WASHINGTON – For Russell Canouse, his game-winning header on Saturday night was more than his first goal in MLS, and more than a tally that lifted D.C. United above the playoff line for the first time this season.
It was a tribute to a friend.
In the aftermath of his gutsy 86th-minute header that lifted D.C to a 1-0 victory over FC Dallas Saturday at Audi Field, Canouse dedicated it to teammate Paul Arriola, whose father Arturo passed away late Wednesday evening.
“It was a special moment for me,” said Canouse, who has known Arriola from the US youth international circuit long before the pair joined forces in D.C. a season ago. “That goal was for him.”
Arriola left D.C. to join his family in Southern California this weekend, and could also potentially miss next Wednesday’s game against Toronto FC before returning. In his absence, teammates wore black armbands made sure to give condolences to the Arriola family during their remarks to reporters.
“It’s sad, right? But we all put out a performance today that pushed us into a playoff spot,” Canouse said. “We know he’ll come back and he’ll be strong, but we have to stay strong for him and keep working hard.”
It was a frustrating game until late, particularly for D.C. captain Wayne Rooney. He flubbed a wide open chance two minutes in, then after halftime saw Jesse Gonzalez deny him and Reto Ziegler block another effort from inside the penalty area.
“I could’ve played another 90 minutes and not scored tonight,” Rooney said afterward.
Later, he added: “If there was a player to score tonight and for us to win 1-0, for that tribute for Paul, thankfully tonight it was Russell.”
It didn’t come easy. On a free kick from the left flank, Rooney sent in a long diagonal ball. Two defenders converged but neither made good contact, and the ball fell to Canouse, who smashed his initial volley against the crossbar.
Steve Birnbaum got a foot to the rebound, and then Canouse had another chance blocked into the air by a defender. From there, he reached the ball with his forehead just before goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.
“I felt like the goalkeeper was going to take my head off. But at that point I didn’t really care,” Canouse said. “Luckily it had enough to get over the line.”
D.C. saw out the final few minutes to secure their third straight victory and possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of Montreal. In the process, they also gave their teammate on the other coast a shred of needed good news.
“I know from personal experience losing a parent is not easy, said Canouse, who lost his mother to a battle with lung cancer several years ago. “And I know I can support him through this time. It’s a tough one. But he has every single player in the locker room, staff members, we’re all here for him.”