WASHINGTON – Amid a four-match unbeaten run that has lifted D.C. United off the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, some folks around Potomac Avenue are beginning to daydream about life on the good side of the playoff line.
So when will Wayne Rooney do the same?
“I think when we get there,” the D.C. captain said after hitting a brace in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory over the Portland Timbers. “It’s important that we take each game as it comes. … Our intention is to get nine points this week and put ourselves in a good position to push for a playoff spot.”
The Black-and-Red enter Sunday’s match against the New England Revolution (7:30 pm ET | FS1 – Full TV and streaming info) two-thirds of the way to that perfect three-game, eight-day homestand, thanks largely to Rooney’s best consecutive performances since his MLS debut last month.
After his dramatic trackback, tackle and cross helped decide Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Orlando City SC, he put away a first-time finish to level the score in the first half against Portland before burying a 25-yard free kick in the second.
As noteworthy, the 32-year-old former Manchester United and England star went 85 minutes three days after going the full 90-plus against Orlando, and gave every indication of being in coach Ben Olsen’s starting XI against the Revs.
While Rooney has so far played at a more measured pace than in the peak of his mid-to-late-20s, he insists the congested schedule is a comfort familiar from years of balancing domestic, European and international obligations.
“I think I’ve been in this situation many times,” he said. “It’s probably more normal for me to do that. You calm down a little bit with your training but you make sure you’re ready for matchday, and that’s what I’ve done the last couple days. So I’ll recover well the next couple days and be ready for Sunday.”
Olsen made only two squad changes between Sunday and Wednesday, in part, he said, because D.C. held about 60 percent of possession against an Orlando team that played most of the second half with 10 men.
Following a dominant second half against Portland, Olsen may again be tempted to stick with most of the same squad again vs. New England.
“A couple years ago, these games, it was tough to play for us,” Olsen said. “We were grinders and our energy that we spent was much more. … We’re also young. We’ve got 22-, 23-year-olds all over the place. We can deal with three games in one week.”
For a player still acclimatizing to new surroundings, there can even be some benefits to fixture congestion.
“The more games we play together, the more we understand,” Rooney said. “I think I’ve always been a player who can pick up players’ abilities, players’ qualities fairly quickly and try to adjust to how they want to play. I think I’ve done that fairly quickly and hopefully we can keep improving as a group.”