TORONTO – That was not the way it was supposed to end.
D.C. fell behind in the first half, but earned an extra 30 minutes with a dramatic equalizer from Lucas Rodriguez in the third of four minutes of second-half stoppage time. That momentum did not last long, though, as the Black-and-Red coughed up the go-ahead goal three minutes into extratime and would go on to concede three more before the first 15 minutes were up.
“It’s hard to process that,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen said post-match. “A lot of emotion to tie it up there late. We played what I thought was a pretty good game, better chances than them really in regular time…didn’t put them away. And then early in the overtime you give up two goals and the wheels come off. They came out with a better mentality after the break, they punished us for it.”
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To hear D.C. United defender Steve Birnbaum tell it, the extratime collapse was an aberration compared to the rest of his team's season, in which they conceded the second-fewest goals (38) in all of MLS, and only one more than runaway Supporters' Shield winners LAFC.
“It’s devastating because we know we’re better than that,” said Birnbaum. “Our whole season we’ve prided ourselves on not giving up goals and giving up four in maybe ten minutes was tough.”
Equally disappointing as the defensive miscues were the chances left on the table in the 90. Rooney had a bevy of chances, including a clear second-half look that he put right at TFC 'keeper Quentin Westberg and a one-on-one opportunity for Ola Kamara that Westberg also saved.
“We didn’t make enough plays to win it in regular time,” said Olsen. “And then we threw so much at it in the end, personnel-wise. Going into the overtime our personnel wasn’t right. It’s disappointing. It’s an unfair scoreline when you look at the game itself, in regular time. But they scored five goals and we scored one.”
Rooney, who did not speak with reporters after the game, was subbed off in the 105th minute, a move Olsen attributed to nothing “nothing other than getting a fresh body in there” after a putting more than a few miles on his legs during the game. It marked the end of a productive year-and-a-half spell in D.C. for the England superstar, but ultimately one that ended without a playoff win in two attempts as he returns home to play for Derby County FC.
“We wish him the best,” said Birnbaum. “We know he’s going to go on and do great things. It was a pleasure to play with him. Wanted to play for him, to play with him. I learned a lot from him.”
His time in MLS, though brief, left an impact.
“He gave a lot to the organization,” began Olsen. “From a team standpoint, on the field, some wonderful moments. He was a great teammate, good to our fans, appreciative of the support we got – the fan base, but also the community of the D.C. area. Personally, it was a joy to work with him, he’s made me a better coach.”
Added Birnbaum: “One of the greats. Came in last year and turned our team around completely. He’s been a great presence for us. We’ve been lucky to have him. I can’t say enough about the person that he is.”
That he will not be there tomorrow was still sinking in.
“I hadn’t really thought about that it was the last game. Weren’t expecting it would be our last game,” said D.C. midfielder Paul Arriola. “He’s helped this club in a lot of ways. I can’t tell you enough good things about him. A great friend, a great teammate. I wish we could have done more to continue this run.”