IMAGE: audi field playoffs

Top 10 moments of Audi Field inaugural season

The inaugural season at Audi Field provided an unforgettable 3.5 months full of wins, last-second heroics, passion and vibrancy, and a resurgence of soccer in the District. While the 2018 campaign was only the dawn of this new era for D.C. United, before the Black-and-Red turn the page and start building toward their 2019 chapter, take a look back at the top 10 moments from the first season in the club's new home. 

10. United end Atlanta's unbeaten streak and Martinez's scoring streak

The Black-and-Red welcomed Atlanta United to Audi Field for the first time on Labor Day Weekend and kicked off their unbeaten run by halting the visitors' eight-match undefeated streak. The home team came out of the gates fiery, and the LuchoRoo show continued, as Luciano Acosta bagged a brace and Wayne Rooney provided both assists and converted a PK in the 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd. 

The attack was firing on all cylinders that night, but a big defensive performance also allowed United to shut down MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez, whose scoring streak came to an end in the District. Bill Hamid tallied six big saves on the evening, Paul Arriola played a standout game after dropping to the right back position, and Kofi Opare and Steven Birnbaum paired in the center of the back line and shut down almost every chance Atlanta found in the final third. 

United's victory over Atlanta gave them their first win over the other United of the season, provided them another important three points in their playoff push, and started what would turn into a 10-match unbeaten run. 

9. Russell Canouse scores first MLS goal after passing of Paul Arriola's father

Russell Canouse scored his first career Major League Soccer goal in October 13th's 1-0 win over the Western Conference's No. 1 team FC Dallas, and the milestone couldn't have come at a more meaningful time for the defensive midfielder. 

United's lineup against Dallas was missing Paul Arriola, who had returned home to California to be with his family after the sudden passing of his father. While Arriola was unable to be in the District for the Black-and-Red's big match, best friend Russell Canouse honored his friend in the best way possible that evening. 

With the match deadlocked at 0-0 and United needing three points to continue their path to the postseason, the Black-and-Red earned a free kick in Dallas' half of the field in the 86th minute. The ball found Canouse's foot in the box, but his volley ricocheted off the crossbar. A failed Dallas clearance led to another loose, popped-up ball in the box, and Canouse was able to get a scrappy header on it to open his account and notch the game-winning goal. 

After the win, Canouse paid tribute to his friend and the Arriola family by dedicating the goal to Paul. Canouse's score and the three points also helped United move above the playoff line for the first time of the season. 

8. Wayne Rooney scores amazing free kick v. Toronto

United's Golden Boot winner Wayne Rooney had a number of unbelievable moments in his first MLS season, but no Rooney goal was more jaw-dropping than the forward's free kick against Toronto FC on October 17. A sloppy match needed one moment of brilliance, and Rooney provided that moment with a game-winning strike in the 18th minute. 

After the Black-and-Red earned a free kick roughly 33 yards out, Rooney lined up over the ball, and, as he noted after the game, was "50-50 on shooting it." The forward decided to go for it, though, and sent a perfectly-placed strike into the upper left corner, sending Audi Field into a frenzy. 

Rooney's free kick was his 10th goal of the season, making 2018 the 13th season in the forward's career in which he's scored at least 10 goals. The game-winning score also allowed United to pick up their fourth win in a row. 

7.  Bill Hamid returns to starting lineup, makes Audi Field debut

One key to United's late-season resurgence was the return of Homegrown goalkeeper and fan favorite Bill Hamid, who rejoined the Black-and-Red on loan from the Danish Superliga in August. After remaining an unused sub against Orlando, Hamid returned to the starting lineup on August 15 when United hosted the Portland Timbers, and "Bill Hamid" chants rang through Audi Field for the first time. 

Hamid only had to tally one save on the evening, but with the win the goalkeeper started what would be a strong inaugural Audi Field season. Hamid earned five clean sheets, 51 saves, and nine wins in 2018. 

6. United rout Montreal 5-0 in must-win game

When United welcomed the Montreal Impact to town on September 29, they faced a must-win match against the Canadian side they were chasing in the Eastern Conference playoff race. In order to keep their postseason hopes healthily alive, United would have to pick up three points and starve the Impact from earning any points of their own. 

What followed was the most dominant rout of the inaugural season—a 5-0 thrashing of the Impact in front of a sellout crowd at Audi Field. Luciano Acosta opening the scoring in the 17th minute, and while the match was a close 1-0 battle at halftime, the flood gates were opened in the final 45 minutes. Acosta picked up three assists in the second half off of a Wayne Rooney goal and Paul Arriola brace, then Rooney notched a brace of his own off of an unassisted goal in the 82nd minute to complete the 5-0 victory. 

Bill Hamid also earned another clean sheet, and the back line put in an impressive shift to completely stifle Montreal's usual playmakers. The statement win didn't put United above the playoff line, but it was pivotal toward ultimately earning their postseason berth. 

