Wayne Rooney told his DC United players ‘there’s no chance I’m finishing f***ing bottom again’ before the season.
Although it is early days with DC’s record 1-1-2 after New York City FC clinched a 3-2 victory, they simply cannot afford a first half like the one on show at the Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, or they will be competing at the wrong end of the table once again.
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to hear more expletives sounding in the away locker room from the visiting head coach at the break. Rooney confirmed that was indeed the case in his post-match press conference.
‘I don’t think I can give the language I used if I’m being honest,’ Rooney said of his halftime message. ‘I wanted to see a reaction from the team.
‘I thought the first half was nowhere near good enough. I don’t know why. I could have taken every player off at halftime. I told the players that,’ the DC boss admitted.
DC United captain Steven Birnbaum headed ball into net to set up nervy end but it was too late
‘I made three changes. Second half I thought we were unfortunate not to get anything out of the game. I was pleased with the reaction. First half has cost us the game.’
Nick Cushing’s NYCFC finished third in the Eastern Conference last season, 28 points above DC, and they have strong foundations. The maturity in their game plus quality on the ball told.
The hosts were sharper in every department and it took them just 17 minutes to open the scoring.
It was harder for forward Talles Magno to miss then score when he found himself with the simple task of tapping the ball home from just yards out.
The space was created by Keaton Parks’ defense-splitting pass to full-back Braian Cufre on the overlap. New York City were behind DC and Magno was there waiting in the middle for the square pass.
Cufre duly obliged and even though Magno had to reach slightly behind he found the net. But the hosts were made to wait for confirmation after the linesman flagged for offside.
Referee Mark Allatin was sent to the pitch-side monitor to watch the play back after the goal went to video review. After some delay the opening goal was awarded.
Magno had already warned the visitors in the first 10 minutes but he could not get a proper connection on his shot when the ball fell into his path in the area.
Talles Magno opened scoring inside just 17 minutes, tapping the ball home from close range
Santiago Rodriguez doubled the hosts’ lead 20 minutes later after beating the offside trap
Rodriguez is surrounded by his teammates after scoring New York City FC’s second goal
Just moments after the deadlock-breaker Matias Pellegrini almost scored what would have been a contender for goal of the season, even at this early stage.
The forward saw DC goalkeeper Tyler Miller well out of his goal and tried his luck from the halfway line. His aim was off but the shot-stopper had to scramble.
DC were set up to nullify their opponents in a 4-5-1 formation and they struggled to have any meaningful possession in the first half with former Premier League striker Christian Benteke isolated up top.
He did provide the opportunity for DC’s first shot of the game as he held the ball up well and laid it off to Nigel Robertha on the half-hour mark.
The 25-year-old only had one thought in his mind, shifting the ball inside and whipping a left-footed effort on goal. NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza was called into action and parried the ball away.
Christian Benteke stunned New York City at the start of the second half, pulling a goal back
The former Premier League striker rose high and glanced header across goal on 46 minutes
Ten minutes later New York City carved through the DC defense with little trouble once more to double its lead.
Santiago Rodriguez beat the offside trap with DC light at the back following Pellegrini’s clever outside of the boot pass down the line.
One on one with Miller, Rodriguez slotted home.
But Rooney and DC do have quality in their team and ultimately that’s what could steer them higher up the table. There was improvement in the second period.
Former England top-flight players Benteke and Mateusz Klich can create something out of nothing, and midfielder Lewis O’Brien is on the way from Nottingham Forest on loan.
DC United’s Russell Canouse (6) fights for the ball against New York City’s Matias Pellegrini
Former Liverpool, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace striker Benteke stunned the home side, and the NYCFC faithful, straight from kick-off after the break, rising high to glance a header into the net.
With just one goal in it, DC always had a chance. On 69 minutes they almost had the equalizer as Barraza was forced into a double save.
New York City tried to control the final stages of the game but DC still had hope with no sign of a third goal.
A cross was teed up to Benteke once again, this time at the back post. He went for a spectacular bicycle kick and fluffed his lines.
Almost immediately after the hosts’ substitute Thiago Andrade did get their third goal of the game in a one vs. one on 88 minutes. Game over? No.
There was still life left in DC as they conjured up something out of nothing once again. Captain Steven Birnbaum headed the ball past Barraza from a corner kick.
Benteke and Birnbaum could have equalized in stoppage time but their efforts went agonizingly wide.
DC have quality but also plenty of fight. They just gave themselves too much to do on this occasion.
What Rooney said at halftime worked. Perhaps his pre-season message will hit home eventually, too.