The Black-and-Red were sending everyone — even goalkeeper David Ousted — into the area for a corner kick deep into stoppage time. The two playmakers knew someone had to vacate as a last line of defense.
“I [said to] Wayne, ‘I’m going to go and you stay here’,” Acosta recounted, through a translator. “And Wayne said, ‘No no, you stay here, I’ll go.’ And I looked at him like, ‘You’re going to run all the way back?’”
“He obviously envisioned the goal before everybody else,” Acosta said of his teammate.
Ousted, instructed forward by coach Ben Olsen, retreated desperately to try and defend a wide open net, while Rooney raced to cut Johnson’s angle and prayed he wouldn’t shoot just yet.
“I was hoping he took a touch, and thankfully he did,” Rooney said. “And I managed to get the tackle in.”
Said Orlando coach James O’Connor: “To be fair to Will Johnson, he worked exceptionally hard. … I don’t think he realized where he is. I don’t think he maybe [saw] that there’s the keeper not in goal, and [Stefano] Pinho is out to the opposite side. You have to give Wayne Rooney a lot of credit for the way he sprinted back.”
There remained an awful lot to do. Rooney picked up the ball a few yards in front of Olsen’s coach’s box, took three long touches forward into open space, and then launched a long diagonal ball toward the far corner of the 6-yard box.
Waiting was Acosta, the shortest player on the field at 5-foot-3, marked by Orlando’s 5-foot-9 Chris Mueller. Acosta had the forward momentum, though, and beat the retreating Mueller to send a looping header over Lions ‘keeper Joe Bendik.
Acosta leaped into supporters’ end after his first MLS hat trick, mobbed by several of his teammates to celebrate a goal that may well make a difference in D.C.'s bid to make a late-season playoff charge.
“Seeing a player like Wayne make that effort to run all the way back, make that tackle, put in that work, it motivates all of us,” Acosta said afterward. “It gave us that extra push that we needed.”
Maybe 40 yards away, Rooney gave a cool thumbs up, then held his hands on his knees and caught his breath. After a Video Review to check for a potential offsides on Acosta, the goal stood.
“It was strange,” Rooney said afterward. “We went from losing the game, basically, to winning in the space of five seconds. [But] it’s great. They’re the best games of football to win.”