D.C. United’s hiring of Wayne Rooney as coach final yr — identical to its signing of Wayne Rooney the deadly striker 5 years in the past — was by no means a long-term answer.
Rooney, who lasted 1½ seasons in every function, got here stateside in each situations to evoke a forgotten MLS membership in a prospering league. As a participant, he introduced international gusto to freshly opened Audi Discipline and advertising and marketing energy to a pale model. Together with his profession winding down, although, he figured to remain not more than two or three seasons.
Upon his return as coach in July 2022, Rooney signed an unusually quick contract, via the 2023 season. With Rooney’s spouse and kids staying in England and his ambitions tied to an even bigger job again residence sometime, neither he nor United officers anticipated this gig to final without end, both. It could collectively serve their short-term functions.
By this summer season, Rooney did take to the thought of extending his keep. He needed to proceed the constructing course of. United, although, was not fairly able to look forward; it needed to see outcomes this yr. Any discuss of a brand new contract hinged on the workforce’s efficiency within the second half of the season. On the naked minimal, Rooney wanted to make the playoffs — not a tall job in a beneficiant league.
A late-season slide sealed his destiny. Co-owners Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan had been in attendance in Austin on Wednesday for a 3-0 howler that every one however ended United’s playoff possibilities. Elimination got here Saturday regardless of a 2-0 victory over New York City FC.
The postgame announcement that United and Rooney had agreed to half methods was not stunning. A patchwork measure had didn’t cease a string of 4 consecutive playoff-free campaigns.
United has not gained a playoff recreation since 2015, reached the convention remaining since 2012 or superior to the MLS Cup since 2004. Its 4 championships got here through the MLS 1.0 period.
Membership officers acknowledge they should introduce long-term options, not stopgap fixes. For the third time in three years, they may conduct a training search. It would undoubtedly stretch throughout the continent and oceans.
Entrance-office modifications are additionally within the works. United thought it may get by with no basic supervisor this yr. As an alternative of changing the ousted Lucy Rushton final offseason, it took a budget and simple route by letting sporting director Dave Kasper (the earlier GM) and technical director Stewart Mairs fill the void.
Within the coming weeks, United will appoint a basic supervisor, who will report back to chief govt Levien — to not Kasper, who, after 20 years of roster oversight, is predicted to maneuver right into a senior advisory function, folks accustomed to the state of affairs mentioned.
“We’ve been laborious at work speaking with potential basic managers, and when we’ve somebody in place, a part of that dialogue is round: What’s our teaching technique, and what’s our participant recruitment technique?” Levien mentioned in an interview late Saturday. “How are we going to construct a tradition that’s going to take us to the place we wish to go? We’re getting smarter simply by having these discussions, by speaking to totally different individuals who’ve been profitable doing this.”
With a superb soccer thoughts, Rooney made United smarter. He mentored younger gamers and introduced construction to a workforce that had misplaced its manner. He’s an inexperienced coach, although, and a few of his selections had been referred to as into query. He was a piece in progress, simply because the membership as a complete gave the impression to be.
Constructive outcomes remained elusive. The one successful streak (three video games) got here in April. The workforce was 6-5-6 at residence and entered Saturday’s finale with one victory in 11 matches.
Shedding its thrifty popularity, United had one of many highest payrolls in MLS. Whether or not that cash was spent correctly is up for debate. The membership didn’t make loads of noise in the summertime switch and commerce window.
Nonetheless, “the homeowners backed me,” Rooney mentioned. “I received just about what I needed. After all, you at all times need extra, however no complaints.”
He did should cope with a number of roster points. Beginning winger Martín Rodríguez tore an ACL because the season was about to start out. Halfway via the marketing campaign, beginning midfielder Lewis O’Brien returned to England when his mortgage from Nottingham Forest expired. Icelandic defender Victor Palsson sought a midseason move back to Europe.
And within the greatest setback, the membership terminated star forward Taxi Fountas’s contract late in the summertime after a second league investigation into the alleged use of racial slurs. As a result of the probe didn’t conclude till after the switch window closed, United was unable to interchange Fountas with one other high-end designated participant.
Because the season slipped away, there have been additionally karmic messages that perhaps the membership was going about issues the fallacious manner.
Former star playmaker Luciano Acosta was main FC Cincinnati to the Supporters’ Defend (awarded to the workforce with essentially the most common season factors) and making the highest case for MVP honors.
Ben Olsen, a celebrated United determine for greater than 20 years as a participant and coach, guided Houston to the U.S. Open Cup title and has the Dynamo roaring into the playoffs.
And eventually Saturday, Hernán Losada — Olsen’s successor and Rooney’s predecessor who was abruptly fired early in his second season — coached Montreal to a victory over Portland that ended D.C.’s playoff hopes.
United now enters yet one more lengthy offseason, 4 months to not solely put together for 2024 however to set a course for sustained satisfaction as an alternative of fleeting buzz.