D.C. United finally opens the stadium it has been trying to build for nearly two decades when it hosts the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at the opening game at Audi Field.
Perhaps even that bit of history will be overshadowed by the likelihood of Wayne Rooney’s MLS debut.
England’s all-time leading international goal scorer will be eligible to play for the first time since he completed his move from Everton of the Premier League to D.C. United (2-7-5, 11 points) late last month.
Rooney, a five-time Premier League champion with Manchester United, will have only two weeks of training under his belt after the English offseason, and is probably more likely to play as a substitute than a starter.
But while he was at times featured in more of a midfield role over the last year in his return to his boyhood club Everton, D.C. coach Ben Olsen views the 32-year-old as more of a pure attacking threat at the MLS level.
“We want him to score goals,” said Olsen, whose team begins the weekend in last place in the Eastern Conference despite scoring 23 goals in 14 games. “Our attack has been pretty good, but you can always bolster that aspect.
“And I think he’s going to be a great influence to the 22- and 23-year-olds that are all across the field, to give them some knowledge and also bring a little swagger to them.”
D.C.’s stadium opener comes after playing 12 of its first 14 league matches on the road, including its last eight. United will play 15 of its final 20 at Audi Field. The club starts the weekend 13 points off the playoff pace, but it has played three to six fewer games than each of the six teams that hold playoff positions.
Meanwhile, Vancouver (7-7-5, 26 points) sits just inside the playoff line in the Western Conference, grasping the sixth spot by a point after last weekend’s 3-2 home victory over the Chicago Fire.
The Whitecaps hold that spot in part because of their ability to win on the road, having done so three times in their nine away trips entering Saturday. However, they’ve conceded at least four goals in three of their five away defeats, including a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia in their last road match.
Despite that, coach Carl Robinson believes his team has a good chance of spoiling D.C.’s big occasion.
“Obviously, we know Wayne Rooney is in town,” Robinson said. “It’s obviously a big deal. There will be lots of euphoria around that. We’ll go there and we’ll try and concentrate on what we’re good at. We’ve done it well at certain times away from home. We’ve done it really badly at certain times away from home. But we’re a dangerous team away from home.”