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Matchday Preview: DC United

Wayne Rooney’s first Atlantic Cup experience as a manager comes at an awkward moment for both clubs

DC United v Charlotte FC
Wayne Rooney already picking up American fashion.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

It’s about time humans invented a new instrument. As a species, we haven’t scratched the surface of the amount of horns there could be. We could just keep adding curves and loop-de-loops until it’s not a trumpet anymore. Or we could just start combining instruments, call me crazy but the saxotuba is coming. Can you tell I’m running out of ideas? At least Major League Soccer never runs out of teams to preview.


The Red Bulls face a familiar foe in D.C. United, with Saturday’s upcoming being their third meeting in 2022. Not much has changed for the capital-based club, only a little known British coach by the name of Wayne Rooney being hired as manager. The organization looked deep into their scouting network to find the former D.C. player, who had just wrapped up an impossible battle against relegation with Derby County. Despite being unable to save Derby, D.C. deemed Rooney to be a good fit for the upcoming project, with the team currently dead last in the Eastern Conference with no way to look but up. It’s a tough ask of the still young manager, but his celebrity status should be able to keep fans content for the road ahead.

D.C.’s problems are clear, allowing the most goals against per 90 and the fourth most shots on target against per 90 in the league, their defense has not done the team any favors in big moments. Teams were allowed to play as they liked against former coach Chad Ashton, with the team not putting up much of a fight against dribblers or passing. The club has historically employed a high pressing model similar to the Red Bulls, but little success has come from it with the team only winning possession on 28.1% of their pressures (For reference the Red Bulls’ success rate is 31.1%). The team has simply allowed too many chances, too many shots, and with subpar goalkeeping on display it’s not given them a fighting chance in many matches.

But despite being an attacker in his playing days, Rooney seems to be the defensive guru that D.C. United need at the moment. His 2021-22 Derby County side conceded just 53 goals in 46 games, the second best defense in the bottom half of the table. Their 21 point deduction at the beginning of the season was the main reason why the team was relegated, and masks a midtable finish that was a noticeable improvement on the relegation contending 2020-21 Derby County. With Derby, Rooney typically played the defensively solid 4-2-3-1, not taking many risks in the back and playing directly more often than not. Most counterpressing was left to the forwards and certain midfielders, leaving the defense’s shape largely untouched. This is a good fit for a D.C. United who have tried to employ a sort of neutered high-pressing model for years, but have never quite found success with it. Rooney’s more balanced approach can already be seen in D.C.; on his MLS coaching debut in a win against Orlando City, DC attempted their lowest amount of pressures in a game at only 94, but their successful pressure percentage of 28.7% was their highest rate since April. Rooney prefers to press efficiently in parts of the field where it counts, winning the ball and transitioning into attack.

In D.C., Rooney has all the tools he needs to employ his 4-2-3-1, and has already begun work to fine-tune his roster to be competitive in 2023. For the time being D.C. still struggle, a 3-0 loss to Charlotte FC spoiled the honeymoon period, but with fine individual players such as Taxi Fountas and Ola Kamara on the squad, they can be dangerous in the present as well. On the Red Bulls side, a victory over distant rivals should go a long way in erasing the frustration of the 5-4 loss to the Colorado Rapids last matchday, but more importantly would be vital points to keep the Red Bulls on the high end of the table for playoff seeding. With only about 2 months left in the regular season, time is of the essence for this young New York team to decide if they want to be contenders in 2022.


The Red Bulls have already met the wonderfully named “Black-and-Red Kit” in Open Cup action earlier this year, and unfortunately it has not gotten any better. Black kits are typically pretty hard to get wrong, it’s a slick color that matches with pretty much anything and looks clean on the pitch. By MLS standards it’s even a looker, with the red accent really popping on the otherwise pitch black shirt. But unfortunately, it’s sponsored by a cryptocurrency network, which is an automatic points deduction in my eyes.

In the words of the wise Mike Battista, “Crypto is a scam and so is DC United.” 3/10.


New York Red Bulls: Coronel, Tolkin, Long, S. Nealis, Reyes, D. Nealis, Yearwood, Amaya, Luquinhas, Harper, Klimala

DC United: R. Romo, Guediri, Pines, Birnbaum, Odoi-Atsem, Canouse. R, Morrison, C. Durkin, J. Hopkins, T. Fountas, Kamara


Jackson Hopkins

A young USL alum and US youth international? Be still my heart.

After signing a Homegrown deal last April, the former Londoun United and Red Bulls Academy player has been seamlessly introduced into the first team picture at only 18. Despite standing at 6’2, he’s mobile enough to usually be deployed as a wide midfielder or winger, although he can also play more centrally. He’s still very new to the professional scene, but has performed admirably enough that he earned a call-up to the US U-20 team for the recent Concacaf Championship, making three appearances in the young Yanks’ title-winning run. Management has had nothing but praise for the young man, citing his maturity and ability on the ball. Having started the last 5 games for D.C. and played every minute of Rooney’s tenure, expect Hopkins to play again against New York. He probably won’t be a game-changer immediately, but it’ll be a nice look at someone who could do rather well in the league for years to come.

Caden Clark

A fellow US youth international, Caden Clark has been the subject of attention from everyone except for Gerhard Struber in recent weeks. Strangely absent from first-team action for most of the season, what was supposed to be Clark’s farewell tour of MLS has been disappointing to say the least.

After playing only 10 minutes in a game against the Colorado Rapids that seemed to be begging for someone with his creative skillset, Clark has been forced to live on assorted minutes with Red Bulls II just to stay fresh, having gone the full 90 in the USL affiliate’s most recent loss. With the summer heat testing New York physically as well as mentally, it seems unsustainable for Struber to continue his increasingly maligned practice of singling out players at random points in the season. There’s certainly a way back from the bench for the Leipzig-bound teenager, and a struggling D.C. may be the chance Struber was waiting for to free him from his shackles.

Frankie Amaya

Yet another (former) US U-20 international, Frankie Amaya has also been dropped out of nowhere after a string of 20 starts in MLS to begin the season. No Red Bull has deserved a rest more than the Californian, who has valiantly tried to take on the Sean Davis challenge, but having not seen the field in two MLS weekdays and playing 66 minutes in the Open Cup one would expect his return sooner rather than later. An integral part of the Struber midfield thanks to his tireless defensive work and skill in transition, the former SuperDraft pick will be a key part of New York’s attempts to win the midfield battle against their rivals.

Rafael Romo

Unfortunately, the D.C. netminder has no ties to the US U-20 national team, mainly due to the fact that he is Venezuelan and spent his younger days in the Venezuelan second division. Surprisingly well traveled, Romo has collected checks from the likes of Udinese and Watford, and spent time in Cyprus and Belgium before landing in the nation’s capital in April. He was thrust into action quickly after longtime starter Bill Hamid suffered a long-term hand injury, and has been… bad. Having provided the D.C. fanbase with some memorable moments so far, the 32 year old will certainly want to do better against a Red Bulls side that has scored 8 in their last two MLS games. For some reason the trip to New York has been a rebirth for many goalkeepers this year, so Rooney will be hoping that the Harrison air can spark one more one-off performance for a struggling number 1.


While D.C pack plenty of punch under Rooney’s tutelage, the Red Bulls should be too good a team for them to handle. Should be. Give me an infuriating 1-0 Red Bulls win.