Wayne Rooney has signed with D.C. United, and even with a World Cup going on it feels like a big story beyond our little corner of the soccer universe. When a story gets this big, even the minor details get plenty of attention. I mean, yesterday over 3,000 people watched Ryan Keefer’s streaming video of Rooney’s arrival at Dulles Airport, and...you’ve been to an airport before, right? It’s not actually thrilling, but that’s the world we’re in now. Rooney’s preferred stop for a cup of tea? That’s news now.
So when the granular details become big news, the stuff fans geek out over becomes colossal. That very much includes the shirt number Rooney is choosing. United’s newest player choosing to wear the number 9 has already been seen as clear proof that he’ll be a striker, despite having not yet even taken part in a single training session with the group. They’ll also be lining up to buy Rooney 9 jerseys, though per United, they are not allowed to actually sell said jerseys until July 10, the day the transfer becomes official with FIFA. Thanks, world governing body.
Anyway, with Rooney wearing 9, we figured it was a good idea to look at the names that have worn it before him. Here, then, is every player who has ever worn a number 9 jersey for United in official competitive play:
1996: Juan Berthy Suarez
Suarez was signed ahead of United’s inaugural season and marketed right up there with Marco Etcheverry, John Harkes, and Raul Diaz Arce on arrival. In the end, he played 2 games early in 1996 before the club smashed the reset button, cutting him loose and acquiring another striker. Look, the other #9s have been better, trust me.
1996-2002: Jaime Moreno
See? Moreno is a club icon in two different numbers, which is just a testimony to how good he was. Fans who came aboard more recently will surely remember the crafty hold-up play of the #99 version, but the old timers around here also fondly recall the flashy speedster that arrived from Middlesboro in the middle of the 1996 season.
Moreno, at 22, posted respectable numbers (3 goals, 3 assists in 9 games, plus 1/1 in 4 playoff games) on the team that won the first-ever MLS Cup. The next year, he took off, combining for 42 goals and 32 assists in the next three years (plus 9 playoff goals and 7 playoff assists) as United utterly dominated MLS’s first few years. Moreno was virtually unstoppable on the run, and his link with Etcheverry could break any defense.
Even on the awful 2000-2002 sides, Moreno was United’s best goalscorer, posting 12 goals in 2000 and 9 in 2001 before the back injury that nearly forced him into an early retirement saw him struggle in 2002.
The single-nine version of Moreno alone would have been sure to end up in the club’s Hall of Tradition, and it was a privilege to be around for those days. If Rooney can have even half of the impact that Moreno did in the 90s, this will be a good signing.
2003: Earnie Stewart
Moreno was, amid much angst, traded to the hated MetroStars after the 2002 season, and United managed to land the USMNT’s new GM as their new marquee signing. Stewart had always worn the number 8 whenever he could, but with Hristo Stoichkov (another huge name) already holding it, he took the #9 instead.
Stewart, who also had a Dulles arrival with fans showing up to take photos and get autographs, was arriving to bolster a team that was quite frankly a mess. Ray Hudson’s first season in charge had been a debacle, beloved players like Moreno and Eddie Pope had been sent to
Hell New Jersey, and everyone was deeply unhappy.
There was a lot riding on Stewart fixing a group that was a mess, and things didn’t work. Stewart gave it his all because he was always a dedicated professional, but he was a career forward/winger being asked to play various roles deeper in the midfield. Stewart spent plenty of time as a wingback in a 352, and even played a handful of games as a defensive midfielder because United’s roster was in complete disarray.
Things went better for everyone the next year, but Stewart’s one season wearing the #9 was, despite his best efforts, not a good one.
2004-2006: Freddy Adu
Adu, at 14 years old and to this day the most hyped young American player ever, signed with MLS after the 2003 season, and through some chicanery with the league office was available for United (his local club) to draft with the #1 pick. Stoichkov left, so Stewart picked up the #8, and Adu actually wanted the #11 shirt. However, Alecko Eskandarian, at the time a first overall pick coming off of a rocky rookie campaign, already had it and was unwilling to part with his favorite number.
And so, the #9 made its circuitous journey to Adu, and you might have seen “Adu 9” jerseys at RFK last season. It’s hard to understate how much this region’s casual fans took to Adu before he even did anything. Head coach Peter Nowak justifiably didn’t bow to public pressure to start Adu until mid-season, instead bringing his young phenom in off the bench as an attacking midfield boost or as a back-up to Moreno (now wearing #99).
Given that Adu was 14, his 5 goal/3 assist season is actually pretty friggin’ spectacular, but all the hype surrounding him at the time meant that his not being a starter was seen as a mess. He also added an assist in their run to winning the 2004 MLS Cup, and finished his three seasons here with 11 goals and 17 assists in 87 appearances. Again, very good for a player who was 14-16 years old at the time, but the context changed dramatically due to hype.
2007-2008: No one
This is weird. In soccer, generally numbers 1-11 are taken every time, but United went two solid years without anyone wearing the #9 jersey. United’s strikeforce of Moreno and Luciano Emilio (who wore #11) was pretty good though, so what are you going to do?
Strap yourself in, this article is about to get rocky.
