“He’s back,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “He’s ready to go.”
Meanwhile, Stieber said his goodbyes Thursday after two years with the club. The Hungarian national team midfielder fell out of favor this year after posting five goals and seven assists in 27 appearances (21 starts) last season.
This year, he appeared in nine matches (three starts) without any goals or assists and played once in the past seven games. Recently, he was battling illness, including a bout with shingles.
His omission from the game-day roster Wednesday against Olympique Marseille was a clear sign his stay here was nearing an end.
A technically gifted player, Stieber, 30, did not play enough two-way soccer to satisfy the demands of Olsen’s system. His departure opens an international roster slot and frees space under the salary cap. His $787,500 salary was second on the team behind Rooney’s $3.5 million.
The move comes as United is seeking roster help.
Jose Torres, a former U.S. national team midfielder who has spent his entire career in the Mexican league, continues to trial with the team. United is also weighing whether to reacquire Argentine midfielder Yamil Asad, who was on loan in 2018 before returning to Velez Sarsfield last winter.
Torres, 31, is an intriguing option, given his experience in Liga MX and for the national team (26 caps from 2008 to 2013).
“We’re still evaluating him; he has done fine,” Olsen said. “He seems like a lovely kid, and we know who he is as a player: He is a connector, he has played at a high level for a decade, he has a lot of experience, and he’s Spanish-speaking, which is a good bridge for the locker room. So there is a lot to like.”
The transfer and trade deadline is Aug. 7, but teams have an additional month to sign free agents.
United will gain strength from the return of Rooney, the captain and leading scorer who was in his native England for a long weekend with his wife and four children; the family lives in Bethesda, but Coleen and the kids were back home vacationing the past few weeks.
It marked the first time Rooney had missed a match because of injury since he signed with United more than a year ago. He returned midweek and practiced the past two days.
In his absence, United dropped a 2-0 result to Atlanta, the eighth time D.C. has gone scoreless. Entering Friday’s league schedule, Rooney stood tied for fourth in goals (11). He also has a team-best seven assists.
Through a team spokesman, Rooney declined an interview request Friday.
“It’s great to have him back, someone who can change a game at any moment,” midfielder Russell Canouse said. “It’s a long season, from the time we arrive for preseason in January. Definitely a grind, but we’ve come out of it and guys are excited for the last stretch.”
With the season at the two-thirds mark, United (9-6-8, 35 points) is four points behind first-place Philadelphia and six points clear of the playoff threshold in a congested conference race for seven postseason slots.
Saturday marks the end of three consecutive league matches on the road, a stretch interrupted by an 8-1 embarrassment against Olympique Marseille in which Olsen rested his usual starters and used several second-division players.
With everyone available Saturday, he will have to decide whether to retain a five-defender formation (which would relegate a regular attacker to the bench) or return to the four-back, five-midfield lineup.
“We’ve been working on it, and we’ve been growing into it,” Olsen said of the five-defender set. “We potentially will go that way or potentially, because we’re at full strength, go another way. We’ll figure it out on the plane” to Chicago.
Notes: Audi Field officials are weighing whether to replace the grass next week or let it improve on its own after a summer of heavy use (D.C. United and Loudoun United matches, some practices and a lacrosse event) and extreme heat.
Loudoun, which will move into a new stadium in Leesburg on Aug. 9, will play at Audi on Sunday, and D.C. will host Philadelphia on Aug. 3.
D.C. United at Chicago Fire
Where: SeatGeek Stadium, Bridgeview, Ill.
Live steams: FloFC and ESPN+. Both are subscriptions services. ESPN+ is subject to local blackout.
Records: United 9-6-8, 35 points; Fire 5-10-8, 23 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Leonardo Jara, Donovan Pines, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; MF Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta; F Wayne Rooney.
Chicago probable starters: GK Kenneth Kronholm; Ds Johan Kappelhof, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Francisco Calvo; MF Przemyslaw Frankowski, Brandt Bronico, Djordje Mihailovic, Fabian Herbers, Grant Lillard; Fs CJ Sapong, Nemanja Nikolic.