Former Manchester United and England star Rooney has been the catalyst for a remarkable reversal in fortunes since arriving in Washington in July, when the club were languishing at the foot of the table. Prior to Rooney’s arrival, United had only two wins from 14 games, with the club facing up to another season of disappointment.
Post-Rooney, however, the club has been on a roll, winning 11 of 18 games to motor up the table into the playoff positions. Rooney’s performances have been instrumental in the turnaround, with the 32-year-old former England captain contributing 10 goals and seven assists in his 18 appearances.
On Wednesday, Rooney electrified Audi Field with a stunning long-range free-kick goal as United defeated Toronto FC 1-0 for their fourth consecutive victory. The win means United are four points clear of their nearest rivals Montreal for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two games remaining. A victory on Sunday against New York, who have already qualified for the post-season, would guarantee United’s playoff berth.
United coach Ben Olsen paid tribute to the galvanising effect Rooney has had on the club since arriving, noting that the veteran was having a positive influence on younger members of the squad. “This is what he seems to love to do, play and win,” Olsen said. “His habits are so contagious to some of our young guys. How to go about the game and make the right play and dig in when you need to. “On both sides of the ball, his habits are great and no one else can look at that and not follow his lead.” While Rooney and United are closing in on the postseason, the striker’s former Manchester United teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic is less certain of prolonging his campaign with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Galaxy are four points adrift of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with Real Salt Lake in sixth place. The Galaxy face already eliminated Minnesota on Sunday knowing that they must take maximum points to keep their hopes alive. Ibrahimovic has declared himself available to play despite the game being played on the artificial turf of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium. Ibrahimovic, who returned this year after knee reconstruction surgery, has been largely excused having to play on artificial surfaces since arriving in MLS to avoid possibly aggravating his knee. However, the Swedish star is desperate to keep Galaxy’s season alive and has declared himself ready to play.
“Obviously, as a coach, you don’t want to put a player in a situation where he’s not going to be successful, or he could injure himself,” Galaxy caretaker manager Dominic Kinnear said. “We’ve already had a conversation beforehand, but he knows the importance of the game, and he wants to play and wants to play well.”