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Rooney’s Return Gives D.C. United a Pulse

Mired in another lost MLS season, D.C. is turning once again to Wayne Rooney to provide a lift, this time as its manager.



D.C., mired in yet another unsuccessful MLS season, is once more looking to Wayne Rooney for inspiration, but this time as its manager.

At Audi Field, Wayne Rooney shirts are still frequently seen. The English forward left D.C. United unexpectedly at the end of 2019 after only a season and a half there. But he left an impact.

A significant portion of the fan base established Rooney’s status thanks to the dizzying 11-2-4 run that ended the 2018 season, the half-field goal and assist against Orlando City, the vivacious partnership with Luciano Acosta, the everyman attitude toward teammates, supporters, and the community, and the sense that DCU mattered again. And that was sufficient to maintain his bond with the club.

Rooney returned to play for and later manage Derby County despite his family’s longing for his time at home, but the bond with Washington, D.C., was never broken. The discussions and consultations went on. Rooney, 36, might have still felt that his work in Washington needed to be done.


Soon after arriving in the summer of 2018, England’s all-time leading international scorer told Sports Illustrated, “So, you want to come here and when I finish playing, see photographs up in the locker room and in the stadium.” When the young players show up, I want to be in those images so that we can say, “He was a captain who led us to success and led us to trophies.”

That goes beyond a few No. 9 shirts strewn over the stands. That has to do with legacy and foundation. Due to what occurred before and after, Rooney’s brief time as a United player stands noteworthy. Since the 2013 U.S. Open Cup, there have been no notable victories and no playoff victories since 2015. Audi Field may have opened in 2018, much to the relief of fans throughout the DMV, but it is still incomplete and is outclassed by newer or more opulent stadiums across the nation. United, once the face of the MLS, had lost a lot of its local and global significance. Concerns remained over the club’s devotion and competency. Ben Olsen’s successor as head coach, Hernán Losada, only held the position for 15 months.

Rooney was the one who gave D.C. United a spark. The team or the former athlete hadn’t forgotten that. Rooney will therefore attempt to accomplish as manager what he failed to do as captain. When his work visa is approved, he will be qualified to serve as the team’s new coach and will be officially introduced on Tuesday afternoon at Audi Field. According to The Washington Post, his multiyear contract is worth at least $1 million per season. That is not a salary that an organization has given up paying. And Rooney, who was absent from his wife and four sons, arrived in town Sunday evening to take over a struggling 5-10-2 team that had suffered a seven-goal loss over the weekend. That decision wasn’t made by someone who wasn’t enthusiastic about the possibility.

Rooney gained a lot of respect for his work at Derby County, a team that was struggling financially and ultimately had a significant points deduction that guaranteed its relegation from the English Championship. The Rams would have placed 17th out of 24 teams without the penalty, but the performance on the field was good enough to keep them in the game, and Rooney’s performance and demeanor throughout the chaos won praise. He was connected to a couple positions in England before and after leaving Derby, including one at Everton, and could have easily found work there if he had desired. But he’s decided, perhaps unexpectedly, to pursue his career in MLS.


Each side in this situation is at risk. It has worked for a few others; Patrick Vieira, for instance, moved to Nice and subsequently Crystal Palace after spending more than two seasons at New York City FC. Rooney must hope that his efforts in the United States will be acknowledged by prospective employers back home. He’ll also have to deal with the difficulties of being apart from his family for a while; whether they’ll finally join him is uncertain. Kai, his oldest kid, is a Manchester United academy prospect and is 12 years old.

With Tuesday’s announcement, DCU made a significant commitment to a young coach without any technical MLS expertise who had previously departed the area before finishing out his contract. Although Rooney undoubtedly has the best of intentions, she cannot predict how life will feel in a year or longer. However, the team is already benefiting from his signing in the interim. We’re not talking about Friday’s 7-0 loss to Philadelphia; we’re talking about an intriguing management hire and a brighter future.

It makes sense that United’s support base is upset. The club has been operating in place for far too long in comparison to the rest of the league. Losada wasn’t successful. Edison Flores, a playmaker from Peru, failed to live up to his club-record transfer in 2020. Paul Arriola of FC Dallas and Acosta of FC Cincinnati, the previous two MLS players of the month, were dissatisfied in Washington and found success elsewhere. D.C. shares the league’s lowest point total with the Chicago Fire after being eliminated from this year’s Open Cup by the opposition New York Red Bulls.

But a pulse can be felt. That is what Rooney’s entry signifies. He is persuaded to leave home and give this a go because the club is supported by enough stability and potential. When he was a player for DCU, the team continued to train on surrounding grounds near the decaying RFK Stadium, using a vehicle or golf cart to get there and back. There is now a brand-new, specialized facility nearby Rooney’s lodging, past Dulles Airport. The team recruited Greek attacker Taxi Fountas in April after hiring Lucy Rushton as general manager last year. In his first 11 MLS games, he has scored nine goals.


Rooney’s relationships with DCU’s owners, employees, and players were also substantial enough to be maintained once he returned to England. Additionally, there was sufficient respect between the parties to allow for Tuesday’s reveal. It is essential that Rooney never felt that United was beneath him or that the team couldn’t get better. He recognizes a worthwhile endeavor for his reputation, time, and effort. The MLS standings for 2022 don’t show that something is going on. However, better luck on the field cannot occur without it.

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