2009: Ange N’Silu
A DR Congolese-born, French-raised striker who came in for a preseason trial, N’Silu was never seen as more than depth for a D.C. team that was drifting towards some sad times. N’Silu ended up making 9 appearances and posting 1 goal and 1 assist in 452 minutes. He fit the profile of a forward who lasts a season in MLS as depth before moving on.
Incidentally, per Transfermarkt, N’Silu is still playing with Lancy FC in the Swiss 4th division.
2010: Danny Allsopp
Welcome to the sad times. Danny Allsopp was offered up as an accomplished striker for Australia and Manchester City, but one Socceroos manager called him “useless” before he signed with United, and he was at Man City back when they were broke and in the English 2nd and 3rd divisions.
Few people really expected much from Allsopp, and he didn’t even clear that low bar. Allsopp tried hard, for sure, and he seemed like a good person, but...that was it. He scored 5 goals in almost 1,500 minutes on a team that was, at least in my opinion, the actual worst in MLS history.
2011: Charlie Davies
Davies, embarking on a comeback after the 2009 car accident that nearly killed him, arrived from Ligue 1 side Sochaux on loan before the start of the 2011 season. It wasn’t clear straight away that he would even be a regular, as he hadn’t played much at all with Sochaux before arriving.
However, Davies ended up doing pretty well at first, scoring twice in his debut and forming a good partnership with Josh Wolff. By this time in June, he scored 8 goals, but declining form and the mid-year acquisition of Dwayne De Rosario (who ended up winning the league MVP award) saw Davies only score three more goals, all of which came in a 3-0 win at Chivas USA in September.
Davies wasn’t happy about his role with the team, and ended up heading back to Sochaux in 2012, but despite the bad ending his time with United helped boost the fanbase after a season that is generally not discussed if at all possible.
2012: Hamdi Salihi
United, realizing they couldn’t Allsopp their way through a post-Davies world, splashed a bit of cash to land Salihi, a starter for Albania who had an impressive track record at Rapid Wien in the Austrian top flight. Salihi’s reputation was that he was a high-quality finisher who would be able to more than replace Davies.
Again, things didn’t quite work out. Ben Olsen’s emphasis on defensive work rate meant constant friction, as Salihi was more of a classic goal-poacher who didn’t cover a ton of ground otherwise. Salihi became one of United’s “luxury players,” scoring 6 goals while largely coming off the bench. He did, however, contribute in some small way (OK OK, it was just a back pass) to one of the best moments of this decade for United:
United let Salihi go, and went back to the Designated Player well. This time, though, they went younger, signing 20 year old striker Rafael from Bahia. A Brazil under-20 known for his “Gladiador” goal celebration, Rafael looked on paper to be the “right” kind of young player for an MLS club to spend big on. At his age, the potential for growth was seen as high, and he already had experience under his belt in helping Bahia climb up to Brazil’s Serie A.
Sadly, this was yet another move that simply didn’t work. Rafael made his debut with an absolutely brilliant 35 yard golazo, and then...nothing. He made 7 total appearances, but struggled to ever get involved, attempting just 7 shots before United opted to end his loan mid-season.
Rafael played for Tupi FC in Brazil’s third division last season, but per Transfermarkt is currently without a club.
2014: Fabian Espindola
Perhaps tired of gambling abroad, United simplified things by acquiring a proven MLS talent in Espindola via MLS’s Re-Entry Draft. It proved to be a wise choice, as the combustible Argentine was the focal point of United’s attack, posting 11 goals and 9 assists as the Black-and-Red made a very unlikely run at a Supporters Shield with a roster that was basically comprised of Bill Hamid and players that other MLS teams had cast aside.
Injuries hampered Espindola in the next two seasons, but more to our point, he was no longer the team’s #9. He traded that in for the #10 shirt, leaving it open for an old teammate from his time with Real Salt Lake.
2015-2016: Alvaro Saborio
United picked up Saborio in the middle of 2015 after finding themselves in need of an out-and-out striker. At 33, expectations weren’t sky-high, but “Sabo” filled a needed role within Olsen’s set-up, regardless of whether he was starting or coming off the bench. At first, he was largely a starter, and produced 4 goals in 12 appearances with his new team. One of those goals, a 92nd minute winner against NYCFC, sealed a playoff spot for United.
In 2016, Saborio’s role was reduced, particularly once Patrick Mullins arrived and United’s attack became more of a high-octane goalscoring machine. Still, the Costa Rican’s numbers were nothing to sneeze at: 6 goals and 3 assists in 890 minutes, or very close to being involved in a goal for every 90 minutes played.
Saborio returned to his homeland to sign with Saprissa, only to retire barely a month into his contract after reported disputes with their fans.
2017: Jose Guillermo Ortiz
The #9 shirt stayed with a Tico last year, with Ortiz coming in to replace Saborio as the primary back-up for Mullins. However, Mullins was in poor form and then got hurt, so Ortiz got plenty of playing time and...well, just didn’t cut it. Ortiz managed 1 goal in 16 appearances, which put in the context of this post puts him behind Ange N’Silu in terms of a positive impact. Let’s hope Rooney does just a teensy bit better, shall we?