Rooney announced his decision to leave during his postgame press conference after D.C. defeated NYCFC 2-0 in its regular-season finale Saturday night. United (10-14-10, 40 points) mathematically fell out of playoff contention when CF Montreal defeated the Portland Timbers 4-1. The former English international said reaching the postseason was “our goal.”
“That was our ambition, and we haven’t managed to do that,” Rooney said. “And for me, my position is that I will be leaving the club.”
When asked what led to his decision, Rooney said it was the right time after trying everything he could to get D.C. back in the playoffs. He also wanted to avoid dwelling on the decision, immediately giving United a jump start in finding a new coach. He told the players of his decision in the locker room after United’s victory and said he is grateful for the opportunity to coach the club.
“It just feels the right time for me to go back to England and … see my family,” he said about his immediate future, adding that he didn’t have anything outside of coaching D.C. “I’ve seen a lot of reports in the media. I’m going back with nothing lined up.”
CEO and co-chairman Jason Levien said in a statement that Rooney’s departure allows D.C. to give its next general manager the opportunity to identify a new head coach for the team going forward. United has been without a general manager since dismissing Lucy Rushton last year.
“We are grateful to Wayne Rooney for all he has done for our club and for soccer in the Nation’s Capital, first as a D.C. United player and captain and most recently as our coach,” Levien said. “He remains an important part of the D.C. United family and a valued and cherished friend.”
Rooney, who played for United in 2018-2019, returned as its head coach midway through the 2022 season. He signed a one-and-a-half-year deal with an option for a third season if both sides agreed. According to a Washington Post report in September, Rooney proposed extending his contract. However, club officials elected not to respond, choosing to wait and see if United returned to the postseason and the hiring of a new general manager.
Rumors of a potential departure intensified following multiple reports that he was in line to become the manager for English Championship side Birmingham City. During Saturday’s press conference, Rooney said he turned down a job in England last month to focus on D.C.’s playoff ambitions but did not name the club.
United entered the 2023 season with an overhauled roster, with Rooney stating the main objective was entering playoffs. D.C., known as a thrifty club, filled up all its three designated player roster slots — players that don’t count against the salary cap — and spent more on its roster construction than in years prior.
However, United struggled with injuries and finding constancy with its results. It only compiled one winning streak (four games in all competitions) in April and finished the season winning only two of its last eight matches.
When asked if he received enough support to add more players to the roster, Rooney said as a head coach, you always want more, but he’s grateful for all the additions made to improve the team.
“Sometimes, you don’t always get what you want,” he said. “The players we got in are good players, and we all fought right until the end.”
Midfielder Chris Durkin — who played with Rooney during his first stint in D.C. a player — told WTOP that he developed a relationship with his coach, who instilled trust in him. He appreciated the Englishman, and his departure was “disappointing.”
“I’m really grateful for everything that he’s done for me and my career,” Durkin said. “We obviously all wish him the best wherever he goes now.”
Rooney said he’s returning to England without a job lined up and may look at opportunities that come up. He returned to D.C. for only his second head coaching job after a two-year term as manager of Derby County in England’s second division.
In his time with D.C. as coach, Rooney said he learned “quite a lot” about game tactics and strategies as well as how to manage off-the-field situations, such as travel and training in the heat.
“It’s my second time here…this time as a coach, and I’ve enjoyed it, Rooney said. “Ups, downs, as you get, but I feel the time was right for me to move on, refocus myself, and be ready for opportunities, which hopefully may come up in the future.”
He praised the organization and his staff and wished them all the best during his final comments before closing the press conference.
“D.C. United’s got a huge place in my heart,” Rooney said. “If I didn’t feel like I could help the club in any way, I would not have come back here…It’s a sad time, but it’s a time that feels right.”
Meanwhile, D.C. enters its second offseason in four years looking for a new head coach. Midfielder Russell Canouse, who has experienced three coaching changes since arriving in 2017, said the key for players will be learning the new manager’s new philosophies and strategies quickly before the new season starts.
“It’s never easy,” Canouse said. “The stability part of having a coach and building is important. We haven’t had that. But we took a step forward this year that, as a team and collectively, we can hopefully build on going into next year.”
WTOP’s Ivy Lyons contributed to this report.