British Invasion: Wayne Rooney Leading D.C. United to the Playoffs

When Wayne Rooney arrived to D.C. United during the MLS mid-season transfer window, he enthusiastically claimed this year to be an “exciting time in the club’s history.” New investments, a brand new stadium at the heart of the nation’s capital, and Rooney’s very own arrival at the club, signaled a new era for the nation’s capital’s club.

Despite having struggled in recent seasons and a slow start to 2018, supporters and pundits remained optimistic in the club’s future. However, not many could have anticipated the aging Manchester United legend to make such an extensive impact in so little time. Wayne Rooney has not only reinvigorated the club’s style of play, but has also guided D.C. United within tangible distance of a playoff spot.

Since his arrival to the nation’s capital, Wayne Rooney’s experience as a polyfunctional attacking player has greatly elevated coach Ben Olsen’s squad and their style of play: extensive ball possession and fluidity in transition.

Although D.C. United’s formation may vary according to the staggering of the midfield, their basic blueprint is a 4-2-3-1 system. This tactical formation allows for a numerical advantage in the midfield and it complements D.C. United’s intention of quickly working the ball from defense to attack in a series of angled passes. While on paper Rooney plays as the spearhead of this formation, he often drops away from the opposing center backs to play as a false 9.

As a false 9, Rooney plays closer to the midfield instead of being isolated up front, which allows him to roam in pockets of space. From this position, he can combine effectively with United’s attacking midfielders. At times, Rooney will play quick layoffs in transition to any of the three attacking midfielders; at others, he will hold the ball to switch the point of attack once the wide players have burst forward, or when the central attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta runs into the space behind him. Once the attacking midfielders move past him, Rooney either lingers behind the attack to make late runs into the box, or he sits back to wait for shooting opportunities at the edge of the penalty area. This strategy has allowed Rooney to score four goals and deliver six assists in ten starts for D.C. United.

Depending on the opponent, though, Rooney can also inflict damage by playing in a more traditional center forward role, using his strong physique to duel with opposing center backs and challenge aerial passes. In this traditional center forward role, Rooney also penetrates defenses by making incisive runs off the shoulder of his defenders, like he so often did for Manchester United. With his experience and versatility as a forward, Wayne Rooney has given D.C. United the perfect focal point for a fluid and multifaceted attack that has worked extremely well throughout his first couple of months at the club.

When Wayne Rooney arrived at D.C. United, the Black and Red had earned a measly 11 out of 42 possible points during the first half of the season. Nearly two months after his first start, D.C. United sit in 7th place with 35 points. Rooney’s five goals and six assists in ten starts have catapulted D.C. United from the bottom of the standings to within a striking distance to a playoff spot. D.C. United have six games left remaining in their schedule while the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference only have four. Sitting five points behind the last playoff spot in the East, with two games in hand, D.C. United are in charge of their own destiny.

Worst case, D.C. United needs to win all of their remaining games in order to reach the Eastern Conference playoffs. With Wayne “Bad Boy” Rooney heading this late season surge, it wouldn’t be far fetched to think that D.C. United can realistically reach the playoffs with the chance of a deep run.

-Pablo

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