Football is a team sport, but sometimes one player can make the team, and this certainly seems to be the case with Wayne Rooney at DC United. He has had a fantastic start to his time with the club and has been instrumental in turning their fortunes around.
The team had a poor start to the 2018 Major League Soccer season, but the arrival of Rooney together with the move to a new stadium has helped them find a new lease on life. At the start of the year, the team were playing very few home matches as they waited for their new stadium, Audi Field, to become available.
Of course, they did have some home games, but these will have felt like away games. Three of them took place at the Maryland SoccerPlex, north of Washington DC, and one of them took place at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in nearby Annapolis.
The game in Annapolis, which was against Columbus Crew, was one of just two victories they enjoyed in the early part of the season. The other was in San Jose against the Earthquakes. Before Rooney joined the team they had two wins, five draws and seven losses, leaving them very much at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
However, due to their lack of home matches, they did have games in hand, and this left space for fans to be optimistic that they could turn things around and still reach the play-offs. The arrival or Rooney has only increased these hopes and made the team more ambitions.
Rooney’s debut with the team coincided with the opening of the new stadium, and to many it felt as if the season only truly began for DC United once Rooney had arrived. There was certainly a commercial side to his signing, as the club looked to bring more fans to their new stadium on opening night, but it has also drastically improved the team’s results.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) August 13, 2018
Since his debut for the team, they have won five games, drawn one and lost just two. The club are now just six points away from the play-off places. Furthermore, due to the disruption in the early part of the season, DC United still have four games in hand on Montreal Impact, who are currently in the final play-off spot.
If the competition for a play-off spot comes down to goal difference then DC United are in a strong position. They have the joint fourth best goal difference in the conference, thanks to them scoring at least two goals in five of their eight games with Rooney.
It is a huge improvement for the club since the beginning of the season, and while a number of players have helped, the signing of Rooney has truly turned around the entire atmosphere at the club.
The team also appears to have settled into their new home very quickly. It often takes time for new stadiums to feel like home and for teams to adjust, but DC United seem to have had no problems, winning five of their six games there.
Rooney has started in six games since he arrived in the MLS, he has three goals and three assists, which means that on average he has been contributing to a goal every time that he starts in a game. It is early days in his time in America and he has three seasons remaining on his contract after this one. When this contract runs out, he will be close to 36 years old, and considering he made his senior debut at just sixteen years old, the final few years of his 20 year professional career could be a real struggle.
However, so far he has made a hugely positive impact and in no way does it seem that he is treating the experience as a retirement pay off, as many other older high profile names who head to the MLS seem to do. He is giving his all on the pitch, even when things are not going his way.
A prime example of Rooney’s attitude was the match against Orlando City, which is sure to be remembered for years to come. The teams were drawing at 2 – 2 and in the last minute of injury time, DC United sent their goalkeeper David Ousted up for a corner, in a desperate attempt to avoid a draw.
However, the ploy seemed to have backfired. Orlando cleared the corner and Will Johnson managed to break free with just half a pitch between him and an empty goal. Rather than resign themselves to losing, Rooney jumped into action and pushed himself to the limit to get back up the pitch. He made a last man tackle, took the ball forward, and sent it though a long pass to the far post where Luciano Acosta leapt above the crowd to head home his third goal of the match and secure victory for the team.
The incident was sent to VAR and as the footage was reviewed, Rooney could be seen looking exhausted with his hands on his knees, gasping for air after a full 96 minutes on the pitch.
In the end, the goal was allowed, despite just a hint of offside. Acosta was the hat-trick hero for the team, but he would never have managed without Rooney, and it is exactly this type of commitment that fans and teammates alike want to see from their high-earning new arrival.
Of course, there have also been a number of times when Rooney has not been able to make such a positive impact on events, but this is not for lack of effort on his part.
In DC United’s recent win over New England Revolution, Rooney did not manage to score a goal or assist, and not everything he attempted worked out the way he would have wanted. However, he still had more touches of the ball than any other player on the team.
Rooney is an attacker and he wears the No. 9 shirt. However, in many ways his involvement is more than that of a centre forward. DC United’s head coach, Ben Olsen, has given Rooney the responsibility of acting as the focal point, but also the freedom to fall back into midfield if he wants to get involved in the build-up play.
Like all of the top, and highly experienced, players, Rooney is able to act as a coach on the field as well. In addition to giving his all for DC United, he will be spending the next few years completing his coaching badges, and he may be considering America as a good place to start the next phase of his career.
However, for now, it is obvious that he is still enjoying playing, and at times, there is a sense of excitement in his performances that seems to have been missing for quite a few years. All of this is excellent news for DC United as they push to reach the play-offs.
Richard Kharman, an expert on DC United for World Football Index, has expressed similar thoughts, “The signing of Wayne Rooney has already paid dividends for DC United. Not only did it attract in more fans, but his skills were a major upgrade for the Black-and-Red. It was evident DC United needed a goal scorer and they found that with Rooney. What they probably did not envisage was his playmaking ability, tenacity, heart, and grit. Rooney is inspiring his team-mates to play better and that they are. I am not sure if manager Ben Olsen and company knew this was coming, but, boy, I’m sure they’re happy as heck Rooney’s in DC.”
Rooney himself has commented on his influence saying that other MLS clubs have started showing DC United more “respect” since he joined the team. Talking after the DC United’s victory over New England Revolution Rooney said, “I think what you’re seeing now is teams respecting us a bit more. I think in previous games, New England have pressed a lot. … I think today you could see their hesitance in doing that and leaving the space for us to get on the ball.”
Rooney is also looking forward to facing the New York Red Bulls next Sunday after the team lost to them 1 – 0 a month ago. He said that he thinks that the Red Bulls will have “more to think about than what they did last time” and he is undoubtedly hoping to add to his goal-scoring tally.
He has also praised his teammates for their attitude in recent games, and overall, it seems that the former Manchester United and Everton player is enjoying settling into his new club and country.