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Wayne Rooney’s big play prompts Orlando City coach to defend midfielder Will Johnson

Wayne Rooney gave D.C. United fans a highlight to remember while simultaneously crushing Orlando City supporters.

The 32-year-old star striker chased down Lions’ midfielder Will Johnson in the dying seconds of Sunday night’s match with Orlando City on the counter and United’s goal empty, then sent the match-winning assist into the penalty area for Luciano Acosta to head home in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time.

In the aftermath of the match, a 3-2 loss for the Lions,  Johnson was slammed on social media by observers. United goalkeeper David Ousted was desperately trying to get back after being in United’s attacking half for a set piece when Johnson was dispossessed. Some Orlando City players were running back to support Johnson, too. 

After the match, Orlando City coach James O’Connor came to the defense of his veteran midfielder.

“When you look at how hard he’s worked and how he’s handled himself, I don’t think he realizes where he is,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think he may be sure there’s a keeper not in goal and [Stefano] Pinho’s out to the opposite side. You have to give Wayne Rooney a lot of credit for the way he sprinted back and managed to tackle him.

“When you look at how tired Will was, I think that obviously impacted his decision. But again, when you look at the work that he put into [the game], you have to respect how hard he worked tonight.”

Johnson was starting after going back-to-back matches without playing more than 16 minutes. In fact, Sunday’s loss was the first time Johnson played a full 90 minutes since a 3-0 loss to NYCFC on June 6.

“We went from losing the game to winning in the span of five seconds,” Rooney said. “I tried to anticipate something like that happening because I have seen it before in football.”

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