WASHINGTON — Goalkeeper Bill Hamid dropped to his knees and pointed skyward, as defenders Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant embraced in front of him.
D.C. United had completed a gritty, exhausting and desperately needed 2-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on Sunday night at Audi Field, bringing an emotional reprieve following a tumultuous week.
With Wayne Rooney out ill and Luciano Acosta left on the bench, Paul Arriola and Lucas Rodriguez each scored somewhat against the run of play to lift United to victory a week following an embarrassing 5-1 defeat to the Philadelphia Union.
On the other end, D.C. bent but didn’t break. Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired an MLS record 14 shots but forced only one — admittedly exceptional — stop from Hamid. The Black-and-Red conceded almost 70 percent of the possession and completed just 69 percent of their passes, yet emerged victorious in front of a sold-out Audi Field crowd of 20,006.
“We envisioned the game playing out this way, with some of the changes we needed to make,” said coach Ben Olsen. “But the effort and the commitment from that group was terrific today. It was as good a group effort as we’ve had all year. And sometimes that’s enough.”
The victory was just United’s third in 14 league games, and pushed them back into third in the Eastern Conference table with eight games remaining.
It’s a home stretch that took on a whole new sense of urgency with Tuesday’s news that Rooney would be departing the team following the season to take a player-coach role at Derby County.
Following that came the acquisition of midfielder Felipe, forward Ola Kamara and winger Emmanuel Boateng before the secondary transfer window closed Wednesday night. Felipe started Sunday, and while Kamara still waits on a work visa — Boateng was on Olsen’s bench.
“The lineup changed throughout the week,” Olsen said. “It was a long week. It was a lot going on behind the scenes. And to cap a real dynamic week … to cap it off with a win, it’s a special game.”
Arriola assumed yet another new role, making his first D.C. start in the No. 10 spot in Acosta’s absence, albeit as part of a much more direct scheme. He ran onto Ulises Segura’s throughball to score the opener, then reached a rebound to keep alive the sequence that resulted in Rodriguez’s winner.
Each D.C. scorer now has five goals on the year.
“I think when it comes down to it, it’s just about doing your job,” Arriola said. “I think when you put a player like myself in a position that requires a lot of work, there’s no excuses, there’s no complaints from me. I’m going to do it. I thought it was a difficult game. There was a lot of running, there was a lot of time without the ball. But we made it worth it.”