With Wayne Rooney set for debut, Ben Olsen assesses his options

WASHINGTON — With the MLS Secondary Transfer Window officially opening on Tuesday, Wayne Rooney plans on making his D.C. United debut when the club christens brand new Audi Field on Saturday night against Vancouver Whitecaps FC (8 pm ET | TSN — Full TV & streaming info).

As for how many minutes he might see following only two weeks of training? D.C. coach Ben Olsen will rely on the science.

“You assess it with data, and fortunately everybody is hooked up,” Olsen said Friday, alluding to the heart monitor and GPS bibs regularly worn at practices around the league.

“We know exactly where his fitness will be over the next couple of days and what makes sense from a minutes standpoint," Olsen continued. “It’s really the science. I’m sure he can always press past science, but we have to be smart about this and make sure we’re not doing anything that’s going to jeopardize him and his safety, and that we have him for the rest of the season.”

After spending his first days practicing alongside mostly academy players, Friday marked Rooney’s first training with the majority of his new squad after their return from a two-game road trip. It was also the first step in the feeling-out process that comes with any star player’s arrival at a new club.

Rooney, second from left, in training Friday with his new D.C. United teammates | USA Today Sports Images

Among the biggest questions is whether Olsen will tweak United’s system for Rooney and striker Darren Mattocks to co-exist in the same starting XI. Mattocks scored his career-high eighth goal — a late equalizer — in D.C.’s 2-2 draw at the LA Galaxy last Wednesday. 

“There is a way for them to fit together. There’s also a way for them not to fit together,” Olsen said. “With the games starting to roll in more frequently, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for everyone to get minutes.

“Darren’s had a very good season, and he’s posed a lot of threats to other teams. His speed, his playmaking ability right now is very high. So that’s one option. The other option is those guys sharing some minutes at the No. 9 within the same structure we’re in. Wayne’s pretty versatile. He’s more versatile than Darren.”

Rooney, a five-time Premier League champion with Manchester United and England’s all-time leading goalscorer, is by far the highest profile player to don the Black-and-Red. That makes his arrival a unique experience for nearly everyone at the club, including Olsen, who has managed D.C. since the middle of the 2010 season.

How to make sure it goes right? Olsen says the club is banking on Rooney the person as much as Rooney the player.

“A lot of times you’re relying in this situation on the player and his character and his persona, and that’s what appealed to us with Wayne,” Olsen said. “I don’t think there will be may be some of the huge challenges that some of these other superstars pose. I think Wayne is going to be a good teammate. He’s going to hold people accountable. He’s going to hold myself accountable. He loves to play, he loves to compete, and he wants to win.”