WASHINGTON – From across the Atlantic Ocean, D.C. United coach Ben Olsen has caught wind of the “backlash” to Wayne Rooney’s reunion with the England national team to face the United States in Thursday’s international friendly at Wembley Stadium (3 pm ET | ESPN2, UniMás, UDN).
Having seen the impact Rooney had on D.C. over the second half of the MLS season, it’s safe to say Olsen doesn’t buy into the idea that Rooney isn’t worthy of the testimonial.
“I chatted with him before he went,” Olsen said at his season-ending media availability on Tuesday. “And there was a real excitement about getting back into the national team for one more game, and I think there was real excitement about raising money for his charity. And I think he was honored – he was honored that they would do this for him. There was a little backlash, right? But look, this guy has done plenty for that country, and it’s kind of ridiculous to me.
“I told him to enjoy himself and take it easy on the Yanks.”
Rooney will be making his 120th appearance for the Three Lions, and his first in two years. With 53 international goals, he remains England’s all-time leading scorer.
While his temporary un-retirement comes partly as an opportunity to fund-raise for his newly formed charity, the Wayne Rooney Foundation, his MLS form suggests he could have earned the call on merit.
Rooney scored 12 goals and seven assists in 20 MLS appearances since joining D.C. in July, his play earning him a selection to the 2018 MLS Best XI. Projected over a full season, it’s a similar production level to David Villa’s 2017 season for New York City FC, which earned him a call back into Spain’s national team.
Further, D.C. were last in the Eastern Conference table when Rooney arrived, only to climb up to fourth by season’s end.
“As a manager, he made my life very, very easy,” Olsen said. “He understands the locker room, he’s got a super-high soccer IQ, but he’s not an over-thinker in the game too. He also understands the nuts and bolts, and that some of the little things matter just as much as the tactics.”
It’s perhaps surprising Rooney is the only member of the Black-and-Red who will feature at Wembley, when momentum has been building for holding midfielder Russell Canouse to get another look in a US national team jersey.
Canouse was part of last January’s national-team camp, but missed the first half of D.C.’s season due to a knee issue. His position also appears to be one of depth for the current USMNT setup, with Schalke’s Weston McKennie, the New York Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams and Columbus Crew SC’s Wil Trapp among the possibilities.
“There’s a lot to choose from, and you look at the roster and there’s some good options in there,” Olsen said. “Russ certainly could be there. I’m biased, but I think he should’ve gotten the call-up. But he didn’t. He’s a smart kid, he’ll just keep on. I think he’ll take it as motivation to keep pushing.
“But he’ll get his chance in there. He’ll get his chance if he continues to play the way he’s playing and improve in a few different areas.”