Rooney was all over the place during 45 minutes of starting service in a 3-0 defeat at rainy Exploria Stadium. He was a freelance playmaker who launched attacks from a variety of spots and delivered some succulent passes.
“It’s a role I’ve played many times [in England] and one I am capable of playing,” he said. “There is a bit more space to get on the ball and then use my experience and try to pick the right times to make good passes forward or try to keep the ball. We created some good opportunities.”
Rooney had MLS’s best opportunity in the first half, a 30-yard screamer that streaked over the crossbar. Joining him in the starting lineup were 6-foot-5 striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela (22 goals). In the 30th minute, 2018 MVP Josef Martinez replaced Ibrahimovic.
It’s not unusual, when United is sputtering, to see Rooney retreat into midfield to trigger the attack. D.C., though, has a natural playmaker, Luciano Acosta, whose contract expires this year. For now, United needs Rooney up top, where he is sure to be Sunday, when first-place Philadelphia visits Audi Field.
Rooney said he enjoyed these two days of festivities; a day earlier, he was one of three MLS all-stars to compete in the skills challenge.
As for the 15th annual match between an MLS select squad and a visiting club, Atletico went ahead in the 43rd minute.
With his back to the goal, Rodrigo Riquelme, a 19-year-old from the club’s B squad, pushed along Hector Herrrera’s delivery with a no-look, one-touch heel pass into the path of surging Marcos Llorente for a one-timer off substitute goalkeeper Andre Blake’s arm.
In the 85th minute, 19-year-old Joao Felix, whose $139 million acquisition from Benfica this summer was the third highest in soccer history, scored from 25 yards on a swerving shot that bent away from goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
Diego Costa added a goal in the final seconds of stoppage time.
Labor issues: As the MLS board of governors gathered Wednesday for its regular meeting, the players’ union was one floor below at the same conference center conducting a media briefing to lay out its case ahead of labor negotiations.
The collective bargaining agreement will expire Jan. 31, and if past boardroom tussles are any indication the sides will not reach a deal until 2020 training camps — or the season itself — are slated to open.
Aside from salaries and greater free agency, the MLS Players Association made clear that transportation will be a key issue. Namely, the players are seeking charters for most, if not all, away matches, bringing MLS in line with other pro sports leagues and many college programs.
As it stands, to control costs, MLS teams almost always fly commercial, an arrangement that, besides comfort issues, has led to delays, cancellations and travel on the day of matches. That, in turn, affects performance.
“These are not luxury planes where guys are going to be getting massages on king-size beds,” said Bob Foose, the MLSPA’s executive director. “This is about how efficiently we move athletes across abnormally large distances in the middle of a very congested calendar. It doesn’t work the way we are doing it now.”
Flying commercial, the union contends, is more time-consuming than flying charter and affects preparations and recovery.
Flying charter is more expensive. “We understand that and don’t take that lightly in any way,” Foose said, “but this is a fundamental building block if you are going to try to be a world-class league.”
In response, Commissioner Don Garber said, “I would love to be in a situation where our players can travel charter to every game. But it’s all about how we allocate our resources and where do we and our players prioritize our available spending because it’s not an unlimited pool of money.”
Expansion update: St. Louis is the leading candidate to land MLS’s 28th team for the 2022 season. “We are in very advanced talks,” Garber said. Sacramento seems next on the list.
The league currently has 24 teams. Miami and Austin will begin next year and Nashville in 2021. Other prospective markets are Charlotte, Raleigh, N.C., Phoenix, Indianapolis, San Diego and Las Vegas. The announced target is 30 teams.
MLS early start: The 2020 season will begin in late February, about two weeks earlier than this year, Foose said. MLS shortened the regular season by three weeks this year, a move criticized for creating an offseason too long by international standards.
USWNT hire: Kate Markgraf, a former World Cup defender and current ESPN commentator, is expected to become general manager of the U.S. women’s national team, multiple people close to the situation said. She would lead the effort to hire a new head coach following Jill Ellis’s departure in October.