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Rooney’s debut MLS season ends in heartbreak



A “ hell of a run ” for Wayne Rooney and his Major League Soccer team in Washington ended in a heartbreaking shootout late Thursday at the end of the record – breaking England goalscorer ’ s first season based on foreign soil .Rooney , 33 , was what his coach called the “ catalyst ” for a turnaround that saw his club DC United , at the bottom of the Eastern Conference when he first donned United ’ s black jersey in July, leap to a fourth -place finish and home field advantage in Thursday night ’ s knockout playoff round .

DC lost by a whisker to Columbus Crew , losing on penalty kicks 3 – 2 after a 2 -2 tie before more than 20 , 000 fans .

Rooney , who scored 208 goals in his 16 Premier League seasons , and 12 since he joined DC United , led off the penalty shootout.

But his effort was saved by the Crew ’ s diving keeper Zack Steffen .

“ The guys gave everything , ” a subdued coach Ben Olsen said after the match at Audi Field , the new stadium which opened in time for Rooney ’ s arrival and added to the team ’ s fresh look .

“ It was a hell of a run. Don ’ t let this result spoil what these guys did to set the right tone and foundation ” for what he called “ the new DC United . ”

Olsen said it was a group effort , and singled out other players including Argentina ’ s Luciano Acosta for their contribution .

But it was Rooney who has “ certainly been the catalyst for this turnaround, ” Olsen told reporters at training prior to the playoff match .

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The former Manchester United and England superstar, who began an English Premier League career with his hometown club of Everton at the age of 16 , humbly earned his status as team captain in Washington .

“ He brings a lot of things , you know : good mentality , good fighting spirit . He showed us a lot of things . In the locker room . In the field as well , ” said defender Frederic Brillant , of France .

“ Wayne is a very good guy . He tried to help everybody . ”

Rooney helped bear a load of a young squad under pressure , Olsen said .

“ Wayne ’ s been under this type of pressure for a long time . I think he takes a little bit off the rest of the guys , ” he said , adding that Rooney improved other players , especially his partner Acosta who scored nine goals after Rooney arrived .

“ And then inside the locker room he gets it . He ’ s been in a locker room since he was 16 with some great teams , some great managers, and so he understands the rhythm of the season , what to say , what not to say . It makes my job easy , ” Olsen said .

– ‘ One of the guys ’ –

Emotions ran hot late in the two and a half – hour drama . Rooney banged the turf after he went down in extra time , and confronted the referee when the shootout ended .

“ No one said a word in that locker room right now . They ’ re gutted , ” Olsen said at the post- match press conference , where he said Rooney “ helped us tremendously . ”

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Rooney is the latest big – name British and international footballer to join the 23 -year – old MLS.

David Beckham paved the way with his 2007 transfer to LA Galaxy , a club which also lured Steven Gerrard , Ashley Cole , Robbie Keane and , this year , Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic .

Rooney signed a three and a half – year deal said to be worth $ 13 million with DC United , and has settled in to Washington life away from the public scrutiny that dogged him in England .

“ It ’ s been very relaxed , ” he told ESPN shortly after his arrival in the US capital. People “ seem to respect your privacy a lot more over here . ”

Defender Steven Birnbaum said Rooney has been a great leader who “ just wants to be one of the guys .

“ I guess that ’ s the biggest thing . He doesn ’ t want to be treated like a superstar that he is . ”

Olsen is counting on that leadership to continue when Rooney starts his first full season with DC United in 2019 .

“ Looking forward to next year , ” the coach said .

Fans , too, have faith that this is only the beginning of their love affair with a US -based Rooney and the “ new ” DC United .

“ Ever since he came to the team , the team ’ s made a big improvement , ” said Danny Rodriguez , 29 , of Virginia , who wore a DC United jersey bearing Rooney ’ s name .

“ I think they’ re gonna do wonderful , and many more years to come. ”

( AFP)

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