WASHINGTON – The Wayne Rooney era in Washington could be over as soon as Saturday. Alternatively, it might stretch as late as Nov. 10, date of the 2019 MLS Cup final.
“The book isn’t closed, or the chapter isn’t closed, and that’s exciting,” said D.C. United coach Ben Olsen on Tuesday.
But if D.C. are using Rooney’s approaching departure at the end of the season as extra motivation heading into their Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs first-round tie at Toronto FC (6 pm ET | TUDN in US; TSN4, TVAS2 in Canada), they’re being tight-lipped about it.
“I’m still hoping we can change his mind and make him stay,” deadpanned D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid. “He’s come here, he’s done some amazing things. Unfortunately we haven’t won a trophy yet with him. That’s the goal right now. If you ask me this question Nov. 11, I’ll answer it more in depth for you.”
It’s not even entirely clear how D.C. will deploy Rooney, who has played as a No. 9 for the overwhelming majority of his Black-and-Red tenure but is capable of playing a No. 10 or even wide midfield role.
With striker Ola Kamara healthy and approaching 90 minutes fit for the first time since his summer transfer back to MLS from China, Olsen has options.
Kamara, asked what he thought of the opportunity to come on after halftime and potentially have 60 minutes – including extra time – to make a difference, told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday that “my mind today is not [on] coming off the bench.”
The status of Paul Arriola – who has wrestled the starting No. 10 role away from Luciano Acosta – after US national team duty could also play a role. US coach Gregg Berhalter said Arriola took a knock in Friday’s 7-0 win over Cuba, though he still played the final half-hour of Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Canada in Toronto.
“We know how we want to play,” Rooney said. “I’m an experienced player. I know if I’m needed to play No. 9 or No. 10, or deeper, wherever, I can play there. We’ll be ready.”
Schedule congestion meant Rooney came off the bench just after the interval in the teams’ 0-0 draw at BMO Field on May 15. Rooney converted from the spot in second-half stoppage time of a 1-1 draw in D.C. on June 29.
Rooney envisions Saturday’s encounter a bit like the one in May.
“We know we’re probably not going to have more possession than Toronto,” he said. “We know that and we’re prepared for that. But we need to be more clinical and take our chances on the break a bit better than we have done in previous away games. A lot of our focus is obviously on trying to do that.”
“For myself, I know exactly what I want to do if it gets to that point,” he said. “And maybe [I’ll get] a bit of redemption, if you like, from missing last year.”