WASHINGTON - When the 2020 MLS season kicks off the roster of D.C. United could look drastically different than what fans have experienced over the past two seasons.
First, there's the obvious: Wayne Rooney is leaving the club at the end of the season. The English striker is headed back home as a player/coach at Derby County, a second division team.
Then there's the not so obvious, rather curious case, with the uncertain future of fellow forward Luciano Acosta. At the end of the season, the United star's contract is expiring. Signs aren't pointing to him coming back to the club. For months the team has been open to transferring the Argentine, almost successfully pulling it off, and then also benching him for three straight matches.
Whether United retains Acosta or not, the top attacking line will have a distinctive change with the notable absence of Rooney.
Fans, though, are neither too surprised nor upset about potentially losing the two best goal scorers on the club - one of them among the most prolific scorers in the game's history.
If anything, fans are bummed, but realistic about the imminent departures and, in Rooney's case, happy to have watched him over the past two seasons.
"The best things in life don't last forever. So it was just only a matter of time," United supporter Tim Christofield said on Rooney's decision to return to England.
"[Rooney]'s a family man," United supporter Marcelo Zunavua. "[Wayne] came here and lifted up D.C. in a brand new stadium, and I thank [him] for that and I appreciate it. I don't think anyone expected for [him] to be here 10 years. That's just delusional. A year? Two years? Awesome."
Rooney's announcement to leave D.C. came in the midst of his first full season in the MLS. Despite the new opportunity, Rooney will fulfill the remainder of this season with United. His tenure in the United States professional circuit will only be a year and a half of the original three-and-a-half-year contract.
But fans will not forget the electricity he brought to the team in his first year with the club. He helped open up the new Audi Field and carried the team to a playoff spot after sitting in the basement of the MLS Standings. In his 20 games with the club he scored 12 goals, which led the team for the whole season, and recorded seven assists.
"Last year was really exciting. As soon as he showed up it injected major, new energy into – not just the new stadium, but the fanbase and the international [fanbase]," Southwest D.C. resident Connolly Keigher said.
Rooney's first month in MLS, at age 32, was like a chapter out of a novel: Too good to be true. Nearly each week United leapfrogged an opponent in the standings. They couldn't lose, especially in their fresh home confines, and before they knew it they were hosting a playoff game.
The fan attachment was immediate. Rooney D.C. United jerseys littered Audi Field and he had the fourth-highest jersey sales of all of MLS for a half year. But fans are still okay watching him go.
"It makes sense that he wants to go back home and kind of build a bigger longer path out there as a coach," Keigher said.
For four-year player Acosta, he is on the opposite side of his career. Fans are not only excited for the 25-year-old's future, but some are also encouraged to see him go elsewhere and be successful.
"Acosta is a great player. He deserves to be somewhere else. [MLS] is not there yet," Zunavua said. "I think MLS and D.C. United was like a first chapter, not what's going on for the second chapter. No hate, no nothing."
At the same time, if the fans do not have to say goodbye to Acosta, most don't want to. During his tenure with United, he was a fixture of the club. Aside from Bill Hamid, he was arguably one of the faces of the team. When Rooney came in the middle of 2018 it greatly affected his game. Acosta saw the highest offensive output of his career with 10 goals and 17 assists.
Just where things have fallen lately, and Acosta starting matches on the sidelines, supporters do not see a scenario where he returns at the end of the year.
"With Rooney, it's one thing. I think that was definitely a very temporary thing. With Acosta, I think it would behoove [D.C. United] to kind of accentuated him a little bit more and give him a little more playing time," Christofield said. "It's disappointing that he's been such a staple for so long and now he's just sitting watching everybody else play… I'd love for him to stay, you know he's awesome. I don't think it's gonna happen."
Soon United fans are going to have to say farewell to Rooney for good - and potentially Acosta at the same time. Unlike most final acts, where the players had all the power to return to the team, it will end with at least end with happy memories from those in the supporter's section.
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