WASHINGTON — D.C. United’s team and fans waited for Major League Soccer’s latest soccer-specific stadium for more than a decade. The community could visualize the new stadium, but it was far from fruition.
When the construction of Audi Field ramped up and rumors of the arrival of international superstar Wayne Rooney became more realistic, United secured its seat on a wild ride.
As soon as Rooney touched down at Dulles International Airport, the Rooney roller coaster accelerated from zero to 100. The feeling of stomachs dropping filled the community as United weaved and, at times jolted through setbacks, successes and supporter controversy.
Welcome to Wayne’s world
United welcomed Rooney to D.C. with a crowded airport and a press conference with international media.
The English soccer player joined United on a two and a half year, $13 million contract with an option for a third year.
Fans watch as English soccer player Wayne Rooney arrives at Dulles International Airport June 28, 2018 in Dulles, Virginia. / AFP PHOTO / ZACH GIBSON
Long before his MLS reality, Rooney started his career at age 16 with his hometown team Everton FC in the English Premier League. He reached his peak at world-famous Manchester United, playing 13 seasons there. During his time at the other United, Rooney scored 183 goals before returning to Everton last season.
Rooney recorded 208 Premier League goals and is the top goal scorer for the English national team. He retired from international soccer two years ago.
Read more about United’s Rooney announcement here.
Working with Wayne
On the day of Rooney’s arrival, United’s other Designated Player, Paul Arriola, spoke exclusively to Pro Soccer USA about what the addition means for the rest of the team. Rooney’s hard work was a huge draw for the MLS side, coach Ben Olsen said.
“When a guy with this much experience and quality comes to a team, it is a natural part that the other players around him step up their game,” Olsen said. “He is used to winning.”
Rooney has 10 days of training under his belt with United’s first team. He humbly found his place in training and shared his leadership and experience, when necessary, with the group. While media attendance at trainings increased, the man from Liverpool, England, did his best to quietly find his place on the team in the shadows of the approaching Audi Field opening.
Looking forward, sweat from the D.C. heat beading across his forehead, Rooney’s focus is on the pitch. He is determined to help United return to its glory days.
“I want to come here to win, to help the team go forward, to win titles,” Rooney said. “It is my job to do that and hopefully in the next few years we can climb up the table, win titles, and help create some history in this wonderful stadium.”
What will Wayne do?
Despite his decorated resumé, Rooney has not brought his full fitness to America. Somewhere between the extremes of washed-up and club savior lies Rooney’s current form.
Major League Soccer is a more physically style of play than what Rooney played in England. He knows that, and he said he wants to learn the league conditions first hand. Before joining MLS, Rooney spoke to a few old friends who made similar moves.
“I am close friends with Steven Gerrard. I spoke to him briefly but that was before me coming here was realized,” Rooney said. “The right thing for me to do is to show this league the respect it deserves and come out here and see it first hand.”
Rooney will most likely only play around 30 minutes of Saturday’s match. Whether that comes in the first or second half will be unveiled with the starting lineups.
The minute Saturday’s whistle blows, United will take off in a sprint toward the finish line. But the club must climb yet another steep hill: Will 15 home matches at Audi Field and Rooney be enough to take United from last place to playoff contention?
The anticipation of what’s ahead has seeped into the minds of players, coaches and fans. There will be more bumps and turns and maybe even flips in the final three months of MLS’ regular season, so hang on because the ride has only just begun for United.
How to watch
What: D.C. United vs. Vancouver Whitecaps
Where: Audi Field – Washington, D.C.
When: Saturday, July 14 at 8 p.m. ET
Watch: ESPN+, News Channel 8
Predicted Starting XI: David Ousted; Joseph Mora, Frédéric Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Jalen Robinson; Chris Durkin, Yamil Asad, Luciano Acosta, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney, Darren Mattocks