HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 13: A general view of the MLS, Fussball Herren, USA march ball on the field during the first half of the Major League Soccer game between the New York Red Bulls and Minnesota United on March 13, 2022 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire SOCCER: MAR 13 MLS - Minnesota United at New York Red Bulls Icon220332609

With six games of this MLS regular season to go, DC United have done extremely well to close in on the play-off places. Having only won twice in their first 14 games, after the arrival of Wayne Rooney they have shot up into top six contention.

But their play-off isn’t guaranteed just yet. They currently sit four points behind 6th place Montreal Impact with a game in hand. They hosted the Eastern Conference’s 2nd placed New York Red Bulls had here were some signs from their 3-3 draw that suggest they will break into that top six:

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney has had a huge impact on DC United since his long-awaited move from Everton. Many like to see this impact through numbers and Rooney, Manchester United’s leading goal-scorer, isn’t doing too bad with them as in his 12 DC appearances he’s racked up five goals and six assists.

Although these numbers are good, not many realise what sets him apart from others to reach them. Here’s an example from the weekend’s game.

DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
A very experienced player, Rooney is able to adapt to his surroundings well and he has done that in MLS by finding spaces in between defences. Here he pulls off into the highlighted space well but his attempted pass is cut out.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
Seconds later, still alert, he ghosts in between the lines unnoticed and picks up a great position one-on-one with the defender, able to dictate what will happen.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
The cross is perfect and having the run on the defender allows Rooney to burst into the available space easily and guide the ball home while the defender is still on the back foot.

This example shows that with Rooney’s quality in the team DC United are able to take more risks that could pay off. With him taking up positions like these, it gives those on the ball options and showing he’s still a great finisher will encourage anyone to keep giving him service.

Goals isn’t all Rooney offers though as his link-up play with those around him has led to his six assists. However, Against the Red Bulls, they showed that they weren’t just a one-man team.

Surrounding Cast

Although its no coincidence that their form picked up drastically since Rooney’s arrival, DC United do have some exciting assets around him that have helped make the difference.

In particular, Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola. Both play behind Rooney with Acosta more of a #10 and Arriola a winger, but both have flourished with the Englishman in the side. Attacking from deep, its harder for opposition defenders to pick them up which was often the case against the Red Bulls and resulted in a goal.

DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
Off the ball, DC and Acosta, in particular, applied great pressure on the ball, trapping the Red Bulls on the touchline and regaining possession.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
With the ball at his feet, Acosta showed just how dangerous he is dribbling past a few players before slipping through Ariolla who was ready for the counter-attack.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
With his first touch, Arriola was rewarded for having enough confidence to shoot first-time as his shot flew past Luis Robles in the Red Bulls goal.

This style of attack has been very apparent over recent weeks for DC and can be very effective in helping them reach the play-offs. Whether its Rooney feeding Ariolla and Acosta or visa-versa, this although simple, looks to be one of their more effective methods of attack.


Despite conceding three against New York Red Bulls, there were some encouraging signs for DC going into the business end of the season. One reason for this is that they’ve moved from the 4-1-4-1 that was in use when Rooney arrived, to a 4-2-3-1, giving them a bit more stability when facing counter-attacks as seen below.

DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
As the ball bounces wide to the NYRB full back, rather than press high, the DC players decide to drop. Instead of getting caught up mid-press and suffering a counter, this allows them to get back into a structured defensive shape.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
Back in their shape, DC have done a great job as every opposition player is covered or will be covered should the ball be switched. This leaves the full back no option but to keep the ball to himself and give DC more time to settle.
DC United 3-3 New York Red Bulls MLS Tactical Analysis
Not going anywhere anytime soon, the full back decides to punch a ball into midfield but with men around the ball, DC deal with the situation well and win the ball.

This type of approach, although it may not excite most during the game can end up paying great dividends for DC going forward. Rather than leaving themselves vulnerable, it allows them to regroup and make things difficult for those who face them.

However, this is something the players can’t bored of doing and jump out of line as they could get picked apart if someone does.


Overall, the run in looks encouraging for DC United if they can continue in a similar fashion. A goalkeeping mistake was the only thing from them taking three points against the Red Bulls so it was a positive outing.

However, playing Montreal Impact, who are four points and one place ahead of them, this weekend it’s imperative that they win. With the weapons they have in attack and the way they compliment each other, though it could be expected for them come out on top. Also, five of their last six games are at Audi Field where they’ve only lost three times so a big play-off push could well be on the Washington DC horizon.