MLS: Wayne Rooney was great, but he is a bygone era

On, D.C. United’s dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City was celebrated in which Wayne Rooney made the play of his MLS career. But while the former Manchester United star was a massive signing, the league has moved on.

D.C. United were opening Audi Field. They wanted to make a splash signing. It would help put bums on seats, inspire what was a capable team without that elite quality, and hopefully propel them into the Major League Soccer playoffs and beyond. And so, Wayne Rooney arrived.

One of the most decorated English players in history. A multi-Premier League champion, a Champions League winner, one of the greatest players in world football over the past decade. It seemed like a smash-hit. And after a particular night against Orlando City, it looked as though Rooney might just deliver.

In the dying seconds of what looked like to be a 2-2 draw, with Orlando breaking from a D.C. United corner and with Bill Hamid stranded in the Orlando penalty area, Rooney first scampered into his own half, flung himself into a slide tackle to win the ball, then floated forward and pinged a pinpoint 60-yard raking pass to the far post that Luciano Acosta headed into the far corner.

As his head coach, Ben Olsen, said after the match, it was a ‘hell of a play’:

“He made a hell of a play. It’s what he’s about. He’s a winner and he’s selfless and he’s come here to prove himself even though he doesn’t need to.”

Acosta, the main benefactor from Rooney’s brilliance, echoed the sentiment of the Englishman’s impact on the squad:

“Seeing a player like Wayne make that effort to run all the way back, make that tackle, put in that work, it motivates all of us. It gave us that extra push that we needed.”

But while all this may be true, while D.C. United may have made the playoffs in the two years Rooney was with the club, while the Merseysider may have scored 23 goals and added 13 assists across 48 regular-season games, D.C. were never truly an elite team. And if they were, it was not because of a prolific attacking unit but rather the superb defence that was built behind Rooney.

Their prosperous run also did not last long. Midway through his second season, Rooney had already agreed on a pre-contract agreement to return to England. By the time he departed, he had won precisely nothing — and never really looked close to winning anything, for that matter.

Rooney was brilliant, especially during his first season. He produced some truly historic moments. But in reality, MLS has moved on. The successful teams have not invested in ageing European stars who can no longer handle the tempo and physicality of the league. Seattle, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Toronto. The best teams in the league have turned to younger, more vibrant options, especially from South America. The Galaxy, D.C. Orlando, Chicago those that have turned to European stars have not had nearly the same success.

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Teams are beginning to learn their lessons, it should be said, including D.C. They signed 25-year-old Edison Flores to essentially replace Rooney. The era of the ageing European star is coming to an end. MLS is in a new period, and clubs need to catch up.

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