Three matches into his MLS career, Wayne Rooney has been named captain of D.C. United.
Coach Ben Olsen said Friday that he has awarded the previously vacant role to the English superstar, who captained both Manchester United and his national team.
“Wayne has the respect of the guys, not only from his past, but also the way he has been the last few weeks being here,” Olsen said. “We’ve had some good discussions on his leadership role, and I think he will embrace it and do a good job with it.”
United had been without a captain while Olsen got a better feel for his evolving squad and relied on several players to provide leadership. Defender Steve Birnbaum, who held the title last year, was the de facto captain through the first half of this season and was listed on the lineup sheet as the captain, as required by MLS. No one, however, wore the captain’s armband during matches.
“Steve is a guy of high character and has done a great job for this club. Steve understands,” Olsen said. “There’s no ill will; he gets it. Steve is a good leader, understands chemistry and team dynamics and is a very good communicator to the staff — all the things you want in a leader. But Wayne is a little bit of a different type of guy. It’s logical. It makes sense.”
Birnbaum, a fifth-year center back, had taken the job in early 2017 after veteran defender Bobby Boswell accepted a smaller playing role with United.
Neither player was immediately available to comment.
Olsen told the players of his decision before Friday’s training session.
“It was important for us to see how Wayne interacted with the team over the last couple weeks,” Olsen said. “In some ways, it was always going to be Wayne.”
Asked half-jokingly whether the captaincy was written into Rooney’s club-record contract, Olsen laughed and said, “Not that I know of, unless everyone has duped me.”
On a serious note, Olsen said Rooney “has been around enough teams and in enough scenarios where he can help in the dressing room and also communicate to me. He has already embraced it, and his influence will grow as the year goes by and the guys get more comfortable with him and understand he is a selfless guy who cares about winning, no matter where he is.”
Working on game fitness after a two-month layoff, Rooney has started once and entered early in the second half twice since he signed late last month. In search of his first goal, he is likely to start Saturday for United (3-9-5) against the Colorado Rapids (4-11-5) and goalkeeper Tim Howard, his former Manchester United teammate.
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