Training Ground Insider: ATL UTD ready for Rooney

Saturday will mark the 5th meeting between Atlanta United and D.C. United, so the clubs are well accustomed to each other at this point, but this matchup will have a key piece that wasn’t present in the previous four: England’s all-time leading goal scorer, Wayne Rooney – D.C.’s latest Designated Player signing.

“Any institution, when a player of Rooney’s magnitude arrives, it produces a positive impact for the club,” said Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino, “and it looks like from the last 30 minutes or so that I saw of his game against Vancouver that he’s arrived in pretty good form. So even though I think Mattocks has been an important player for them in their attack so far this season, I think Rooney gives them even more experience and more talent especially in the finishing aspect of their attack.”

Formerly of Manchester United, Everton and the English National Team, Wayne Rooney is one of the game’s most prolific scorers and the goalkeeper he will be attempting to bypass this weekend has some experience facing the striker. Atlanta’s man in net Brad Guzan spent time in the English Premier League with Aston Villa, so while it’ll be a first-time matchup with him for most on the field, it’s a familiar foe for the goalkeeper.

“His mobility is obviously something he’s been able to make a fantastic career out of in terms of his runs off the ball, players around him being able to pick a pass, find him and ultimately put the ball in the back of the net,” said Guzan. “I think as he’s gotten a little bit older, he’s now maybe changed his role a little bit in terms of being on the ball more himself being able to pick a pass and find other guys that are making runs.”

“He obviously brings a bit of a confidence factor for them in terms of again what he brings to their team in terms of his quality,” added Guzan, “so we know that it’s not going to be an easy game. We know that. We know their attacking players like to go forward. They have free range to cover as much ground as they can all over the pitch. I think he’s going to give them something more that’s for sure.”

As Rooney drops into the midfield and occupies space in the center of the park, one of the men most likely responsible for marking him will be reigning MLS Rookie of the Year Julian Gressel.

“He gives them a totally different look,” said the second-year midfielder. “He’s a guy that has also experience to play underneath, not as a number nine, so he’s a guy that wants to be on the ball, can distribute the ball drop in in the midfield, release the guys on the outside, switch the points of attack, and all those kind of things and obviously he’s a clinical finisher as well when he’s in that number nine spot…[He] brings a lot more quality to their team and to their front group, so we’ll definitely have to be aware of that and obviously now with him being there it might even free up some of the guys underneath him, so the front four with him, it’s a dangerous group going forward.”

At 32, Rooney may not be as quick as he once was, but his soccer IQ is only improving with experience. He can do just as much damage on the ball than he can off of it, so it will be key for Atlanta to be wary of his whereabouts and keep the ball off the feet of number nine.

“We always have to have somebody in the middle of the field so it’s not easy for him to just get the ball to his feet,” said Gressel. “It’s a guy that can also make the game even from a number nine spot in terms of dropping in, so we’ll always have to have an eye on him where he goes, if that’s the responsibility of the center backs of me and Jeff or whoever wherever he roams, we’ll always have to have an eye on him, he’s a quality player.”

Saturday will be a new test for the Five Stripes and it’s likely they will see more than the 30 minutes of Rooney that Vancouver had to deal with last weekend. So make sure you’re there for Eastern Conference clash of the United’s by securing your seat here. If you can’t make it, be sure to tune in for the 3:30pm kickoff on Univision or Twitter, and for all the other ways to follow the match, click here.