“To win the title.”
Rooney admits the squad that assembled for its third day of preseason training Wednesday is far from a completed work, and that D.C. were second best when they were eliminated from the 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs by Columbus on penalties in the Knockout Round.
Still, the superstar striker believes last year’s performances show D.C. should return to contending for trophies on a regular basis, as they did during their first decade.
“I think we’ve proved, certainly the second half of last season, that we were good enough,” Rooney said Wednesday. “I think we beat every other big team in the league during the second half of the season. The one defeat was New York Red Bulls, which you know, we outplayed them I felt on two occasions. But one was a loss and one was a draw. So we have to be confident enough to win the title.”
Rooney’s championship expectations follow from a career in which he’s won five Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League crown and one FA Cup.
The question is whether his teammates have absorbed that mentality. Defender Steve Birnbaum suggests they have, dating back even as far as that rough night against Columbus.
“Honestly going into that game, myself and I’m sure a bunch of other guys expected to play for another month,” Birnbaum recalled.
United are still trying to sign a starting right back – possibly Boca Juniors’ Leonardo Jara – and a proven striker capable of sharing some of the load with Rooney, team GM Dave Kasper said.
And the addition of another Argentine attacker in Lucas Rodriguez could usher in a new Magic Triangle era with Rooney and Luciano Acosta, harkening back to the grand old days of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno and Raul Diaz Arce.
If nothing else, D.C. appear guaranteed of a fully rejuvenated Rooney to begin his first full MLS season, after his longest break from football since he was a teenager in Everton’s academy.
“It was a bit of a strange time, a long time to have off,” Rooney said of the nearly three dormant months that followed the early playoff exit. “It was new to me. I’ve obviously coping with the time off training, and [finding] the right time to train was important to make sure I was ready for preseason. It was a strange offseason, but I’m sure the rest that I got will benefit me.”