The Black-and-Red hired Rooney on July 12, but he watched their next three league matches and a friendly vs. Bayern Munich from afar as the paperwork process unfolded.
Chad Ashton has overseen D.C. United on an interim basis until Rooney was available, just like from when the club parted ways with Hernan Losada on April 20. In the new set-up, Ashton will return to an assistant role.
“He’ll be patrolling the sidelines this weekend and we’re looking forward to that,” Ashton said in his matchday-2 press conference. “A little more normalcy involved.”
Rooney previously coached Derby County in England’s second division, helping them stave off relegation in 2020-21 before a points deduction contributed to their drop after their 2021-22 campaign.
He enters a challenge of a different ilk though still of significant value, as D.C. are bottom of the Eastern Conference and overall league tables with 18 points from 20 matches (5W-12L-3D record).
Rooney’s on-field vision was already being implemented, and there’s been roster upheaval during the Secondary Transfer Window as well. Newcomers include striker Miguel Berry (trade from Columbus Crew) and midfielders Ravel Morrison (free transfer) and Victor Palsson (DP transferred from Schalke), while they’re reportedly adding goalkeeper David Ochoa in a trade with Real Salt Lake. On the outgoing front, right wingback Julian Gressel was traded to Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
With 14 regular-season games to go and 10 points off the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs pace, an uphill climb certainly awaits Rooney upon his MLS return. But the 36-year-old, harboring Premier League ambitions, has a canvas to reshape the club he played for from 2018-19.
This weekend, perhaps it’ll also be fitting he debuts against Orlando. Two of the most memorable moments of Rooney’s first stint with D.C. came against the Lions, a goal from beyond midfield and a heroic defensive recovery that led to a headed stoppage-time winner from now-FC Cincinnati star Luciano Acosta.