The 2019 D.C. United started red hot out of the gate to start a promising campaign. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, D.C. spent most of the time on top of the table in the East. Even when they were officially dethroned in Week 13 they spent a lot of weeks bouncing back between the second and third positions. In short, D.C. and their rock solid defense partnered with a flashy attack looked primed to be a true contender and challenge Atlanta in the post season.
Since that solid first half season, D.C. has slowly slipped to the fourth position in the East with teams behind them all containing matches in hand. Entering their international break D.C. holds only a slim lead of five points over the Montreal Impact.
The slide of D.C. united through the second half of the regular season can’t be placed solely on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney. There are lots of arguments to be made of what the cause is; a lapse in defensive focus, failure of the offense to connect and finish, or simply a more difficult schedule. Since arriving in 2018, Wayne Rooney has been an integral piece of D.C.’s attacking puzzle. With an often times unmatched passion for the game and highlight plays week in and out, Rooney quickly became the face of D.C United.
After a solid 2018, Rooney’s 2019 started fast and included performances like a hat trick in 5-0 slugging of RSL in week three, or scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 road win in Columbus. Through the first 12 matches Rooney had amassed six goals and four assists, which is actually about a statistical pace that would look similar to his last year’s output. Since that slip from first place Rooney has recorded five goals and three assists in 14 appearances. In soccer terms that isn’t anything to be concerned about, but Rooney’s minor decline goes beyond his statistical performance.
It was announced on August 6th that Rooney would join Derby County in England’s championship as player-coach following the conclusion of D.C.’s 2019 season. Now this wasn’t an effect that was caused from any particular thing from a D.C. standpoint. Many have considered the move as just Rooney moving on to a new chapter of his soccer career and move back to his home country. After that August 6th announcement, this is where Rooney really drops off in minutes and production.
Before August 6th:
23 matches, 11 goals, 7 assists,
Since August 6th:
2 matches, 0 goals, 0 assists
Now it’s a tiny sample size in the grand scope of a season. But Rooney is barely even playing. Since the announcement, D.C. have played in five matches, with Rooney amassing a grand total of 98 minutes. On August 21st, D.C. was hosting the New York Red Bulls in what was (and still is) a match with huge playoff implications. In that match, Rooney was sent off with a red card in the 24th minute for a foul that was seemingly too useless and foolish for the caliber of player that he is.
With the help of Rooney’s quick exit the Red Bulls held on for a 2-1 home win against D.C. United. The following match, D.C. traveled to Talen Energy stadium to take on Eastern Conference leaders the Philadelphia Union. They would lose that game 3-1 and further slide down the table with Rooney serving his one game suspension from the prior week’s red card.
In an August 18th tweet following a 1-0 loss against the lowly Vancouver Whitecaps, Rooney put MLS on blast by criticizing the teams travel plans.
“Gutted about result last night. We deserved more. Looking forward to a 12 hour travel day which could be done in 6 but hey this is mls. We will get ready for red bulls Wednesday. #Charterflights #msl”
Now I’m not siding with or against Rooney as I unfortunately don’t know what it’s like to put together a 34 match schedule for 24 teams. Nonetheless the casual #msl jab and general stance was that Rooney is clearly fed up with some of the things that come with MLS. Frustration from team form could be a very probable cause as D.C. United were finding it hard to come by wins since that Week 13 slide.
I hope that Rooney isn’t quitting on the league and more importantly D.C. United. Fans of D.C. and Rooney can only hope he remembers his August 6th press conference where “(Rooney’s) focus on giving giving my all for the team for the rest of this season and repaying the support shown by the Black-and-Red faithful by hopefully delivering an MLS Cup to Audi Field.” No matter his intentions or emotions on the league or the team, there is no debate that there are certainly connections between the buzz surrounding Rooney and his current play for D.C. United in MLS.