quincy Amarikwa earned his second start of the season, while midfielder Paul Arriola was shifted inside from the wing to the playmaking role.
“There was a lot going on behind the scenes,” Olsen said. “There was going to be change. This was not just injuries. I don’t mean to disrespect that crew out there. Quincy Amarikwa was unbelievable tonight.”
Despite conceding most of the possession, United broke through in the 28th minute in a play that started with goalkeeper Bill Hamid. On the restart, Hamid launched a ball past midfield. Amarikwa flicked the ball on with his head to midfielder Ulises Segura, who tapped it to Arriola. It took one touch for Arriola to slot past diving goalkeeper David Bingham.
“The goal comes from a goal kick,” Olsen said. “That is rare for us. [Amarikwa] gave us that dimension that I thought, on the day, we needed.”
United had its share of defending to do in the first half with defender Frederic Brillant sacrificing his body to hold off Ibrahimovic’s shots. Defender Jalen Robinson took the brunt of the physical work against the 6-foot-5 Swedish goalscorer.
“It is such a tough task,” Olsen said. “Even if you do a good job and put yourself in a good spot with him, he is still so physically imposing that it doesn’t always matter.”
While United capitalized on chances going forward, they bunkered to shut down the encroaching Galaxy. Ibrahimovic outshot D.C. United himself with an MLS single-game record 14 shots to 12.
“Obviously you can’t duplicate Zlatan,” Robinson said. “All week I didn’t even know what I was preparing for. I was notified the day before. I was telling myself ‘sink or swim.’”
In first-half stoppage time, United got creative with its defending. The entire team lined up inside the box to stop the Galaxy attack. With the ball on the left side of the box, LA’s newest signing, Cristian Pavón, crossed a dangerous ball to Uriel Antuna. Hamid had to dive to save his shot.
“We rode our luck. The box defending was gutsy all night long,” Olsen said. “Bodies were flying everywhere throughout the night. It was just a lot of little plays that I think made the difference tonight.”
Aug 11, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (9) shoots the ball as D.C. United defender Joseph Mora (28) defends in the first half at Audi Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
LA equalized early in the second half with a restart on a corner. The ball bounced around in the Galaxy’s final third before reaching the foot of Ibrahimovic, whose shot attempt deflected off Robinson. Winger Favio Álvarez ran onto the ball at the top of the box and slipped a shot past Hamid to tie the score.
United defended in a low block after the equalizer as Olsen’s side worked to defend the tie.
“Everyone worked extremely hard. Over the past couple of weeks, we haven’t really understood our identity,” Arriola said. “Watching the Galaxy and studying them, we knew they throw a lot of numbers forward. They are very vulnerable in transition.”
United recaptured the lead by catching the Galaxy off guard on a counter attack. Arriola slotted the ball to Segura at the top of the box. Segura’s shot was saved, as was Arriola’s rebound. Lucas Rodriguez, who had a goal disallowed in the first half because of offside, finally put the ball in the net in the 73d minute.
In stoppage time, Álvarez took a point-blank shot on Hamid, but the United goalkeeper came to the rescue once again. United captured all three points in front of an energized 20,006 at Audi Field, who savored United’s first win in the last four home games.
“We envisioned the game playing out this way with some of the changes we needed to make,” Olsen said. “The effort and the commitment from that group was terrific today. As good a group effort that we have had all year and sometimes that is enough.”