D.C. United were four minutes from back-to-back massive wins. After opening eyes around the league with a 3-1 win over Atlanta United last Sunday at Audi Field, the Black-and-Red were on the precipice of a win over NYCFC. That’s two of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference and it would’ve been just the second road win of the season for D.C.
So when David Villa netted a late equalizer on a well-struck free kick in the 86th minute, canceling out Steve Birnbaum's set-piece header, Rooney wasn’t in the mood for celebrating after the final whistle.
It’s a result his team would have taken before the game, considering the strength of the opponent and United missing four regular starters to international duty and injuries, and one he accepted after some time to reflect in the D.C. locker room.
“We wanted to win the game, but the way the game went we ended up defending a lot more than we wanted, but I thought the defense was brilliant tonight,” Rooney said. “Unfortunately we conceded the goal, but a point away overall from home against a good team is a good point.”
Because of a rash of injuries and six players called up by their national teams, D.C. United only had four available substitutes Saturday. And on a field that can be challenging for visitors even in ideal conditions, the rain made the surface slick.
It led to a game decided on grit and United coach Ben Olsen believed his team brought plenty of that on the day. Finding a way to gain a point, even though they wanted all three, is a characteristic of playoff teams, Olsen said.
“The soccer part wasn't great, so on these days, can you find something out of it through grit and work [rate] – that's the stuff that's missing,” he said. “That’s what I asked and that's what they gave me, so I'm very proud of the group.”
It’s a short turnaround for shorthanded D.C., who host Minnesota United FC Wednesday night (7:30 pm ET | TV and streaming info) before taking on Atlantic Cup rivals the New York Red Bulls next Sunday (1 pm ET | ESPN, TSN2). Those are the first two of seven straight home matches at Audi Field, where they are 6-2 thus far.
“Let’s hope for seven wins,” said goalkeeper Bill Hamid.