2 Manchester United stars with 2 points to make in MLS
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined Manchester United for the 2016/17 season, he expressed willingness to form a strike partnership with Wayne Rooney.
I said many years ago the perfect partner for a striker is Wayne Rooney. He works not only for himself but for the striker and the whole team. I'm absolutely happy to be one of the guys beside him.
Occasional signs indicated the pairing could work but Rooney wasn't at Zlatan’s fitness level. The Englishman toyed with dropping into midfield to find playing time. Jose Mourinho nixed the idea. For him, Rooney was a striker or nothing. Soon enough, an injury provided the option many fans preferred: nothing. Mourinho shelved the Scouser. Zlatan thrived on his own.
A few months later, injury struck again, this time to supporters’ regret. Due to a ruptured ligament, Ibrahimovic had to be shelved as well.
Rooney returned to contribute the goals that made him United’s all-time scorer. In summer 2017, Mourinho sent him the other way for a nominal fee after signing Romelu Lukaku from Everton.
The following November, Ibra returned earlier than anticipated. In December, he scored the lone United goal in an EFL Cup quarterfinal defeat to Bristol City. He also aggravated his injured knee and went back into recovery before signing for LA Galaxy.
While the Swede healed, Rooney led Everton in scoring with a meagre 10 goals. After a prolonged negotiation this summer, he signed with DC United.
Both players enjoyed success and accolades aplenty in their European careers. Zlatan’s clubs almost always won their league. Rooney couldn’t help winning his fair share at United. In the US, both found themselves tied to struggling franchises.
Despite his title mojo and a strong supporting cast including Chelsea left-back-slash-gunsmith, Ashley Cole, Ibra grew frustrated in Los Angeles. While he pumped in 20 goals and assisted on another half-dozen in just over 1800 minutes, the Galaxy’s defence was as effective as a Gordon Brown government. During the recent stretch leading to manager Sigi Schmid’s termination, the five-time MLS Cup winners surrendered five goals twice and six once in a four-game stretch. Zlatan supplying a goal every 72 minutes meant nothing in that environment.
In his fourth game in Washington, Rooney donned DC United’s armband, arguably leading the club to greater effect than he did either United or England. His seven goals and six assists in just under 1200 minutes equate to a goal every 92 minutes, a slower rate than Ibra's, but he’s been the more mobile player of the erstwhile partners stateside. His lung-busting run to prevent certain defeat then turn it into victory at the death is the stuff of legend even if it happened in the game’s backwoods.
Caretaker boss Dominic Kinnear patched the holes in the Galaxy defence. They’ve kept clean sheets in their past two matches. The attack wasn’t sacrificed, with three goals coming in each. Ibra provided half the total and created another. His brace and the assist on Sunday against Vancouver Whitecaps involved him in all the day's scoring at the StubHub Center. More importantly, victory moved the Galaxy to within two points of a playoff spot with three games remaining.
Sunday was just as busy for Rooney. DCU hosted Montreal Impact, who occupy the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, and took them out to the proverbial woodshed. The captain matched Ibra’s brace in a 5-0 flogging. His Black and Red also moved within two points of the playoffs. All the better, they have five games remaining, at least two more than every team above them.
The Galaxy don’t face Seattle Sounders or Real Salt Lake, the two franchises within three points’ reach in their closing games. Even if they win out, they need help to move up the table. Other teams must take points from their rivals for them. DC United’s games in hand place their playoff destiny firmly within their grasp.
That said, the Western Conference is an open frontier for the Galaxy if they can find their way into the post-season. They possess the talent and a title-winning boss who can battle through the field as underdogs to reach the MLS Cup. The Eastern Conference is a different story. Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls are the class of the league this season. Rooney and DC must likely defeat both in two-legged ties to meet the Galaxy in the title match. It’s a tall order and it’s Ibra, not Wazza, who stands 6’5”.
Regardless, an interesting subplot's developing in the MLS title race. Two Manchester United legends, each with two points to make, are in the hunt. What a way to spend your retirement.