5. Wayne Rooney makes D.C. United debut, tallies first assist

The first-ever game at Audi Field was unforgettable for a number of reasons, but Wayne Rooney's much-anticipated Major League Soccer debut was the cherry on top of the 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

Rooney officially joined the Black-and-Red on June 28, but was not eligible to debut until the July 14 match. In the 58th minute of United-Vancouver, the international icon subbed on, bringing D.C. fans to their feet, and marking July 14 as the start of both the Rooney era and Audi Field era in the District. 

The forward capped off his United debut by tallying his first career MLS assist 22 minutes later. In the 80th minute, Rooney collected a ball just outside of the box and laid off a pass to Paul Arriola, who took one dribble then fired a shot past Vancouver's goalkeeper for his second goal of the night. 

4. Yamil Asad scores first goal of Audi Field era

Yamil Asad, who scored the first goal of the 2018 season, also christened United's new home with the first-ever goal at Audi Field—a beautiful strike in the 27th minute. With D.C. fans on the edges of their seats in anticipation of the stadium's first-ever score, Zoltán Stieber sent a pass across the top of the box to Asad, who one-timed a shot to the upper right corner and inked his name in D.C. United history, leading the stadium to erupt. 

The goal was Asad's eighth of the season, and got the party going in United's 3-1 win on Audi Field's opening night. 

3. United clinch playoff spot in front of home crowd 

The Black-and-Red did not have to win their October 21 game v. NYCFC to clinch a playoff spot, but with their regular season finale being away at Chicago, the team was determined to reward their fans by punching their postseason ticket before they returned to the road. United successfully completed their epic rise from the basement of the Eastern Conference to the playoffs with an impressive 3-1 win over New York, and got to celebrate their turnaround at Audi Field with their loyal supporters before heading north. 

Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta again led the way for United, with Rooney tallying the first goal of the day in the 8th minute. Acosta completed an incredible dribble to weave through NYCFC's back line, then dished a final pass to Rooney, who tapped it in for the early score. Acosta scored one of his own to double the lead in the 24th minute—a curling strike from the top of the box for his 10th goal of the year. Rooney then notched another brace with a penalty kick goal in the 74th minute, and while New York found a consolation score, the job was done. United were playoffs bound. 

The postseason may have seemed like a reasonable expectation to those following United from July onward, but for the fans who had watched since the beginning of the season, playoffs seemed out of the question for most of 2018. The Black-and-Red clinching at home was a massive moment for the players, fans, and community alike, and made the Audi Field regular season finale all the more special. 

2. Playoffs return to the District, DeLeon's 116th-minute screamer makes Audi Field erupt

The October 21 win over NYCFC could've been United's last Audi Field game of the year, but they earned themselves another home match with a draw at Chicago in the final week of the regular season. Playoffs were returning to the District.

On November 1, the Black-and-Red hosted Columbus Crew SC in the first playoff game of the Audi Field era in front of a raucous crowd of 20,600—a new attendance record for Audi Field. The Knockout Round match was a battle all evening, with Frédéric Brillant and Federico Higuaín scoring in the first half, then neither team finding a breakthrough in the final 45, sending the teams into extra time. 

What followed was a tense 30 minutes for the Black-and-Red faithful, as another Higuaín goal in the 96th minute put United's backs against the wall. With time ticking away, it looked as if Higuaín's brace would be enough to win it for the Crew in extra time. Then, in the 116th minute, Audi Field exploded like never before.

With only four minutes left, United sent a long ball into the box, where Steven Birnbaum got a head to it and Columbus failed to clear. There to clean up the loose ball was Nick DeLeon, United's second-longest tenured player who had just recently returned to the lineup from injury. DeLeon half-volleyed a screamer into the back of the net, tying things up, forcing a penalty kick shootout, and sending Audi Field into pandemonium. 

Unfortunately United fell short in the shootout, but no one at Audi Field that night will forget the electric atmosphere of the stadium's first playoff game, or the deafening celebration that followed DeLeon's equalizing strike. 

1. "The Tackle"

Arguably the most season-defining moment of United's 2018 campaign came on August 12, when the District hosted Orlando City in another one of their numerous must-win games. Fans have seen the highlights plenty of times now, but somehow they never get old—the filling of the box for the corner kick, the Wayne Rooney foot race and tackle, the perfectly-placed cross, the Luciano Acosta header to complete the hat trick and steal the win, the players celebrating in front of the supporters section with beer showers raining down. 

It was a moment viewed around the world, and, ultimately, a moment that altered the course of United's season. The scrappy, gutsy, heroic play gave the Black-and-Red their first of three consecutive wins, and could be considered the moment that truly kickstarted the team's rise up the Eastern Conference. If there was no tackle there may have been no playoff-clinching win, no Knockout Round game at Audi Field, no DeLeon screamer at the death. So while the tackle was unbelievable even when viewed out of context on that August night, it became even more unbelievable as the season progressed, perhaps serving as the first domino in a series of events that launched the Black-and-Red on their historic run at Audi Field.