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Rooney, Zlatan underline key role for global stars in MLS

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As much as Major League Soccer pushes towards a model of developing young talent either from North America or South America, the stunning individual displays of ageing superstars this weekend proved there is still a place for them in MLS.

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There is still a place for the wondrous, flying flick of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s heel, the audacity of Wayne Rooney’s free kick and the beauty of Carlos Vela’s curler.

All three delivered stunning, memorable moments and their moments of brilliance were viewed all over the world. People in pubs in England will have smiled at Rooney’s free kick. There will have been a nod of appreciation in Paris for Zlatan’s flick. And in Mexico Vela’s hat trick, and stunning goal, will have raised eyebrows.

In a league still growing and far from reaching its potential, the role these superstars play is sometimes underrated within American soccer circles.

As much as we like to get behind playing philosophies and building solid, sustainable teams, sport is still an entertainment business. We remember moments and veteran stars know better than most how to provide them.

Look, bringing over stars from Europe doesn’t always work. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo may be the first to tell you their time in MLS didn’t exactly go to plan.

But from Thierry Henry to David Beckham, and now Zlatan to Rooney, there is still a place for stars who scores goals and create memorable moments which will be shown across the world.

MLS, despite plenty saying otherwise, doesn’t need to lose that ability to attract superstars approaching the end of their careers. It needs to continue to embrace.

If anything, it now has a one-two punch situation. With young, exciting players coming through, MLS is now seen as a breeding ground for young talent as well as a final showground for experienced stars. Attracting Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and others to MLS should be a priority, as well as developing academies and providing minutes to homegrown talent.

As long as that continues to be the case, everyone wins. Especially MLS.

Rooney’s impossible free kick wins it for DCU in Orlando (video)

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It wasn’t the first time Wayne Rooney pulled off a nearly impossible feat since he came to MLS last summer, and it almost certainly won’t be the last time he does so either.

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League? (video) ]

Just like his first bout of jaw-dropping MLS heroism (remember this?!), Rooney’s latest miracle sealed all three point for D.C. United, in a 2-1 win away to Orlando City SC on Sunday. It was the Black and Red’s first away win since May 19, 2018, a span of 11 games stretching back to well before Rooney’s arrival.

It wasn’t the game-saving tackle/60-yard assist we’ve come to know and expect from Rooney, but it was still a free kick scored from a spot on the field that shouldn’t ever be scored.

First things first, let’s note that goalkeeper Brian Rowe never moved his feet until it was too late, and he makes the easy catch if he gets a better any read on the ball whatsoever. Beyond that, we could do the typical “was he shooting or crossing?” debate, but that’s long since been played out. We could also argue over whether or not it should have been a foul, thus a free kick, in the first place, but Dom Dwyer clearly makes a wayward attempt to kick the ball, which if deemed dangerous by the referee can be whistled as a foul, per the Laws of the Game.

Instead, let’s take a second to appreciate the impact Rooney has had (14W-5D-4L) on DCU since his debut last July, and contrast that record with their record pre-Rooney (2W-5D-7L). This is what you call a superstar, and that was a “superstar call” given to Rooney by Armando Villarreal. This is how the sports world works.

[ MORE: Fate playing its part in Liverpool’s title challenge ]

Anyway, Steve Birnbaum bagged the opener after just six minutes, and though Orlando were the leading aggressors and out-shot DCU 16-4 (5-3 on target), Ben Olsen’s side found a way to hold on for dear life away from home — even after Dwyer’s goal in the 63rd (WATCH HERE) — and grind out three points.

That’s what championship-worthy teams do, and DCU are a championship-worthy team with Rooney at the helm.

MLS Preview: Rooney, D.C. United looking to keep pace atop East

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Major League Soccer closes out the month of March with a number of intriguing matchups, including a Cascadia Cup battle, a chance for FC Cincinnati to set a new MLS expansion record, and D.C. United hosting former teammate Nani and Orlando City.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In addition, six teams remain unbeaten: Los Angeles FC, the Seattle Sounders, and the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference and D.C. United, Toronto FC and New York City FC in the Eastern Conference.

Here’s a look at some of the top storylines for MLS Week 5:


Orlando City v. D.C. United — Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

Wayne Rooney and D.C. United have quietly had a strong start to the 2019 MLS season. D.C. already has wins over both Atlanta United and Real Salt Lake, two playoff teams from a year ago, and comes into this weekend’s matchup with a week to rest. In addition to the seven goals scored in three games is the fact that D.C. United hasn’t allowed a single goal yet. Meanwhile, Orlando is coming off a confidence-building win on the road at the New York Red Bulls, with Sacha Kljestan scoring and Nani making his debut. Now returning home, Orlando City is looking to record another victory and end D.C. United’s unbeaten start.


Columbus Crew v. Atlanta United — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Coming off a bye week, Atlanta United looks to secure it’s first win of the season with a trip to the Columbus Crew. It’s been a rough start to the season for Atlanta United, with struggles in both MLS and earlier in CONCACAF Champions League play. Atlanta United has missed Miguel Almiron but perhaps even bigger, it’s missed manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino. New manager Frank De Boer hasn’t yet figured out his best team, but he may get a good chance to see that against Columbus.

