MIAMI GARDENS, Florida (AP) — Struggling up front for England, Wayne Rooney is set to be shunted to the left wing as coach Roy Hodgson experiments ahead of the World Cup in the team's penultimate warm-up game.
If Rooney is as unimpressive against Ecuador in Miami Gardens on Wednesday, as he was in Friday's 3-0 victory over Peru at Wembley Stadium, there will be growing reservations about Rooney's right to start in Brazil. The Manchester United striker has now gone four matches without scoring for England, although he was returning from a month out with a groin injury against Peru.
Now is Rooney's chance to show his versatility, even if it is out on the left flank where he complained previously he can't express himself as much, with Rickie Lambert in line to lead the attack.
"He can do that (role), absolutely," Hodgson said Tuesday at the Sun Life Stadium where England plays Ecuador. "I think Wayne's a very useful player in the sense you don't have to pin him down and say this is the only position he can play.
"He can play center forward, behind the center forward and wide. If he's done all of those things at the very top level for Manchester United, there is no reason why I can't use him in those positions as well."
Hodgson is growing increasingly exacerbated about the level of scrutiny Rooney is under. It's little surprise though when Rooney, who can be so explosive for Manchester United where he earns more than $400,000 a week, too often disappoints on international duty. Particularly at World Cups where Rooney failed to score at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
"You decide the epithets," Hodgson said in a tetchy exchange with reporters. "You make him exceptional or, after the last game I understand, quite a few people made him less than exceptional. They criticized his performance. That's your decision ... I'm not saying if he's exceptional or not. I have picked him because he is a very good player."
Needing to prove his sharpness, Rooney is set to be the only player retained from the Peru game when England was far from convincing against a team that didn't qualify for the World Cup.
"We think that he's recovering his match fitness," Hodgson said. "We think that starting a game will be to his advantage to play a part tomorrow, and we'll see how long he plays and that will be based on how we think his fitness is progressing."
In front of a likely crowd of 20,000 at the home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, Frank Lampard will take over the captain's armband from Steven Gerrard as the Liverpool midfielder is rested from the starting lineup.
Jack Wilshere, who recently returned after breaking his right foot, is set to start alongside Lampard in midfield. Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are also in line to play.
The team features back-up goalkeeper Ben Foster with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones likely to be in central defense, Luke Shaw earning his second cap at left back and midfielder James Milner being tested at right back as cover for Glen Johnson.
"He's got the qualities to play there," Hodgson said of Manchester City's Milner. "There may be moments in the World Cup where we'd like to use him there. This will give him some experience."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris