WASHINGTON – That Wayne Rooney will play some part Saturday night for D.C. United — in the first match he's been eligible for since signing with the club two weeks ago — is a foregone conclusion. In fact, I’ll go ahead and guarantee it.
You don’t drop the kind of money D.C. did on Rooney only to have him pick up a DNP when all eyes are on your other big-money addition and game-changer, Audi Field.
I watched Rooney train on Friday morning in the shadow of RFK Stadium. Unless something extremely unfortunate happens — go ahead and knock on wood for me — the England and Manchester United legend is playing Saturday night against the Vancouver Whitecaps (8 pm ET | TSN1 - full TV & streaming info).
But how much? That’s a question for head coach Ben Olsen, for whom I have some completely unsolicited and probably unnecessary advice: Don’t, under any circumstance, start Rooney in this game. It doesn’t make any sense.
The obvious reason is fitness. Rooney last played a competitive game on April 28, his final appearance for Everton. His first training session with D.C. was July 1. A week before the 32-year-old first laced them up with his new teammates, he was making lasting memories (and presumably not running wind sprints) with his family at the Magic Kingdom.
It would be tempting to put Rooney in the XI and see what happens, but it doesn’t do the player or his teammates any favors. He’ll work his way into match fitness in the coming weeks. Why rush it? Why risk the possibility of an ineffectual or heavy legged debut? Or even worse, risk an injury?
Why push it when goalscoring hasn’t been the issue? Darren Mattocks has five goals in D.C.’s last six games, all on the road. They’ve lost just twice during that span. They haven’t been shut out. He’s earned the opportunity to start a game that’ll go down in club history.
And if they need goals or a jolt, Rooney will be there. Just ask the LA Galaxy about super subs with a global pedigree. Lightning isn’t likely to strike twice, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut is a case study in managing a star player’s debut midseason.
Imagine the energy in Audi Field as Rooney gets the call to warm up and goes through his paces. Imagine a stadium already flying high on endorphins chanting his name. Imagine the moment his number goes up on the board and the 20,000-plus in attendance get the opportunity to welcome the new face of their club.
Those are goosebump-inducing moments, to say nothing of what Rooney might do once he actually crosses the white line.
Once he is on the field, he’ll be trying to produce magic against a group of ‘Caps defenders with 60 minutes of chasing Mattocks, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad, Zoltan Steiber and Paul Arriola weighing heavy on their legs and the prospect of Rooney entering weighing heavily on their minds.
In those conditions, Rooney can play hero, if needed. He can pile on, if all goes well. He can be assured he’ll be put in a position to succeed, and D.C. will have plenty more chances to fill out lineup cards that include their prized asset in the XI.
There will be more home games, 14 this season, to be exact. On Saturday, half an hour will be more than enough.