It wasn't the ending that Wayne Rooney and D.C. United would have hoped for, but, given everything we saw throughout the MLS season, it was perhaps the ending that the two sides seemed destined to get.
A season of inconsistency ended with a relative whimper on Saturday night as D.C. United fell 5-1 to Toronto FC in Toronto, ending their campaign with a second consecutive first-round postseason exit. With that, the Rooney era is now officially over as the former Manchester United star will swap the nation's capital for a new player-coach role with Derby County in the Championship.
It was a frustrating end to a period that started so brightly when Rooney first arrived in MLS a year-and-a-half ago. Rooney's signing was the catalyst for a resurgent D.C. United, a historic club that had fallen on hard times as powerhouses formed and reformed all over MLS. It wasn't just Rooney that revitalised a struggling club, as the opening of Audi Field also deserves some credit, but, with the signing of the England legend, D.C. finally felt relevant again.
But, as it turns out, relevance wasn't enough for D.C. United to take the leap that many expected them to make this campaign. Rooney had his moments, although none outshone his now historic tackle and cross against Orlando City last campaign. The team as a whole showed well enough, headlined by Bill Hamid's resurgence and ensuing Goalkeeper of the Year nomination. But, by and large, D.C. struggled to build on that moment of magic, and Rooney himself struggled to provide it.
At no point was that more evident than on Saturday, a night where D.C. looked flat and lethargic for large portions of a do-or-die playoff match. Rooney was largely anonymous for the bulk of the match, struggling to get into the game and provide any sort of life for his side.
But Rooney did rebound, helping force extra time in a match where D.C. United hardly deserved it. It was Rooney's corner kick that paved the way for Lucas Rodriguez's shocking stoppage-time equaliser. But, in extra time, the pendulum swung right back in emphatic fashion as Toronto blitzed D.C. for four goals in the first 15 minutes of extra time. Season over and an opportunity wasted.
And, in some ways, it feels as if that the past few months have been wasted by D.C. United. Immediately after his announcement that he would join Derby County in August, D.C. went on a three-game losing streak and, although they dug themselves out in the final weeks, it was that period that partially doomed them to this road playoff match. Saturday's match was Rooney's sixth since making that announcement, as he'd missed four other matches due to suspension, illness and fitness. In those six matches, he provided just two assists and zero goals.
His MLS legacy? It'll be just fine. Rooney was a fantastic ambassador for the league and, but all accounts, assimilated very well to the D.C. United locker room. In America, Rooney was given the chance to be an every-man and just enjoy the game in a way he never had. From his first moments at Everton, he'd always been Rooney the superstar. In MLS, he was Rooney the player.
With his side on the end of a four-goal barrage in the first half of stoppage time, Rooney quietly made his exit in between halves, replaced by defender Leonardo Jara. There was no fanfare. There wasn't much of a reception at all. Suspended for D.C. United's final home game, Rooney was never truly given a proper goodbye from MLS as he now packs his bags and heads back home.
It wasn't the ending he deserved, but it was the ending he got.