MLS 2019: How Wayne Rooney's renaissance can bring success back to DC United

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DC United forward Wayne Rooney (Getty Images)

Few can argue that Wayne Rooney has been a success on the pitch since joining DC United from Everton last year.

Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer revitalized his club’s fortunes in 2018, inspiring DC to a 14th postseason appearance in its history.

The quest for the MLS Cup final ended in a penalty shootout defeat to the Crew, in which Rooney missed from the spot, but he still placed fourth in the voting for MLS MVP and second to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the running for Newcomer of the Year.

As Opta data highlights, there is even reason for United fans to predict bigger and better things from the 33-year-old this year…

INSTANT IMPACT

Rooney arrived in the United States on a three-and-a-half-year deal last June, having been deemed surplus to requirements by boyhood club Everton.

His new team’s first part of the season had not gone according to plan. A record of two wins, seven defeats and five draws from the first 14 matches had pushed thoughts of the playoffs far from their minds.

Things changed with Rooney involved — and quickly. With him in the team, DC’s record jumped to 12 wins, four defeats and four draws from 20 matches, with United’s average points per game rising to 2 from 0.8.

It is not hard to see why results improved. Rooney’s arrival triggered an increase to 1.9 goals per game from 1.6, while United’s defense also seemed to benefit, its goals-against average dropping to 1.1 per match from 2.1.

A PERSONAL TOUCH

Rooney’s presence undoubtedly gave a lift to the side as a whole, but his personal contribution to United’s campaign cannot be understated.

Despite only really playing half a season, Rooney scored 12 goals and registered seven assists, the best numbers of any MLS player to appear in 20 or fewer matches in 2018. Indeed, only five other such players even managed to contribute directly to 10 goals.

On the whole, Rooney has become a fulcrum of United’s attacking endeavor. Last season, despite missing 14 matches, Rooney led the team in terms of sequences that ended in shots (113), in goals (18), and Expected Goals (14.7). No other teammate managed higher than 10.6 for xG for sequences in which they were involved.

A TANDEM WITH ACOSTA

United’s ability to ward off reported European interest in Luciano Acosta could pay dividends, especially given his blossoming partnership with Rooney last year.

Acosta assisted three of Rooney’s goals in 2018, while the ex-England captain returned the favor on four occasions, most notably in the 3-2 win over Orlando City in August, when Rooney won back possession in his own half and sent a stunning long pass for his team-mate to head in a 96th-minute winner.

Even if they cannot repeat something quite so spectacular, there is every sign that Rooney — with “Lucho” in tow — could make United a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference in 2019.