ATLANTA — Fans inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday for Atlanta United F.C.’s 3-1 win over D.C. United saw several bits of history etched into the Major League Soccer record books.
With his three scores, Josef Martinez shattered the MLS record for career hat tricks, notching his sixth. The match also marked the first MLS appearance for Argentine midfielder Eric Remedi and the first MLS start for Andrew Carleton, an 18-year-old who could be part of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s plans in future World Cups.
But Saturday was also the first MLS start for English football superstar Wayne Rooney, the latest aging world-renowned talent to extend his career in America. Rooney made his MLS debut a week ago, subbing on and playing 32 minutes for D.C. United, energizing the crowd at Audi Field by tallying an assist and a shot-on-goal in a victory.
Rooney, 32, played 66 minutes in the loss for D.C. United on Saturday, showing flashes of brilliance, but also displaying that he’s not quite 100 percent match fit or completely in sync with his teammates.
“I’m still adjusting, of course. Still getting fit,” Rooney said. “So, it was a difficult game. Atlanta played very well and deserved to win. We got a good start (but) conceded some sloppy goals.”
In all, he took two shots, completed 76 percent of 21 passes, won two tackles and earned a yellow card. One of Rooney’s shots was blocked and the other sailed wide-right of the post.
“Wayne did fine,” D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said. “He does a great job on the first goal and this was a good experience for him, to go on the road in a tough place against one of the better teams in the league, to get a taste of what the MLS is about. Each time he’s going to get better and better. We’re very lucky to have him.”
A formation sheet from the game shows Rooney up top as a lone striker, but the Liverpool native often sat back deeper in the attack, more like a central-attacking midfielder. Rooney also showed his willingness to play a bit of defense.
In the eighth minute, Rooney won a ball and passed it to Paul Arriola, who then fed Zoltan Stieber for the D.C. United’s lone score of the match. Rooney wasn’t credited with an assist, but the film will show he played a large part in the Black-and-Red’s attack on the play.
But Rooney was easily frustrated by Atlanta United defenders. In the 30th minute, Rooney kicked the ball into the midfield after being pressured by Atlanta fullback Franco Escobar. Problem was, no D.C. United player was near Rooney’s pass. Carleton scooped the ball up and carried it forward, and Atlanta scored moments later.
Josef Martinez scores his 20th goal of the season to equalize for #ATLUTD against #DCU! Started with a bad giveaway by Rooney straight to Carleton, then nice combination leading to a Villalba cross and Martinez header. 1-1.#ATLvDC #MLS pic.twitter.com/Lb99SX1xF5
— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) July 21, 2018
In the 50th minute, Rooney got a yellow card for shoving Escobar to the ground.
“I was running to close the goalkeeper down and (Escobar) is one yard in front of me,” Rooney said. “He stopped. So, it’s very difficult (for me) to stop. I believe it was my first foul of the game. But congratulations to the referee.”
With the yellow card and not generating much for D.C. United’s attack in the second half, Olsen subbed off Rooney for Darren Mattocks in the 66th minute.
“We were playing a good team, so we knew it was going to be a difficult game. Tough to hang in there at times. Of course, we weren’t quite good enough today,” Rooney said. “There are a few positives. I’m happy I got more minutes today on the pitch which will help. Overall, I’m disappointed with the result, but on a personal level, happy to get more minutes to help me get fit.”
It was Rooney’s first time in the city of Atlanta and his first time experiencing a large MLS crowd. Of course, Rooney wasn’t fazed by about 45,000 fans in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, having played in front of hundreds of thousands of fans in the English Premier League and with his country’s national team.
When asked about the atmosphere and the city, he didn’t have much to say.
“I haven’t seen the city since we only were here for one day,” Rooney said. “It’s obviously a nice stadium, so congratulations.”
— Mitchell Northam (@primetimeMitch) July 21, 2018