Can Wayne Rooney make DC United worth watching again?
More than any character from, say, the last decade, Rooney – Manchester United legend, England scoring icon – has made DC United go-to TV for the casual fan. Audi Field can’t be filled with just football – huh, futbol – connoisseurs, right, Barra Brava? There must be a draw, and Rooney the player was nothing else.
But as a… coach? There was magic in his football feet. Is there magic in his footballing spirit?
Wayne Rooney reaches deal to coach DC United
United is banking (see smart verb choice?) that the answer is ‘yes’. According to my peerless colleague Steven Goff, United will introduce Rooney as the ninth full-time manager in franchise history at a Tuesday afternoon press conference at Audi Field. A measure of the import of this movement: Goff staked Rooney upon arrival at Dulles International Airport Sunday evening. It’s a beat writer’s dedication, that’s for sure. But it’s also a star attraction.
I’m not going to pretend to know – whether in tactics or talent – what United need and whether Rooney can help bring it out. This will be addressed in Tuesday’s reintroduction, and it will be shown in United’s remaining 17 regular season games. The most recent of them: a 7-0 at the hands of Philadelphia on Friday under interim coach Chad Ashton, the longtime assistant with whom the club had won only one of its eight last matches.
Obviously United need a shock. He sits 13th in the 14-team Eastern Conference with the second-worst goal differential in all of MLS. They sit 17th in the league of the 28 teams present, selling out once in nine home matches. He sacked Hernán Losada as coach in April, after just six games into the season. He has scored more than once in his last five matches.
Add to that the fact that the region’s soccer community as a whole is pretty battered — a season after winning the NWSL Championship, the Washington Spirit haven’t won since opening night, and Washington and Baltimore have been underdogs as hosts of 2026 World Cup matches — a shake-up is timely and needed.
So here comes Rooney – on the sidelines. If this sounds like some kind of Ted Williams-manages-senators-for-relevance movement, well, maybe it’s because it’s some kind of Ted Williams-manages-senators-for-relevance movement. relevance. It should be noted that residents of this largest stadium across South Capitol Street from Audi Field – Nationals Park – are in the midst of a hopeless summer of reconstruction. Why not make any kind of splatter you can? Maybe a fan with cash in his pocket will march west through South Capitol to Audi Field because Rooney is back.
Sound silly? On some level, of course. But think of it this way: When Rooney came to play for United in 2018, he was instantly Washington’s most internationally recognizable athlete – and it wasn’t particularly close. It’s hardly scientific, but add up the Twitter followers of the hottest pros in town – Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Chase Young and Terry McLaurin of the Commanders, Elena Delle Donne of the Mystics and Juan Soto of the Les Nationals. You get just over 3.8 million. It’s 13.4 million less of that Rooney has by himself. Shoot, if Rooney’s wife, Coleen, was in on it, she’d rank second to Ovechkin on DC’s Twitter list of athletes, as she alone has 1.2 million followers.
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Of course, social media popularity means nothing when it comes to MLS wins, and there’s a certain danger in a franchise whose biggest draw is its manager when it’s clear United also have need an injection of talent. This means that at some point, more spending on players is needed. It may be immediate. It may be during the offseason. This is a franchise that was once a mainstay in the league, winning four MLS Cups in its first nine seasons. Rooney will now lead a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2015.
Although it’s impossible to know what kind of manager Rooney will be – his time with English second-tier club Derby County offers limited evidence as the club have been overwhelmed by financial problems which cost him points in the table and eventually led to his relegation – his two seasons as a player here give an idea of the energy he will bring. Those summers of 2018 and 2019, when Audi Field opened and Rooney was sinking balls because he was simply working harder than his opponent, were exciting.
Take the game mentioned earlier, a defining moment in United history. DC was locked in a 2-2 tie with Orlando City in stoppage time at Audi Field. Orlando was playing with 10 men, trying to defend a United corner kick with even DC goalkeeper David ousted up front. Orlando hit a clear and midfielder Will Johnson reached midfield with nothing but grass in front of him. An empty net – and a United defeat – loomed.
And here came Rooney. From nowhere. The tackle and tape that followed would have been enough, as it showed everything he was brought in for – effort and commitment, not to mention brute strength and willpower. The fact that he got up, leaving Johnson in his wake and pushed the ball forward was characteristic of his time here.
He did not come to the District for a vacation. He came here to change what United saw as possible. He joined the club. He is committed to the community. His time was fleeting because a young family brought him home to England. But he was a beacon when he was around, 23 goals and 15 assists in 48 appearances, a 10-match unbeaten streak to end the 2018 regular season, real hope of a return to glory.
Perhaps that’s what Rooney will articulate on Tuesday: a different path to new possibilities. That night, four years ago, he made three touches forward and then served a ball all over the pitch to little Luciano Acosta, who had already scored two goals. The ball found Acosta’s head first. He then found the back of the net. Ruckus.
You have not seen it ? Look for it. You won’t watch it once.
Wayne Rooney can’t make that kind of play from the sidelines. But he automatically brings the buzz to a team that really needs it. What’s next for DC United is impossible to say. But what comes next is something it wasn’t when the weekend started: it’s definitely worth watching.