Wayne Rooney netted his first ever MLS hat-trick – and was named player of the week – on Sunday as DC United thrashed Real Salt Lake 5-0 to maintain their unbeaten start to the campaign. England’s record goal scorer arrived in DC in June last year, part way through the season, and helped drag them to safety – and beyond – before missing a spot kick in the first-round play-off match against Columbus Crew. Despite netting 12 goals in 20 games on his arrival in the United States many people thought he’d struggle this year as he grows another year older – he turns 34 in October – and question marks have been raised about his physical conditioning but, if the early season is anything to go by, he’s still got an awful lot to offer.
The season is only three games old but the red and blacks are heading the race, with two wins and a draw; they’ve netted seven goals and registered clean sheets in all their meetings as well. They are the early pacesetters and Rooney is a huge part of that; he’s played every minute of every game so far and his hattrick at the weekend, his first in the MLS, makes him the team’s top scorer and don’t expect to see that change any time soon.
His performance against Salt Lake was one that displayed all his offensive qualities – first was a coolly taken penalty, which sent keeper Nick Rimando the wrong way, and evidenced his mental strength following the high profile miss from last season. Next up was a classy two touch finish that Rooney in his prime would have been proud of – a through ball was played into his path by Argentine midfielder Leonardo Jara, Rimando bearing down on him but one touch put it in his stride, the second delicate chip with the outside of his right boot to send the ball beyond the advancing goalie and into the net. The hat-trick finish was more routine as Rooney showed sharp movement in the box – in brain and boot – to lose his marker and poke home. Cynics will point out that Real Salt Lake had nine men following two red cards but by that stage it was already 2-0 and Rooney and co were cruising.
United are far from a one man team and are well organised with a clear style of play that is orchestrated by manager Ben Olsen – who racked up 100 wins in charge of DC as a result of the recent thrashing of RSL – but there is no escaping that Rooney is a huge influence around the place. His experience in the game speaks for itself, his natural ability is second to none in the MLS and in terms of contribution on the pitch every team needs a player who can create and score goals and Rooney offers that without doubt.
The headlines rightly lauded Rooney who also grabbed an assist in an outstanding performance, but his leadership qualities shone through in the post-match interview where, rather than pat himself on the back, he decided to pour praise upon his teammates. Despite his best attempts there was no escaping the limelight as ex-Manchester United strike partner Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who currently plays for LA Galaxy, praised the impact that his previous teammate has had on Major League Soccer and has urged other clubs to target a similar calibre of player to help continue the growth of the game Stateside.
Manchester United former glories seem like a predilect source for MLS teams, who after Ibrahimovic, Rooney and Schweinsteiger, who signed for Chicago Fire two seasons ago, following a short stint in the Red Devils, have packed another one in early February: Nani. The former United Champions League winner, who just 3 years ago lifted the EuroCup with his national team Portugal, joined Orlando City and already bagged an assist.
Another ex-Manchester United legend, and former England’s captain, David Beckham, became icon of the modern-day MLS. He has even recently had a statue unveiled in LA, which shows what an impact he had on Galaxy. If Rooney leads DC to glory, then he’ll be held in a similar regard by his club. He’s already proved that he’s far from finished yet and the MLS should watch out.