Wayne Rooney looks to get the better of former Manchester United teammate Nani once more Wednesday night when D.C. United host Orlando City SC.
Rooney and Nani were teammates on the storied Premier League side from 2007-15, leading Manchester United to four domestic titles and the 2008 Champions League title. The 33-year-old Rooney has made a quick adjustment to life in the MLS since his arrival last year, totaling 20 goals in 35 league matches and another two in U.S. Open Cup play this term.
Nani has made an instant impact since joining Orlando City (5-3-7) in February, leading the Lions with eight goals and four assists in 13 matches. Both players were named to the MLS All-Star side that will face La Liga side Atletico Madrid as their respective teams’ lone representative.
Rooney scored the match-winner in the first meeting between the sides in Orlando on March 31, bending a free kick inside the right post from near the left corner flag on the half-hour that gave United a 2-0 lead in their eventual 2-1 victory. He also assisted on Steve Birnbaum’s sixth-minute goal, taking the free kick Birnbaum headed past Lions keeper Brian Rowe.
During the Gold Cup recess, the former England international did all he could to drag the Black-and-Red into the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Rooney rallied D.C. (7-6-4) past Philadelphia in extra time with a 120th-minute penalty in the fourth round, and then opened the scoring on 32 minutes versus New York City FC last Wednesday, but it was not enough as NYCFC responded with two goals before halftime and held out for a 2-1 victory.
“You always want to be in the competition and you want to try and win this tournament so it always feels better when you these competitions and fighting for everything so it’s a disappointing result,” Rooney said post-match, “and we are all hurt but we have the game next week against Orlando and we have to win and its clear to us that we have to win.”
D.C. United will be without winger Paul Arriola, who is playing for the U.S. at the Gold Cup.
Nani played in one of Orlando City’s two U.S. Open Cup matches during the Gold Cup recess, appearing as a substitute in the 65th minute of last Wednesday night’s 2-1 victory after extra time versus New England. The Lions received goals from Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele in the first 15-minute extra period before surviving a late Revs push to reach the quarterfinals for the third time in club history.
“Obviously very pleased to get through (to the quarterfinals),” coach James O’Connor told ProSoccer USA. “I thought it was a very tough game, as we knew it would be. Credit to New England. I thought they put up a great fight and I thought it was a very difficult game for both teams. Back and forth. But I thought the heart and the commitment that the players showed was outstanding.”
The Lions are seeking their first overall four-match winning streak since reeling off six straight victories from March 31-May 6, 2018. D.C. United holds a slim 5-2-4 lead in the all-time series and is unbeaten in the last four matches (2-2-0).
(Nani/Wayne Rooney photo courtesy Orlando City SC official Twitter account)