Wayne Rooney, hired by D.C. United nearly six weeks ago, knew he was entering a challenging job after managing Derby County in England’s second division.
But the Manchester United and England national team legend got a clear-eyed look at just how steep the uphill climb may be, as his Black-and-Red suffered a 6-0 loss at home to the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union on Saturday evening.
The result moved D.C. to 1W-4L-1D since Rooney officially took over on the sidelines, and he feels this setback put the nail in the coffin of Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs hopes.
“I knew the difficulties we'd have and where the season was,” Rooney said. “Of course I knew that and I think we felt if I could come in and get a run of form there's a possibility of making playoffs. I think that's gone. Let's be realistic on that.”
The Black-and-Red are bottom of the overall league table and 12 points adrift of the East’s playoff line with eight matches to go. They aren’t mathematically eliminated, but Rooney feels the writing is on the wall and requires even more roster reinforcements heading into the winter and 2023 campaign.
“The important thing is to build a squad who can compete,” Rooney said. “Of course we need more players. I know that. I think the owners know that. We have to keep trying to build and I have to keep trying to push these players from now till the end of the season to make sure we improve. And then I have to push the owners in January to get players in who can compete in this league.”
D.C. were among the busiest clubs during MLS’s Secondary Transfer Window (ended Aug. 4), most notably bringing in two Designated Players to feature alongside Taxi Fountas: midfielder Victor Pálsson from Bundesliga side Schalke and striker Christian Benteke from Premier League side Crystal Palace. Benteke’s yet to debut since his deadline-day arrival, but Rooney is optimistic that chance will arise next Sunday when visiting Atlanta United (4 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter).
With the roster in flux and injuries mounting, Rooney pointed to a competition difference between his time back home and in MLS.
"Of course there's no relegation. It's quite different to England," Rooney said, contrasting his time at Derby. "I know that but them players, there's no way I'll allow them to take the foot off the pedal. From now until the end of the season we have to compete in every game."
On a positive note, Rooney highlighted homegrown midfielder Chris Durkin as the “only player who really can hold his head high” in terms of effort and commitment vs. the Union. Otherwise, he said Philadelphia’s four-goal second half was “not acceptable.”
“Every player in that second half was a complete stranger to what I've seen in training, what I've seen in previous games,” said Rooney, who played for D.C. from 2018-19. “And you can lose games of football, that can happen. But there's a manner in how that happens. … We spent a lot of time getting the team organized and in that second half, I didn't recognize my players.”
Moving forward, Rooney knows the mood around the club will be sour after having lost to Philly 7-0 earlier this year as well. But he also feels it’s about facing the music and forging ahead.
“The players, I know tomorrow they've got a meet-the-fans day which, it's not good, after this game,” he said with a chuckle. “But they have to go and they have to take responsibility as well as myself. Of course, I take responsibility for this result and we have to move on from it.”