Wayne Rooney has had a step on many defenders since joining D.C. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
One player certainly doesn’t make a soccer team, but the arrival of Wayne Rooney has given D.C. United a big boost and then some.
Since joining the MLS side, Rooney and a revived D.C. squad have gone 5-2-1, which includes a three-game winning streak.
Their next target? The Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena Sunday at 7 p.m.
The Red Bulls know what to expect. Stopping Rooney and company is another matter altogether.
“I think they look more comfortable,” Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer told reporters at the team’s training facility in Hanover, N.J. Friday.
Since joining the team, Rooney has scored three goals and assisted on three others over six starts and eight matches. He made his MLS debut in a 3-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps FC July 14.
“Every time the ball comes his way, he’s dangerous,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “He, obviously, can hurt you by scoring goals but what he does and provides up the field with his passing ability, his movement underneath, behind, you have to know where he is at all times.
“He’s quality, world class, obviously, so he’s a guy that makes people around him better and look at the play he made few weeks ago. He’s doing everything he can to help the team win right now and he’s making a lot of great plays.”
The 32-year-old Rooney’s most famous moment in the league was his miraculous 11th-hour pass in a 3-2 victory over Orlando City SC Aug. 12. With goalkeeper David Ousted forward pressing for a goal and leaving an open net, Rooney bolted some 40 yards to tackle the ball away from Will Johnson and lofted a 50-yard pass to Luciano Acosta, who headed it home.
So Rooney has plenty of gas left in his tank after a 15-year career with Everton and Manchester United in the English Premier League And oh yeah, he also celebrated 53 international goals with the English national side.
“Of course, he’s a great player,” Royer said. “He can keep the ball. He’s a smart guy, he’s a strong guy, good battling. When he keeps the ball it gives the wingers and their No. 10 more time and space to find space when he keeps the ball during this time, so to open up the spaces and to find dangerous spots. But also, he’s a great passer as well, and I think that’s one point sometimes people don’t mention. I think he’s not giving away a lot of balls, he’s not losing a lot of balls, he’s actually a great passer and can set up plays really well.”
Armas explained to reporters how Rooney operates. Of course, it’s easier to talk about stopping Rooney than actually limiting him, whether he is a goal-scorer or playmaker.
“The minute you think he’s just an underneath guy, a false nine that comes underneath and sprays balls and get on the ball and relieve pressure and bring people in, then he’s running the line, getting breakaways, running behind,” Armas said. “You have to understand where he operates but knowing the minute you take that away he’s just beyond side, slashing behind so guys like this, guys like David Villa need one play to make a difference. They’re always a threat, so we’ll have to understand all the areas which he operates.”