After a listless D.C. United squad failed to remotely challenge Nashville SC in front of the first sellout crowd of the season, it felt as if the season — not even halfway completed — was already lost. Without a serious infusion of talent and money, the former pillar of Major League Soccer was destined to remain a small-market club in a town desperate for better.
One match later, an emphatic 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia, management seemingly came to the same conclusion. D.C. United co-owner Jason Levien reached out to a familiar face and convinced one of the franchise’s most famous players to come back to his unofficial home away from home.
With that, Wayne Rooney becomes the ninth head coach in franchise history. Three years after Rooney made a hasty retreat from our nation’s capital back to England, the 36-year-old superstar returns in an effort to once again make the black and red relevant.
During his first stint in town, Rooney admirably served as a team captain/savvy veteran as he lifted D.C. United from the dregs of the league (21st overall in 2017) to qualify for the playoffs in both 2018 and ’19. Now he returns to a club in even worse shape than before in an entirely new role — that of a relatively inexperienced manager. For the last three years, Rooney has been with Derby County — initially serving as a player/coach before transitioning full time into a managerial role.
Rooney’s time with the Rams was far from ideal, as the club faced financial problems which ultimately caused Derby County to be relegated to England’s third division. That said, Rooney received praise for handling such an adverse situation and the development of several of the clubs younger players. After turning down a chance to manage Everton and accepting D.C. United’s offer, England’s all-time leading scorer won’t lose sleep over the possibility of relegation. But he will once again find himself game-planning against teams with much greater talent and resources at their disposal.
Aside from all-star forward Taxiarchis Fountas, there is a serious lack of talent on the current roster. Levien and friends broke the bank, paying a reported million dollars per season (three times more than the previous coach earned) to entice one of the biggest names in world soccer to pick up the phone. Hopefully the new manager received similar assurances from the ownership group that their notoriously tight pursestrings will be loosened as Rooney embarks on his latest reclamation project. Otherwise, 18 months from now, D.C. United might once again be faced with life after Wazza.