Wayne Rooney will take charge of DC United for the first time against Orlando City on Sunday.
The former England captain has been operating as an advisory while waiting for his visa ahead of coaching the struggling MLS side.
Rooney has now been cleared to lead the team at home to Orlando, opponents against whom the ex-striker enjoyed the highlight of his DC playing career.
An epic last-gasp tackle and assist secured a 3-2 win in 2018 – and DC badly need another result like that.
United are rooted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference as Rooney returns to the club, although interim coach Chris Ashton feels they will benefit from his presence on the touchline.
“He’ll be patrolling the sidelines this weekend,” Ashton said of Rooney. “We’re looking forward to that – a little more normalcy involved.”
Now without a player of Rooney’s caliber, DC are looking around for a hero to rescue their season.
Ashton added: “As a group, we just need to be a little more consistent in terms of everything – game management, being smarter, being clinical offensively, not giving away easy goals.
“I think everybody can take a bigger role. Wayne’s already said he doesn’t care who it is, how old they are; go out there and show what you can do, play with confidence, play with personality, and hopefully that brings out more.”
Orlando are up in fifth in the East but could also use a finisher as clinical as Rooney, having netted only 26 goals – the fewest of any side in a playoff place in either conference.
“We’re looking and working hard, the boys are doing a lot, to be more polished on the finishing,” said coach Oscar Pareja.
There was nothing wrong with their finishing in a 5-1 midweek U.S. Open Cup win over the New York Red Bulls that secured a home final for Orlando.
“We keep our heads in the right place with the league, trying to be more consistent, trying to score the goals that will give us points,” Pareja said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DC United – Ravel Morrison
Rooney is not the only new man in at DC this weekend, as Morrison – a team-mate of Rooney’s at Manchester United and one of his players at Derby County – has also been cleared for action. “He obviously knows the system very well,” said Ashton, “so we’re excited to get him on the field.”
Charlotte FC – Ercan Kara
Midfielder Cesar Araujo was the two-goal hero in the cup, but he cannot be relied upon for a regular source of goals. Kara, on the other hand, should be. He has seven for the season but only one in July – that coming in a 5-3 defeat to DC.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– DC United beat Orlando City 5-3 on July 4, equaling the highest-scoring match in Orlando’s MLS history (3-5 at NYCFC in 2015). DC have won four of their six home matches against Orlando, although the Lions won their last visit to Audi Field, a 1-0 win in May 2021.
– DC United’s 2-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday was their seventh defeat in their past 10 MLS matches (W1 D2), with the lone win in that time a victory at Orlando. DC have conceded multiple goals in each of their past six matches (19 total), having only one longer such run in the club’s history (eight straight in 2000).
– Orlando City has lost only one of their past six away matches (W1 D4), including drawing the last two. The Lions have lost only two road matches this season, tied with the Union and Crew for fewest in MLS.
– Taxi Fountas scored a hat-trick in DC’s 5-3 win over Orlando City on July 4, including scoring in the fifth and eighth minutes of the match. Fountas became the first DC United player to score twice within the first 10 minutes of a match in the club’s MLS history.
– Orlando City managed just one shot on target in their loss to the Union on Saturday, the third time in their past four games they have been held to just one shot on target. The Lions have hit fewer than two shots on target a league-high six times this season, while DC has done so four times, tied for third-most in MLS.