It’s no coincidence that Wayne Rooney’s stall in the Audi Field locker room is slotted next to Luciano Acosta’s. The arrangement makes sense numerically — Rooney is No. 9, Acosta No. 10 — but in the short time Rooney has been with the club, the two have built a bond from more than just convenience.
When the English star arrived stateside in late June, he discussed the 24-year-old Argentine playmaker with D.C. United’s front office. The club saw Acosta’s undeniable talent and his inconsistent temperament — and how Rooney, 32, could have a positive influence on both.
“If you get someone with leadership and quality on the field [alongside Acosta], he obviously has the talent to be at a high level,” coach Ben Olsen said.
After scoring nine goals in 76 MLS matches for United before Rooney’s arrival, Acosta — who affectionately refers to his attacking partner as “Senor Wayne” — has netted six in 13 games since. He also has five assists in that span, including two in a 2-1 win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
“Everyone can see the talent and the ability he’s got,” Rooney said. “I’ve said to him a few times, ‘You should have shot’ [when] he hasn’t. When you get in that position, you have to be clinical and be hungry to score goals. I keep asking after games how many goals he has scored now, and I think he’s started to enjoy scoring.”
For his part, Rooney has contributed four goals and six assists in 13 matches since his midseason arrival from English club Everton. Of the 18 goals United has scored over its current 6-2-2 run, only three came without Rooney or Acosta having a hand.
United (9-11-7) is now within two points of the last Eastern Conference playoff slot entering Sunday’s 1 p.m. visit from the first-place New York Red Bulls (17-7-4).
“[Rooney] knows where to be, he knows where I am, he knows where all of the players are,” Acosta said. “He knows how to play, obviously, and we can all work off of that.”
The chemistry between Rooney and Acosta is clear in their combination play, driven by sharp give-and-go sequences and defense-slicing through balls. While Acosta has often been scouted as the primary threat for a one-note attack since joining United in 2016, Rooney has added another dimension.
“Maybe my leadership wasn’t enough in a lot of ways, and we needed somebody, earlier, on the field who could take the reins,” Olsen said. “I think Wayne has really helped in that department, even if it’s just taking a little bit of heat off these guys and a little bit of pressure.”