WASHINGTON – When Wayne Rooney reminds you that your entire season is riding on the next 45 minutes, you listen.
D.C. United appeared to take their captain's words to heart, responding from an even first half to ride Luciano Acosta’s brace, Rooney’s goal from the penalty spot and Bill Hamid's late heroics to a vital 3-1 victory over Atlanta United at Audi Field on Sunday night.
The win pushed D.C. back within six points of Montreal and the playoff line, and into seventh place ahead of New England on wins.
“It was a massive result for us,” said Rooney, who fed Acosta on both goals. “With Montreal winning as well yesterday ... it wasn’t a must-win, but it was close, it almost felt like that. I reminded the players of that at halftime, [that] we were in a position where we could go on and get the three points, and the lads have responded great. It was a big win for us.”
United also shut out Josef Martinez for the first time in 10 matches, one game after Atlanta’s Venezuelan marksman scored his MLS record-breaking 28th goal of the season.
And while Atlanta had plenty of the ball, Martinez had only one clear chance, when he dragged an effort well wide of Hamid’s right post in the second half, on a night when the visitors failed to jump back ahead of the New York Red Bulls for the Supporters' Shield lead.
“We wanted to sort of crowd the center of the park as much as possible,” said D.C. coach Ben Olsen, whose side allowed four of Martinez’s 28 goals in two previous defeats in Atlanta. “As the ball comes wide to guys like [Chris] McCann, that’s the lesser of two evils.
“You have to give somewhere. You end up giving them some space and time wide to overload. And on the day we defended the box very well.”
Hamid was at his best since his return from Denmark last month, making six saves that included exceptional denials late of Kevin Kratz’s free kick and Jeff Larentowicz’s header. Larentowicz's earlier header, also from a corner, marked Atlanta's only goal.
“For him to embrace that,” Olsen said of Arriola, “you don’t know how many players, you tell them that and they’re not willing to embrace a new role or a moment in a selfless way. He didn’t even think about it. It was like, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
As for Acosta, he's scored six of his seven goals since Rooney’s arrival, while also covering the ground defensively that allows he and Rooney to remain on the pitch for nearly 90 minutes consistently. Both of his goals Sunday featured Rooney in the hold-up role and Acosta running in behind.
“I’ve said to him a few times he should’ve shot and he hasn’t,” Rooney said. “I keep asking him after games how many goals he’s scored, and I think he’s starting to enjoy scoring goals. You can see that again tonight. Two great finishes from him. Sometimes it’s not easy in his position. But he’s a fantastic player.”