Anybody paying attention Saturday night at BMO Field could’ve guessed just what the Black-and-Red boss was thinking when he made a rare first-half triple substitution. The visitors were down 1-0 with just seconds to go before the break, but Rooney had seen enough and pulled Ted Ku-Dipietro, Chris Durkin and Gaoussou Samake for Taxi Fountas, Andy Najar and Pedro Santos.
The Manchester United and English national team legend confirmed the reasons for the sudden switch, sparing none of the starting XI he lined up against the Eastern Conference cellar dwellers.
“I wish I had 11 [subs to make]," Rooney said post-game. “I had to keep the two [others] in case of injuries. But the first half was nowhere near the standards that we've set ourselves.
“…Obviously I could’ve waited 'til halftime, but it was more of a statement to the team that I didn't like the first half at all. I didn't feel we showed the fight or the composure or the intensity which I want. So I was very disappointed, certainly, with the first 45 minutes. And I felt it was the right time to make changes."
Things got worse in the second half before they got better, with Kosi Thompson (72’) adding to Deandre Kerr’s 14th-minute opener to double Toronto’s lead. By the time Christian Benteke pulled one back for the visitors three minutes from time, it was too little too late and United were left empty-handed.
Still, Rooney had no regrets over the drastic measure he took.
“It was more of a statement for the team, I didn't like the first half at all. I didn't feel we showed the fight or the composure or the intensity.”
United’s Matchday 15 misstep took the air out of a high-flying club that had won four out of their last seven, sitting firmly in Audi MLS Cup Playoffs positioning in the Eastern Conference after finishing dead last in 2022.
According to Rooney, it also gave them a serious reality check.
"Maybe as a team, we were thinking we're better than what we actually are," the English manager stated.
"When you want to be a good team and you want to compete, it's no good doing it for two, three games – you have to do consistently, and I felt tonight we weren’t at the level which I know we can get to."