First came Wayne Rooney as head coach and then arrived … roster reinforcements?
Simply put, co-host Andrew Wiebe said D.C. must aim big to recapture the levels they met when winning four MLS Cups from 1996 to 2004. The club’s missed three of the last five Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, only qualifying in 2018 and 2019 when Rooney was their attacking centerpiece before jetting back across the pond prematurely due to family concerns.
“You have to give Wayne resources, you have to improve the squad,” Wiebe said. “You have to dream of being the team that you once were many, many, many moons ago in this league. Go for it a little bit, and I thought the Taxi Fountas thing had a little bit of that, had a flavor of that. Maybe not in the profile but in the side of, damn, we need help. Alright, we're going to spend the extra money to get this dude here now.
“… They've got to put the foot on the gas still and go try to be something bigger than just, hey, Wayne Rooney coaches D.C. United.”
The capital city club has two open Designated Player spots alongside Fountas, who debuted in late April after an expedited arrival from Austria’s Rapid Vienna. The Greek international has impressed enough to earn a spot in the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target, posting 10g/3a across 12 games.
Reports suggest Rooney is tapping into his global profile, network and appeal as D.C. search for DPs in the Fountas mold or bigger – and at his introductory press conference, the 36-year-old manager said they’ll “work extremely hard to identify the right players to bring in.” The MLS Secondary Transfer Window lasts until Aug. 4, so the clock is ticking.
“He can go to the ownership group and say, 'Look, you spent some money on me to come over here. But I'm not playing this time. So you need to put some money behind going out and singing some players,'” Carr said.
“They have two Designated Player spots up and what we see with Taxi this year, which has [brought] some moments of really top play but maybe not really always connected to another piece, that reminds me a little bit of Lucho in the past, where Lucho Acosta had some really nice moments but really didn't have that piece to connect with until Wayne Rooney showed up.”
Rooney arrives after leading Derby County in the English Championship for a year-and-a-half, successfully helping the Rams avoid relegation to League One in the 2020-21 season. He nearly did the same last season, though Derby’s 21-point deduction amid financial issues was too steep a hill to climb. Their 55-point total, without the cap, would have been enough for a midtable finish.
That pressure-packed experience should serve Rooney well, co-host Matt Doyle said, since D.C. sit bottom of the Eastern Conference and league tables just past their 2022 season’s midway point (5W-10L-3D record; 18 points).
“I don't expect them to make a playoff push,” Doyle said, “but what I hope to see over the course of the season is for them to start playing harder and to start playing smarter and get that foundation down so that when the winter transfer window comes, they can add some crucial pieces in some crucial spots and look more like a team that can maybe push into the playoffs, maybe even get a home game in 2023. That's what the rest of the season is about to me.”
Rooney’s coaching deal is reportedly guaranteed through the 2023 season with a team option for 2024. It’s a big task before him at a struggling club, where the level of intrigue has seriously ratcheted up.
“I can't guarantee that it's going to be successful or I'm not even sure [it will be], but it's more promising and exciting than whatever I thought this coaching search for D.C. United would end with,” said co-host David Gass.
For more MLS analysis, check out the full Extratime episode here.