Caleb Porter’s side suffered a surprising 3-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union last week and starting goalkeeper Zack Steffan is recovering from an injury that kept him out of U.S. Men’s National Team camp. Perhaps it could be the first sign of cracks in a Crew side struggling for goals.

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Seattle Sounders are off to a strong start, but the Cascadia Cup can bring out the best in the underdog. Vancouver is winless, 0-3 to start the season while the Sounders are the opposite. Jordan Morris has made a successful recovery from injury while Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro look as good as ever. In Vancouver, with all its offseason changes, it is taking time for their new signings to all gel together. However, Saturday’s game could set a fun new record. Whitecaps designated player In-Beom Hwang could face Sounders midfielder Kim Kee-Hee in what would be a high-profile dual between the two South Korean stars.

Full MLS Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday

Toronto FC v. New York City FC – 8 p.m.

Saturday

Chicago Fire v. New York Red Bulls – 1 p.m.

New England Revolution v. Minnesota United – 2 p.m.

Sporting KC v. Montreal Impact – 3 p.m.

San Jose Earthquakes v. LAFC – 3:30 p.m.

FC Cincinnati v. Philadelphia Union – 7:30 p.m.

Columbus Crew v. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.

Colorado Rapids v. Houston Dynamo – 9 p.m.

Real Salt Lake v. FC Dallas – 9 p.m.

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m.

Sunday

Orlando City v. D.C. United – 6 p.m.

LA Galaxy v. Portland Timbers – 9 p.m.

Wayne Rooney hat-trick leads DC United past Real Salt Lake

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Wayne Rooney bagged the first hat-trick of his Major League Soccer career as D.C. United trounced 10-man Real Salt Lake 5-0 at Audi Field.

Rooney scored a pair in the first half and then sealed the deal in the 65th minute as he led the way to keep D.C. United unbeaten through the first three games of the season. The England international picked up his first goals of the 2019 season in emphatic fashion, exploding out of the gates in the 34th minute to break the deadlock with a fabulous dinked finish after a bad RSL turnover in the defensive third.

Rooney then doubled his tally and the lead from the spot after Damir Kreilach conceded the penalty with a foul on Lucas Rodriguez confirmed via VAR.

RSL fell down a man when Jefferson Savarino was shown a straight red card deep into first-half stoppage time for a dangerous boot that caught Luciano Acosta square in the face. They lost another when Marcelo Silva was shown a second yellow in the 67th minute.

Finally, amid thoughts of taking the 33-year-old off to manage his minutes, the hat-trick arrived as Rooney received an unselfish feed from Junior Moreno in a two-on-one situation and couldn’t miss, with a big smile on his face as he celebrated with hugs from teammates.

D.C. United has begun the season with two wins and a draw in its first three matches, tied atop the Eastern Conference alongside Columbus Crew with seven points. The defense has been the real star of the show so far, still yet to concede a goal through the 270 league minutes.

Rooney urges Man United to hire Pochettino

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer right now: “Thanks, Wayne…”

After six-straight wins in all competitions to kick off his time in charge of Manchester United, Solskjaer is being touted by many to lead the Red Devils on a permanent basis after this season is over.

His former teammate Wayne Rooney has another, very predictable, name in mind.

In an interview with ESPN, the current D.C. United forward urged his former club to make Pochettino their long-term manager.

“First of all you have to give Ole an opportunity and that’s a discussion that has to take place with the Glazers,” Rooney said. “But if I had the opportunity to appoint someone, I’d go all out for Pochettino. I think Manchester United – certainly over the last 20, 30 years, since Alex Ferguson – have based themselves on youth players, young players, bringing players through. I think [Pochettino] gets the best out of his players whether they are younger or older. You see some of the young players he has brought through at Tottenham, at Southampton that have gone on to play for the national team, so I think he ticks every box in terms of his quality as a coach, but also his willingness to give youth a chance.”

He, along with everyone else who points to Pochettino as the favorite, has a valid point.

Pochettino is the standout choice to transform United on and off the pitch long-term but if Solskjaer keeps winning, surely he will be handed the reins on a permanent basis at the end of this season?

Prying Poch from Spurs will be tough as Daniel Levy will no doubt ask for a huge fee to allow the Argentine coach to leave the north London club, but the fact that Pochettino has yet to categorically rule himself out of the United job shows that there is a chance this will happen.

Pochettino seems happy at Spurs and he believes this young group can get even better with a new stadium leading to new potential in the years to come.

But Manchester United is Manchester United. Pochettino, like any manager, is ambitious and this may be his one and only chance to manage them.

Expect plenty of United legends to come out and echo Rooney’s views between now and the end of the season. The best way for United to hire Pochettino is for Spurs to have a dramatic drop-off in the second half of the campaign and for Solskjaer to do okay without finishing in the top four.