When Wayne Rooney swapped Everton for D.C. United last summer, moving across the Atlantic with his wife and four children, he was briefed on the rigors of MLS travel.
The veteran forward had spent his entire career in the English Premier League, where a 350-mile trek is the longest road trip imaginable, and the idea of dealing with connecting flights, time zone changes and varying climates for regular-season matches was quite literally a foreign concept.
But as United (7-3-2) faces three straight road games in league play, including trips this week to Toronto FC (5-4-1) on Wednesday and the Houston Dynamo (6-2-1) on Saturday, Rooney isn’t exactly daunted.
“I think people make a bit too much of it,” Rooney said of the travel schedule. “It’s something you have to do and there’s no complaints.”
Then he chuckled and added: “When you’re used to flying with four kids, any flight is easy without them.”
After going 1-9-7 on the road last year, D.C. is off to a 3-1-1 start away from Audi Field in 2019. In each of those road wins, which came against Orlando, Colorado and Columbus, United has managed to seize a first-half lead and fend off a late rally.
“We have the chemistry, we have a good understanding, we’ve been able to get early goals away,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “If we can get ahead early, that’ll be the key for us.”
Depth also will be important: Coming off a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, United finds itself facing a congested stretch of three games in seven days. Coach Ben Olsen figures to rotate his lineup, with reserves such as defensive midfielder Chris Durkin and winger Ulises Segura potentially earning starting assignments.
“We’ll need a bunch of bodies to get through this,” Olsen said. “There’s only two days’ rest in between each game, which I think is ridiculous — I think it’s just silly, silly scheduling, but it is what it is and we’ll grind through it.”
While defenders Joseph Mora (jaw) and Donovan Pines (knee) remain sidelined, D.C. recently got defender-midfielder Chris McCann and midfielder Russell Canouse back from injury, and acquired left back Marquinhos Pedroso from FC Dallas. That relatively healthy contingent is a welcome change for Olsen, who has been forced to juggle lineups and formations in recent weeks.
The club enters the road trip with momentum as well, as United sits in a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference following back-to-back wins at Audi Field.
“Behind closed doors, these were very important points to pick up,” Olsen said after the victory over Kansas City. “We understand you’re going to Toronto and you’re going to a tough environment in Houston against two of the best teams in the league right now. It’ll be tough, but I think it’s certainly a challenge the group will be looking forward to.”