Last weekend, MLS said hello to its newest former Premier League star as Wayne Rooney made his D.C. United debut in their first game at Audi Field.

Having spent the past couple months off the pitch, it was fair to assume Rooney would make his DC debut off the bench and that’s exactly what happened.

Replacing Darren Mattocks as the lone striker in a 4-1-4-1 formation here’s how England’s leading goal-scorer asserted himself on his MLS debut.

Positioning

In one of his first interviews as a D.C. United player, Rooney said something along the lines of ‘I’d rather score five-ten goals in a season and win a trophy than score 20 goals and win nothing’. That type of mentality was very apparent when he came on against Vancouver Whitecaps as he gave a very selfless performance that ensured his new side christened their new stadium with a win.

The first impression we got of this was his positional play which was very typical of the recent Rooney. Rather than being the out an out striker than runs in behind the defence, as you can see from his heat map below, he preferred to drop off and act somewhat as a false nine or even a ten.

Heat map sourced from Wyscout

This helped D.C. United massively as Rooney took much-needed control of the second-half and ended up proving to be the difference.

Presence & Link Up Play

Entering Audi Field as such a big name, it’d be expected that Rooney would very much be a marked man. However, as the lone striker dropping off, he took advantage of the space in between the lines very well and played a part in D.C. United’s two second-half goals as a result.

Here we can see Rooney in between the lines rather than up against the defenders. As Yamil Asad plays the ball into him, his presence alone causes the Vancouver defence to panic and their left-sided centre-back rushes towards Rooney, as does the marked midfielder. Rooney plays a first time ball back to Asad.
Rooney’s intelligence now means the circled defenders are pretty much out of the game. Asad notices this and plays the ball straight to Stieber as Arriola attacks the space created by Rooney.
With the Vancouver left back stuck in two minds whether to press the ball or hold his position, Stieber has an easy ball to play to Arriola who is quick enough to reach the ball and score before the Vancouver centre back makes up the space created after he stepped out.

What this shows is how even though Rooney may not be the same player he was in his prime, his football brain is still very much intact.

Taking up these positions can create chaos for defences as they are unsure of how to combat him. By the time they decide to engage Rooney, he’s still technically sound enough to play at great pace and make them pay.

Rooney’s actual assist in the game came from very similar play so it’ll be interesting to see if MLS teams can get to grips with this very selfless style of play.

Work Rate & Discipline

Over the years, one thing that has never seemed to leave Rooney’s game is his appetite. This was once again proved on Saturday, however, we also saw how he’s matured as a player and how the decisions he makes late on could be vital in helping D.C. climb up the Eastern Conference.

Even though his side are 3-0 up, Rooney is still wanting to sprint back and help out his defenders by pressing the ball.
Closing off the first passing lane, Rooney then sets a great example for his new team mates by hunting down the ball which results in D.C. regaining possession.
As they break, he puts in yet another sprint to create some daylight between himself and the retreating Vancouver players.
Looking to close the game out, Rooney shows great maturity as he recognises his team are outnumbered. Rather than continue to attack like some players would he plays the ball forward for Stieber before dropping into the highlighted space which is vacated, his marker doesn’t follow him.
Now with time on the ball, he has created great space and time for himself and his teammates as Vancouver dropped back in desperate fashion. Rooney is then able to switch the play calmly where D.C. can do as they please.

This passage of play is incredibly important as he has shown to all his new teammates how a game should be closed out.

In defence, every effort should be made to stop the opposition from scoring and getting any sense of hope. However, rather than just himself chasing the ball, he will need the other D.C. players to press with him as a unit to be successful over a period of time.

In possession, its all about putting the opposition in a headlock. Rather than swinging energetically for 90 minutes, be more controlled and let the ball do the work for you and have the opposition chasing shadows. That way, with a more professional approach, over time their game management and league position will improve.

Summary

Overall, for D.C. United fans they’re absolutely right to look forward to their near future with Wayne Rooney as he will bring so much to their team for the rest of this season and beyond.

As well as the on-field aspects of his game that I highlighted above, they are getting a player with great experience, that will be able to help players off the field too. Obviously, however, Rooney is where he was physically a few years ago so it’ll be interesting to see if he continues to play like he did on his debut as a lone striker or if D.C. choose to partner him with Darren Mattocks.

Either way, things should be looking up for D.C. United with Rooney’s arrival.