Facing off in the warm weather of Central Florida, an ocean away from the perennially rainy confines of Old Trafford where they teamed up for seven seasons, Wayne Rooney and Nani faced off as club opponents for the first time and it was Rooney who left Orlando with a victory.
The former Manchester United teammates showed their quality, but it was Rooney who had the bigger impact on the proceedings at Orlando City Stadium, setting up D.C. United's opening goal before scoring his own wonder goal to secure a 2-1 win, his team's first road victory in almost a year.
Rooney's D.C. United has picked up where it left off in 2018, a season that saw the Eastern Conference side go from last place to title contender after Rooney arrived. Sunday's victory improved D.C. United to 3-0-1, good for first place in the Eastern Conference.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 31, 2019
Nani's arrival in MLS hasn't gone quite as smoothly. Orlando City has managed just one win in five matches, but the team's struggles aren't exactly a surprise considering the Lions had the second-worst record in MLS a year ago and count Nani as the only high-profile addition made during the winter.
Nani is in a bit of an unfamiliar role with Orlando City, as the team's most high-profile player. Throughout his career he has been able to play alongside bigger names and serve as an effective second or third option. In Orlando, Nani has stepped into the void left by the departure of Kaka, and while he has already shown that he has the quality to be an elite MLS player, he will be hard-pressed to turn Orlando City into a contender if the team doesn't bring in any other high-profile reinforcements.
Rooney finds himself in a much better situation with D.C. United. As much as Rooney received the bulk of the credit for his team's transformation last year, D.C. United's turnaround was the product of several additions to the team, including the return from Europe of goalkeeper Bill Hamid and return from injury of defensive midfielder Russell Canouse. D.C. United's front office also made some calculated financial investments to bolster the roster after opening the team's new stadium, Audi Field, and the result is a team with the depth and quality to be a serious contender and not just a one-man show.
D.C. United is much more than Rooney, and that reality has allowed Rooney to have the freedom to thrive with support around him from players such as Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, who have made it tough for teams to just zero in on the Englishs tar. As a result, Rooney is enjoying the same stellar form he showed in MLS last year, when he compiled 12 goals and 7 assists in 20 regular season matches. After his excellent performance on Sunday, Rooney is sitting on 4 goals and 3 assists through four matches, statistics topped only by Los Angeles FC's Carlos Vela through the first month of the MLS season.
Rooney and D.C. United will face Vela and LAFC next week at Audi Field in a showdown of two of the league's best teams in a match that could be called an early MLS Cup final preview.
As for Nani, he and Orlando City will try to build on the good effort they turned in on Sunday, and look to regroup by playing host to a beatable Colorado Rapids side at home next week. It is the kind of match the Lions need to win if they are going to have any hope of seeing the 2019 season end with the playoff berth that has eluded the club since it arrived in MLS five years ago.