The long good-bye for Wayne Rooney begins Sunday night when D.C. United looks to extend the struggles of the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Rooney, who arrived in the nation’s capital shortly after last season began, reached an agreement to return to England after this season to become a player-coach for Championship side Derby County after D.C. wraps up play. The all-time leading scorer in Three Lions history, the 33-year-old forward has shown plenty of quality in his brief tenure with United, totaling 23 goals and 14 assists in 44 MLS matches.
“The opportunity came up for me to join Derby County in January, as a player but also as a coach, which was important to start that transition for the next stage of my career, which I’ve always showed that desire of that’s what I want to do,” Rooney told the team’s official website Monday. “But also for my family and myself to be back in England around our extended family and friends was part of the reason also. So that opportunity came about, and I felt it was the right opportunity for me at this time.”
With his immediate future settled, Rooney now looks to keep the Black and Red in the thick of the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. D.C. United (9-9-7) are fifth on 36 points but only six back of front-running Philadelphia with nine matches remaining.
Rooney is trying to avoid his second three-game stretch of the season without a goal or an assist after being held off the scoresheet in a draw versus Chicago and a 5-1 thrashing at home by the Union last Sunday.
United have just two victories in their last 13 league matches (2-7-4), and the heavy loss prompted a flurry of deals. They acquired midfielders Felipe Martins from Vancouver and Emmanuel Boateng from the Galaxy in addition to signing striker Ola Kamara on a reported $2.5 million move from Shenzhen FC of the Chinese Super League.
Kamara played in the MLS previously with the Galaxy and Columbus Crew before joining Shenzhen at the start of this season. The Norway international has 48 goals in 90 MLS matches and tallied 14 for Los Angeles last year.
The Galaxy (12-1-10) are also in a rut with four losses in their last six contests and looking to avoid a fourth consecutive road defeat. Los Angeles played without suspended star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Aug. 3 at reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United, and the gulf in attacking talent was clearly apparent in the 3-0 loss.
Los Angeles also failed to help itself defensively, falling behind 2-0 on first-half own goals by defenders Dave Romney and Giancarlo Gonzalez. Gonzalez also contributed to Atlanta’s third goal, fouling Emerson Hyndman in the box for a penalty Josef Martinez converted in the second half.
Like United, the Galaxy sought reinforcements before the close of the transfer window and landed striker Cristian Pavon on loan from Argentina’s Boca Juniors. The loan deal meant Los Angeles did not have to use a Designated Player spot for the 23-year-old, who was reportedly valued at $45 million last summer.
Pavon played in all four games for Argentina at the 2018 World Cup and also under Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto for two seasons at Boca Juniors.
“He is a high-caliber player who will be a valuable piece to our roster moving forward,” Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese said. “By providing him with a stable environment and a coach he knows well, we are confident that he can continue to grow and improve as a player within our club. We are extremely excited to add him to our squad and look forward to his contributions with the LA Galaxy.”
The teams have played to back-to-back draws, including a 2-2 deadlock in Los Angeles last year as Darren Mattocks grabbed a late equalizer for United after they fell behind 2-0 in the first 25 minutes on goals by Ibrahimovic and Chris Pontius.
(Wayne Rooney photo courtesy Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports)