D.C. United players surround Wayne Rooney after he scored the go-ahead goal in the 120th minute of the team’s Fourth Round match with the Philadelphia Unionin the 2019 US OpenCup. Photo: D.C. United, Tony Quinn
Matches have ebbs and flows and depending upon when a team hits their high point can determine whether they succeed or bottom out. It may have taken D.C. United almost two hours to find their form but they waited for the perfect moment to get it. Thanks to two late goals in extra time, including a Wayne Rooney penalty kick in the 120th minute, United moved past the Philadelphia Union, 2-1, on Wednesday night in their opening match of the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
With both sides coming off of their FIFA international break, the match played much as one would expect. Attacking chances were and far between in the first 45 minutes as both sides worked towards finding their footing in the midfield.
Philadelphia were the first to really make their mark on the match with forward Fafa Picault providing a spark down the left flank. Working against United right back Jalen Robinson, who was a very late addition to the starting eleven, the US international made several daring runs towards the D.C. box. In the 20th minute he hit a low shot towards the far post that just went in front of the goal.
Picault made a similar run in the 32nd minute this time opting to go towards the middle as opposed to taking the shot. After beating United center back Frederic Brilliant he laid off a pass for Haris Medunjanin right at the top of the eighteen yard box. Only a last second deflection from a D.C. defender would prevent Philadelphia from taking the 1-0 lead just before halftime.
While United were finding their rhythm on the attacking end D.C. struggled to string together even basic level attacking chances. Philadelphia’s defense has been successful all season at clogging the midfield and opponents to create chances off of cross and long balls into the box. United’s attacking combination of Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney struggled to find each other in Philadelphia territory with Acosta’s lone shot on target coming in the 17th minute, a chance that would be kick saved by Union goalkeeper Matt Freese.
United started the second half with a little bit more life, using the speed of Ulises Segura on the outside to force Philadelphia out of their foxhole. He very nearly gave D.C. the lead in the 46th when he whipped a shot off of a cross, hitting the post. In the 79th minute he had a similar chance, just missing a curling effort from Rooney.
There was a bit of controversy in the 77th minute after Acosta was taken down in the box by goalkeeper Matt Freese. Despite United’s protests referee Marcos de Oliviera denied the D.C. the direct kick chance and indirectly pushed the two sides into extra time.
With the rain coming down and players starting to put their hands on their knees it appeared as if the two MLS Eastern Conference foes were destined for penalties. But as has been proven many times in US Open Cup play expect the unexpected. It was Philadelphia that would strike first after manager Jim Curtin wisely saved one of his substitutes for late in the match, bringing on young Development Academy product Anthony Fontana. That move paid off with Fontana with slipping through the D.C. defense and finishing off a pass from Jamiro Monteiro to make it 1-0 in the 113th minute.
It is very difficult to score late in a match let alone twice. But United had persistent all through the second period of extra-time using their speed to push a beleaguered Philadelphia defense to make bad challenges and costly clears. Off of a corner kick in the 118th minute D.C. capitalized on their set piece chance with Chris McCann heading home the equalizer.
The United faithful had barely enough to catch their breaths and chuck their beers before D.C. had another goal-scoring opportunity given to them. After failing to draw a penalty kick in the second half Acosta proved successful on his second try, forcing Alejandro Bedoya to make a tackle inside his box. On the ensuing kick with the match on the line Rooney buried his shot past Freese, giving D.C. the win and punching their ticket to the next round.
With the win United not only knock out a US Open Cup finalist in Philadelphia but also earn their first Open Cup win against an MLS side since defeating Real Salt Lake in the 2013 final. United will host New York City FC in the Round of 16 on June 19. The winner of that game will travel to the winner of the New England Revolution and Orlando City SC.