- - Sunday, October 21, 2018

Veteran D.C. United coach Ben Olsen hugged New York City FC counterpart Domenec Torrent at the final whistle on Sunday as the home fans screamed in approval.

With orange smoke wafting through the stands behind the north goal, Wayne Rooney hugged D.C. United teammates Luciano Acosta and Yamil Asad.

After being mired in last place in mid-August, D.C. United (14-11-8, 50 points) secured a playoff spot with a convincing 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon against New York City FC to continue an improbable rise up the standings.

The win in the home regular-season finale means D.C. United will finish no lower than sixth in the Eastern Conference.

“(Securing a playoff spot) is really emotional for me and the whole team,” Acosta said, through the team translator.

The last regular-season match next Sunday at Chicago, and Olsen’s club could even finish in fourth place and get a home playoff game if things work out.

“We will enjoy it, for sure, tonight,” Olsen said. “We can exhale just for a second, at least for 24 hours. It feels great. It feels great for the guys, for the club, the ownership, the fans, this city, which I really think has gotten on board with this team the last couple of months.”

“It has been fun and I am glad it’s going to continue,” he added. “We are playing at a high level. We have some individuals playing at an extremely high level. We will enjoy this and get back to work to try to get a result against Chicago.”

One of those players at an extremely high level is Acosta, somewhat overshadowed by the July arrival of Rooney from Europe.

Acosta ran circles through the New York City FC defense in the early minutes on a windy afternoon before a sellout crowd of 20,249 fans. That created an easy scoring chance for Rooney, whose goal in the eighth minute gave D.C. United a 1-0 lead.

It is obvious Acosta and Rooney have formed a tight bond.

“It shows itself on the field,” Acosta said. “I have said it many times; he is a great player.”

Acosta scored on a laser from about 20 yards out to beat goalie Sean Johnson for a 2-0 lead 24 minutes into the match.

“(Acosta) was unbelievable, in every aspect,” Olsen said. “He was just really dialed in today. He makes so many plays defensively.”

Rooney made it 3-0 with a penalty kick in the 74th minute. Even a goal by visiting captain David Villa four minutes later couldn’t spoil another victory party at Audi Field.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Rooney said of Acosta, who has 10 goals this season. “I think we have enjoyed playing with each other.”

After a tie on July 4 in Los Angeles, D.C. United arrived back in the nation’s capital in shambles. The team was 2-7-5 overall and had not won a game in nearly six weeks.

The turnaround in the second half of the season was spurred by the first home match at new Audi Field on July 14, which resulted in a 3-1 win by the home side over Vancouver. That was also the first match with D.C. United for Rooney, who has 12 goals and seven assists.

D.C. United is 13-2-2 at home this season, including 12-2-1 at Audi Field. The black and red have outscored their opponents 37-17 at home and overall this year has 60 goals and has allowed 50. That is the most goals for the team since 1999, when D.C. United scored 65.

D.C. United is now 12-4-3 in its 19 matches with Rooney, who in his first season in North America.

The club has not lost in its last nine matches for its best run since 2007.

“It took a lot of hard work and a lot of grit,” goalie Bill Hamid said of making the playoffs. “We accomplished something very, very good.”

And the run has been aided by Acosta, in his third year with the club.

“He was outstanding,” Hamid said. “The second half of the season you could see him come alive. He keeps fighting when he is not doing too well. It was a great run to feed Rooney (for the first goal),”

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