Rooney re­born in MLS For­mer Man United star breath­ing new life into US cap­i­tal’s flag­ging fran­chise

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Sports -

WASH­ING­TON, DC — All the doubters were wrong about what Wayne Rooney could still do.

More specif­i­cally, about what he could do for DC United in Ma­jor League Soc­cer.

Now the English striker and his Amer­i­can club are headed to the MLS play­offs.

When re­ports first linked the 32-year-old Rooney to the team in the US cap­i­tal, the two par­ties were sep­a­rated by more than the At­lantic Ocean.

Rooney was past his peak as a su­per­star for his na­tion and Manch­ester United, even if he still was a ca­pa­ble scorer in the Pre­mier League.

DC United, mean­while, stood last in MLS, a league that is a few rungs be­low Europe’s best in terms of qual­ity.

Four months af­ter the deal was struck, and with the start of the MLS knock­out round ap­proach­ing this week, there is more com­mon ground than any­one thought.

That in­cludes rev­el­ing in de­fy­ing crit­ics of the deal, with Rooney lead­ing his new club to one of the most dra­matic turn­arounds in league his­tory.

“Wayne’s in­flu­ence on this team has been huge — so many fac­tors, so many ways,” DCU coach Ben Olsen said on the week­end.

“But he’s not the only one that had some­thing to prove around here. I’ve got some­thing to prove. The team that was here last year has got some­thing to prove. Ev­ery­body’s here to kind of cre­ate their own ca­reer.”

Rooney’s ar­rival has co­in­cided with a 12-4-3 run, in­clud­ing a five-game win­ning streak — and a nine-game un­beaten streak — head­ing into Sun­day’s reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale at Chicago.

This from a team that was 2-7-5 be­fore his MLS de­but.

Rooney leads United with 12 goals af­ter scor­ing twice in a 3-1 vic­tory over New York FC last week­end that clinched a playoff berth.

That to­tal in­cludes five of DCU’s last seven goals, in­clud­ing three last week to help him earn MLS Player of the Week hon­ors.

Rooney also has seven as­sists, mean­ing he’s played a role in 19 goals over the 19 games played by United since he joined.

Rooney has pro­duced bril­liance rem­i­nis­cent of his years win­ning five Pre­mier League ti­tles with Manch­ester United.

His most fa­mous DC mo­ment?

That would be “The Tackle,” in which Rooney raced half­way across the field to take the ball from an op­po­nent, then charged back the other way and picked out Lu­ciano Acosta to as­sist on a stop­page-time, game-win­ning header in a 3-2 vic­tory over Or­lando in Au­gust.

“You look up to him a lot with his ef­fort and how he plays,” Acosta said through an in­ter­preter.

“You see it on the field. He knows where to be. He knows where I am. He knows where all the play­ers are. And we can all work off of that.”

There clearly was mar­ket­ing po­ten­tial in the move to the United States: MLS said Rooney’s DCU No 9 is its fourth-high­est-sell­ing jer­sey in 2018, even though he only joined the league af­ter the sea­son started.

But his play has si­lenced sug­ges­tions that his move to the US from boy­hood club Ever­ton — where he re­turned for a frus­trat­ing 2017-18 cam­paign — was only about the money.

“I’ve never been a player who is go­ing to just play and knock around,” said Rooney, who signed a 2½-year deal in June re­port­edly worth $13 mil­lion. “I’m a player who cares. I care about what I do. I’m a proud per­son.”

His great­est ac­com­plish­ment might very well be how he’s sparked his team­mates.

Acosta, a 24-year-old Ar­gen­tine com­pared by Rooney to for­mer Manch­ester United team­mate Car­los Tevez, has 10 goals and is tied for the league lead with 17 as­sists in his third MLS sea­son. Yamil Asad could make DCU the first MLS team with four dou­ble-digit scor­ers if he scores on Sun­day.

As it is, the team’s 60 goals are its most since scor­ing 65 in 1999 en route to one of its four MLS Cups.

There’s still a long way to go to pick up No 5. Still, Rooney has al­lowed United to go from last place to playoff par­tic­i­pant.

“Be­fore, we had al­ways been miss­ing some­thing,” mid­fielder Paul Ar­riola said. “Maybe iden­tity, style of play, maybe a cer­tain player. And then Wayne comes in, and ev­ery­thing worked all to­gether.”

AM­BER SEARLS / USA TO­DAY SPORTS

From left: DC United for­ward Wayne Rooney joins team­mates Steve Birn­baum, Lu­ciano Acosta and Yamil Asad in cel­e­brat­ing with fans in the stands af­ter de­feat­ing New York City FC in Ma­jor League Soc­cer ac­tion at Audi Field in Wash­ing­ton last week.

USA TO­DAY SPORTS

DC United for­ward Wayne Rooney cel­e­brates scor­ing against New York at Audi Field in Wash­ing­ton, DC last week.

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