D.C. faces Salt Lake as it awaits Rooney

D.C. United has not seen much action on the pitch recently, but the team made headlines off it this week.

London’s Daily Mail reported Wednesday that English star Wayne Rooney told Everton, his Premier League club, that he was ready to sign with D.C. United. The BBC reported Thursday that Rooney had “an agreement in principle” to head to the nation’s capital and play through the 2020 season. However, according to The Washington Post, a source said the deal is not done, calling it “50-50” that Rooney will join the team.

Meanwhile, United returns to the pitch Saturday at Real Salt Lake, only the team’s third game since March 31.

The scheduling quirk came about when D.C. United agreed to move its April 7 match with Toronto FC, effectively giving D.C. two April bye weeks.

Coaches scrambled to find ways to keep the team game-ready.

“We tried to mimic the rhythm of a week-to-week schedule,” coach Ben Olsen told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “On a Thursday or Friday, late in the week, we’ve played Richmond (of the United Soccer League), we played (the University of) Maryland, we’ve had matches against ourselves, making sure we were mimicking the weekly rhythm.”

D.C. United (1-4-2) needs to improve on something at which Rooney, whose 208 Premier League goals are the second most in history, has always been adept: finding the back of the net.

United, with only eight goals scored in 2018, lead only Seattle (seven) and Philadelphia (six).

Real Salt Lake (3-5-1) might provide just the tonic for D.C.’s struggling offense.

Real has allowed 19 goals this season, the second-worst total in Major League Soccer.

In 3-1 loss on Sunday in Orlando, Salt Lake surrendered three goals in the game’s final half hour, including two in a four-minute span.

“Up until 65, 70 minutes,” RSL coach Mike Petke said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune, “I thought we were walking out of here with points, whether it’s one or three.”

After a 3-1 loss to Toronto FC at the end of March, Petke began having different players lead warmups every day to inspire leadership.

“Certain players are looked at by other players as leaders, and they have to start acting a little more like it,” Petke told the Tribune, “expressing their opinions, getting the guys going a bit.”

RSL followed the loss in Toronto with a 2-1 home victory over Vancouver, but Salt Lake has lost three of four since.

RSL has been outscored 12-2 in its past four road games, but playing in Salt Lake City has been a different story.

Since being blown out 5-1 by Los Angeles FC in its home opener, Real has won three straight at Rio Tinto Stadium while outscoring the visitors 6-1.