When a player like Wayne Rooney crosses the Atlantic and joins a team in MLS, the perception is that he is looking to coast into retirement after a gruelling, but successful, run with one of the world’s largest clubs.
That reputation is hardly undeserved. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are but two recent examples that live up to that standard. Rooney, however, is looking to prove that he’s different and that MLS isn’t just a way to calmly ride off into the sunset at the end of his career.
“I understand people might get frustrated when they see players coming over maybe a bit later in their career,” Rooney told the Washington Post earlier this week. “But that’s for me to show with performances that I’m not here just to be on holiday.
“I’m here to work, and I’ll have plenty of time when I finish playing to enjoy myself and have holidays.”
So far, the former Manchester United and Everton forward has been able to back that talk up. He was noted for being too tired to celebrate his heroic defensive play and thrilling pass that led to the game winning goal against Orlando City on Sunday. He followed that up with a two goal performance in a dominating D.C. United win over the Portland Timbers on Wednesday night, despite nearly 100 minutes of intense play just three days earlier.
“Ben asked me after the game simply ‘how I felt?’ I said I feel fine, I want to play,” Rooney said after the Portland match. “I came here to play. There’s been many times throughout my career where I’ve played three games in a week, it’s probably more normal for me to do that. I’ll be all good for Sunday.”
The constant action isn’t just a good way to show that Rooney isn’t using America as a retirement home, but it’s also helping develop a quick chemistry with his new teammates as they make a late push at a playoff spot.
“The more games we play together, the more we understand. I think the players have been fantastic and for me, they’ve helped me settle in very quickly,” he said. “We are getting a better understanding everyday on the pitch. I’ve always been a player who can pick out players’ abilities and qualities fairly quickly and try to adjust to how they want to play.”
He’s certainly had a positive effect on D.C. United. Since officially joining the club right before the opening of Audi Field, Rooney has started five matches and the team has only lost one of them. D.C. went from dead last in the league with only 11 points when he joined to sitting in eighth in the East and only six points back of a playoff spot.
They still have plenty of games in hand to make up those lost points, too. The Montreal Impact currently hold the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and D.C. have an extra four matches left to play over them. The focus is clearly on getting into the postseason, and Rooney understands that fully. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to get his team there.
“It’s important that we take each game as it comes and our game Sunday is an important three points,” he said. “Our intention was to get nine points this week and we’ve put ourselves in quite a position to push for the playoffs. Hopefully we can keep getting results and keep moving forward.”