As it felt like it was only just getting started, Wayne Rooney's career in MLS is over.
On a chilly fall evening in Toronto on Saturday night it came to an end, as D.C. fell 5-1 to Toronto FC after extra time in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. Soon, he'll return to England, with Derby County.
Though just a season and a half, the English legend left his mark on the league, providing countless memorable moments, helping take D.C. United from the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season to back-to-back playoffs and forming what was for a time one of the brightest partnerships in the league alongside Lucho Acosta.
Rooney's stay in MLS may have been extended a little longer. The 33-year-old had a pair of golden opportunities to bring United level in the second half of the loss, but it wasn't to be as Quentin Westberg stood tall against Rooney in back-to-back saves. It was emblematic of his final half-season with D.C., in which he failed to score in any of his final eight appearances, including the playoff match. Rooney did play a part in United's equalizer deep into stoppage time, supplying the corner from which Lucas Rodriguez found the back of the net. But the night ended in bitter disappointment as Toronto poured on the goals in extra time before Rooney went to the bench for the remaining garbage time.
A clearly disappointed Rooney declined to talk with the media after his final outing in the league.
Still, that doesn't erase the mark Rooney made on the league during his MLS career.
Rooney arrived midway through last season in conjunction with the opening of Audi Field, D.C. United's long-anticipated new stadium. He was an integral part of the physical manifestation to signify that United were evolving. They won their first game at their new home as Rooney made his debut from the bench, adding an assist.
It was the start of a magical run from the bottom of the East to the playoffs, fueled by Rooney and his partnership with Acosta. Together, the pair dragged D.C. forward with some of the league's most aesthetically pleasing soccer. Rooney had 12g/7a while Acosta 9g/10a after Rooney arrived, both in 20 appearances.
And they combined for one of the iconic moments in recent memory: The Tackle.
This season, though 2019 hasn't gone nearly to plan for D.C. as Rooney didn't hit the same heights before announcing he'd return to England after the season and Acosta fell out of the starting XI, Rooney made his time count. He scored an AT&T Goal of the Year candidate, a delirious lob from inside his own half.
In all, Rooney had 23 goals and 15 assists in 48 regular-season appearances. There were admittedly some unhappy moments thrown into the mix, including two red cards this season and a pair of playoff losses. yet his stay in the league will be thought on fondly by those around D.C United, particularly because his impact can't be quantified.
“He’s been a big plus for this club,” head coach Ben Olsen told MLSsoccer.com's Ian Quillen this week. “He’s been a part of, coupled with the stadium, USL over the last year and a half, some announcements that have really pushed this club forward. Working with him, it’s been a really good relationship. On the field, I think he’s helped us in a big way. Off the field, I think he’s pushed me. I think he’s made me a better coach, a better manager. And I think he’s been a very good teammate and a good ambassador to the club."
On and off the field, Rooney will be missed. As he transitions to the latter part of his playing career while starting his days as a coach, perhaps England's all-time leading scorer will one day be back in the league, this time making his impact felt from the sidelines.