Wayne Rooney has his sights set on postseason glory as D.C. United launch their MLS Cup campaign on Thursday with a home tie against Columbus Crew.
Former Manchester United and England star Rooney has been the catalyst for a stunning transformation in United’s fortunes this season.
He is leading them from the bottom of the Eastern Conference in July to playoff contenders in October.
United arrive in the playoffs brimming with confidence after a 10-game unbeaten streak, with the Washington club sealing fourth place conference standings on Sunday with a 0-0 draw against Chicago.
A victory over Columbus at Audi Field on Thursday would see Rooney and United into a conference semi-final against either the New York Red Bulls or Atlanta United.
While United finished 20 points adrift of the first place Red Bulls in the final regular season standings, there is little doubt that Rooney and his teammates are genuine contenders in the postseason.
Columbus manager Gregg Berhalter, who is tipped to take over as coach of the United States national team after this season, expects Rooney and strike partner Luciano Acosta to cause problems for his defence.
“Rooney’s overall quality, his timing of his movements is excellent, his passing is excellent, his finishing and shooting is really good,” Berhalter said.
“Acosta has taken his game to a different level with the addition of Wayne Rooney — very dynamic, very good off the dribble. Overall, a really good player.”
– ‘One of the best’ –
Former Boca Juniors and Estudiantes forward Acosta says Rooney has transformed his season. Since Rooney arrived at the club, Acosta has netted nine goals with 10 assists in 20 games.
“He’s one of the best,” Acosta told the Washington Post. “He does everything so well and makes it look easy on the field. It wasn’t hard for me to complement him. You learn his movements and learn how he plays, where he wants the ball and where he is going to serve the ball. For me, it was not difficult to learn.”
In the other first round playoff game in the East, New York City FC will be looking to reach the conference semi-finals for a third straight season when they face Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.
The playoff game is a repeat of Sunday’s final regular season game, which was won 3-1 by New York.
City head into the game with uncertainty swirling around striker David Villa.
The former Spain and Barcelona star has refused to confirm his future plans with the club, where he has scored 77 regular season goals.
City goalkeeper Sean Johnson said the team is determined to improve on their playoff record after reaching the Conference semi-finals in 2016 and 2017.
“This postseason is extremely important for us to really achieve something,” Johnson said. “I say that lifting a Cup is the only thing that’s going to be satisfying for us.”
In the Western Conference meanwhile, Los Angeles FC host Real Salt Lake as they aim to cap a successful maiden season in MLS with a deep playoff run on Thursday.
On Wednesday, FC Dallas host Portland Timbers.