Almost a week ago, Wayne Rooney helped draw even more eyes to the opening of Audi Field, coming on as a substitute in his debut as D.C. United beat the Vancouver Whitecaps. United led when Rooney entered, but the English striker helped United earn a win in their first-ever game at the new stadium, playing a part in both goals that Paul Arriola scored, as the Black-and-Red won 3-1.
With another week of training under his belt, is a start against Atlanta United, whom United travel to face this weekend at the Mercedes-Benz Arena, on the horizon? Head coach Ben Olsen talked earlier this week about his newest designated player, as he tries to regain full fitness after extended time off after his last game for Everton, which came on April 28th.
“Expect more minutes from him, and we’ll just keep pushing him and we’ll keep track of where he’s at,” Olsen said of Rooney after Tuesday’s practice.
Last week, before Rooney’s debut, Olsen said that he and his staff were carefully monitoring Rooney’s measurables during practice to see where he was at fitness-wise. During each practice, players wear a bib that monitors heart rates, and helps keep track of data that the club uses to determine how much energy each player exerts, and how quickly they have recovered after a game.
Because United were never really chasing the game against Vancouver after Rooney entered, the striker didn’t quite have to exert himself quite as much, which Olsen said will likely lead to more minutes this weekend against the Five Stripes.
“As far as the data, the game itself wasn’t super taxing on him,” said Olsen about the win over the Whitecaps. “Some games are tougher, you’ve got to grind maybe for the last 20 minutes. But we had a lot of the ball when he came in, and he helped us in that possession.”
And despite Olsen saying that Rooney wasn’t fit enough to start right away, the club’s longest-serving manager said that there was still a temptation to start Rooney right away, given his pedigree and the likelihood of that he would give the team a better chance at winning games.
But Olsen added that what he saw from Rooney, being integral in the play for Arriola’s first goal, and then picking up an assist for Arriola’s second, was just what he expected. That said, those moments themselves won’t go into forcing Olsen to change his mind as to how many minutes Rooney gets here as he still acclimates to his new surroundings.
“I think there was temptation [to start Rooney] from the second he arrived at the club,” Olsen said. “I wasn’t surprised at how he changed the game. He didn’t change it in any other way than just having a high IQ out there, and playing simple and making the right play, and doing what he’s done all his career.”
One of Rooney’s challenges this weekend with the Black-and-Red will be taking on the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Arena. This past weekend, Atlanta set the standalone record for attendance in MLS, as 72,243 packed the stadium against the Seattle Sounders. That beat the previous record of 72,035, which Atlanta set earlier this year, when they hosted D.C. United.
Olsen said that the turf won’t play a part in deciding Rooney’s minutes. But as far as indoctrinating Rooney into life in MLS, Olsen said that Atlanta and their crowd is the perfect way to introduce England’s all-time men’s leading scorer for the national team.
“Going to Atlanta, and seeing what a road game looks like, it is important for his transition here,” said Olsen. “I think he’ll enjoy the Atlanta atmosphere. It’s a wild place. The building is great, the feel, the energy, it’s one of the great venues in the country.”