There will be no fairytale ending to Wayne Rooney’s career in Major League Soccer.
Four extra-time goals were more than enough to ensure that unlike erstwhile teammate David Beckham, there would be no championship sendoff for this former England captain as Toronto FC brought the curtain down on his North American adventure with a 5-1 playoff win over D.C. United on Saturday evening.
After one-and-a-half seasons in MLS, Rooney has signed with Derby County in the English Championship, and will spearhead the club’s efforts to reach the Premier League as a player and coach starting in January.
In Toronto FC’s first playoff match since the 2017 MLS Cup final that saw them crowned league champions, and without the injured Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez, the home side ran riot in the first half of the additional 30-minute period, scoring four times through goals from substitutes Richie Laryea and Nick DeLeon and a pair from Jonathan Osorio. At that point it looked so bleak for the visitors that Rooney’s MLS career was brought to a dejected end when he was subbed off for Leonardo Jara at the midway point of extra time.
It was an inspired response from a team that likely felt it had one foot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals until Lucas Rodriguez cancelled out Marky Delgado’s first-half goal three minutes into injury time. Toronto FC will next travel to Citi Field to face New York City FC on Oct. 23.
Perhaps hoping some of his championship touch would rub off, TFC had Toronto Raptors centre Marc Gasol – fresh off an NBA championship in June and a FIBA World Cup win with Spain last month – deliver the match ball before opening kickoff.
There wasn’t any immediate effect, however, as D.C. United, determined not to fall behind early on the road, clogged up much of the midfield, at times keeping 11 men behind the ball.
Such was the resulting congestion that the crowd had to wait until the 14th minute to witness the first shot by either team. But Alejandro Pozuelo’s shot was an early portent of things to come, as Bill Hamid in the D.C. United goal could only parry a relatively tame shot, before falling on the ball at the second attempt.
So when Pozuelo picked up the ball outside the area in the 32nd minute, escaped the attention of Russell Canouse with a neat turn before firing a curling shot towards the bottom-right corner of the net, Delgado was ready.
Again Hamid was unable to hold the shot, and Delgado was the quickest to react, beating D.C. captain Steven Birnbaum to the ball and poking it into the unguarded net for his first MLS playoff goal in his eighth playoff game.
And while D.C. has been a defensive juggernaut at times this season – its 38 goals conceded was good for the second-best rearguard record behind only the Supporters’ Shield-winning Los Angeles FC – the halftime score of 1-0 to Toronto would not have made for comfortable reading. Coming into the game, D.C. had lost the last 22 games in which it has failed to score in the opening 45 minutes.
But in the second half, D.C. had chances to get back in the game.
Those chiefly fell to Rooney. Twice in the space of 60 seconds, England’s all-time leading international goalscorer could have brought United level. In the 74th minute, he wriggled away from both Chris Mavinga and Auro Jr. before uncorking a right-foot drive that Quentin Westberg did well to parry away. Second later, a cross from Joseph Mora found him about eight yards from goal, but Rooney’s volley was directed straight at the TFC goalkeeper, and though he failed to hold it, he quickly gathered the rebound.
And Kamara had an even better chance to level the scores in the 77th minute, when a misplaced backpass from Benezet saw him through on goal with just Westberg to beat. However, the Norwegian’s left-footed shot hit Westberg in the thigh before rebounding to safety.
But Rodriguez finally found a way through in the 93rd minute, getting on the end of a corner and hammering the ball into the roof of the net.
After taking a few minutes to compose themselves, Toronto FC began extra time with a sense of renewed purpose. Laryea got things going three minutes into injury time cutting into from the right and driving a shot beyond Hamid, before Osorio scored two goals in eight minutes to put the result beyond doubt. DeLeon’s 105th-minuite shot that struck the underside of the crossbar before finding the back of the net just rubbed more salt into D.C. United’s wounds.
And D.C. night to forget was complete in the 118th minute, when midfielder Paul Arriola picked up his second yellow card in seven minutes for unsportsmanlike behaviour and was sent off.
That Toronto FC could pull off this result without two of their most important players should stand them in good stead for the rest of this playoff run.
As expected, Altidore – who scored the winning goal when Toronto FC won the MLS Cup in 2017 – was missing from the starting lineup after picking up a quadriceps strain in the final regular-season match on October 6.
What wasn’t expected was that Gonzalez would fail a late fitness test with a hamstring strain in the buildup to the game. In the 14 games since he signed with the club, Gonzalez had helped Toronto FC drop its goals against from an average of 1.8 goals per game to 1.1.
He was replaced by Laurent Ciman in the starting lineup, while Benezet drew in for Altidore, with Pozuelo moving further up the field into a more attacking role.