WASHINGTON – They called him “The Wonder Boy” coming up at Everton and “Wazza” as he starred for Manchester United and the England national team. And now, one of the world’s most famous footballers may just have a new nickname, courtesy of D.C. United teammate Luciano Acosta:
The honorific, given to Wayne Rooney by his midfield teammate after Rooney’s heroics in Sunday night’s extraordinary 3-2 victory over Orlando City SC, shows just how welcome the superstar’s arrival has been among his teammates, and particularly Acosta.
Of all the areas in which Rooney has already improved D.C., none are so immediately evident as the uptick in Acosta’s consistency in attacking midfield.
“He’s so talented and fun to watch, but staying at an impactful level is now his next challenge, and he’s been able to do that for a few games now,” Olsen said of Acosta on Sunday. “In particular, since the arrival of Wayne … you talk about how certain guys can elevate other guys, and sometimes it’s that simple.”
Rooney has made exactly three 90-minute appearances after ramping up his fitness. In that stretch, Acosta provided assists in the first two matches – including the service on Rooney’s first MLS goal – and followed with his first career hat trick in the third. Rooney provided the assists on two of Acosta's goals.
While United has steadily bolstered the talent around Acosta over the past year, with the additions of Paul Arriola, Zoltan Stieber, Yamil Asad and Darren Mattocks, Rooney gives the former Boca Juniors man something he has never had in MLS: A teammate dangerous enough to take the primary attention away from opposing defenses.
For Rooney, Acosta has been enough of a threat to keep those same defenses honest.
“I think it’s getting better,” Rooney said of the partnership after Sunday’s game. “He’s a clever football player. He likes to take the ball, look for each other on the pitch with one-twos, especially games like today when they were deep and set up outside the box. It’s difficult to break teams down like that, so we need a bit of quick combination around the box.”
Acosta still gives interviews exclusively in Spanish, and Rooney still speaks in the distinct English intonations of his native Liverpool. But the two have shown an intuitive understanding. Take D.C.’s first goal Sunday, in which the pair played a simple but not obvious one-two to carve open the left side of Orlando’s defense.
“I think good footballers learn to play [with each other],” Rooney explained. “Of course you need to communicate in terms of your defensive work and things like that. But when you go forward, it’s mostly about eye contact.”
As Rooney departed Sunday night, he joked to reporters that he’d have Acosta speaking English to the media within six months. With the influence he’s already having on the 24-year-old Argentine, don’t bet against it.
“A player like Wayne is extraordinary, playing all the years that he did in England,” Acosta said through a translator. “He’s won everything. You look up to him a lot with his effort and how he plays. You see it on the field. He knows where to be. He knows where I am. He knows where all the players are. He knows how to play. And we can all work off of that.”