Since arriving at Dulles Airport last Thursday, Wayne Rooney had been spotted in several different places. First, he had to make his way through a mob of people at the airport, before hanging out at a bar to watch England’s World Cup game. On Saturday, he trained, along side several academy players and Kofi Opare, at RFK Stadium. And during halftime of the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers game on Fox, he gave an interview, his first since arriving stateside.
On Monday, D.C. United were finally able to introduce their highest ever paid player. In a room full of reporters, photographers, and plenty of television cameras, Rooney was joined by Managing General Partner Jason Levien and General Manager Dave Kasper as he gave his introductory press conference.
Rooney, who had previously spent his entire career in England with Manchester United and Everton, spoke about the opportunity to come to the USA, and MLS, and why he chose United to be the next step in his career.
“It’s an exciting league. I watched the league from afar over the last few years,” said Rooney. “Having spoken to Jason [Levien] and a lot of people at the club over the last few months, I was excited by the project; the new stadium, the new training ground, the young team.”
Rooney’s arrival coincides with plenty of other goings-on as the club tries to play catch-up with the rest of the league, after being hampered for years by having to play at RFK Stadium. The team has had to pinch pennies on and off the field until they could ensure their long-term existence in the nation’s capital.
And that’s now all coming together. Rooney will likely make his team debut on July 14th, when United open their new stadium at Buzzard Point. Within the next year, Loudoun United, the Black-and-Red’s soon to official USL side, will begin play at a facility that will be right next door to the team’s new training ground.
When it’s all added up, United will hardly resemble the club that has had to meagerly piece together everything on and off the field over the past decade.
“We think we are putting the pillars together to have a world class organization” Levien told reporters in a scrum after the press conference. “And Wayne is a critical part of it moving forward.”
Rooney’s name recognition off the field is just an added bonus, as the club searched for players who could immediately help a team that has struggled to win games over the past year and a half. Though scoring goals hasn’t been much of an issue this year, United have just two wins in their first 13 games. The schedule has been tough, with only two home games so far, but there have been times when United should have walked away with points from games on the road.
Bringing in Rooney, who won plenty with the Red Devils, might help elevate this team into playoff contention.
“We did a lot of diligence over the last ten months on Rooney. And it all came back saying that this guy is a total pro,” said Levien. “He’s a winner, he’s leader, he’s a guy that builds your culture in the locker room.”
“He’s 32 years old. We’ve seen many players step into this league at that age and be some of the best players in the league,” added Kasper after the press conference. “We watched him closely last year with Everton. The guy can still play. We are confident that he has a long, successful MLS career ahead of him.”
One of the biggest questions that remains regarding Rooney is where he’ll line up once he does take the field. United have seven goals each this year from Darren Mattocks and Yamil Asad, and 21 overall in their first 13 games. So head coach Ben Olsen will have some shuffling to do, as Rooney didn’t come to Washington to play from the bench.
Though Rooney didn’t tip his hand as to where he’ll be playing, he made it clear that he and Olsen had already thoroughly discussed the subject.
“I know what position I’ll be playing,” Rooney told reporters in the mixed zone. “I spoke to the manager, as soon as I landed I went to his house. We’ve been in contact over the last few weeks on the phone as well. I know the position he wants me to play, I’m prepared to play that role and hopefully repay the manager with goals.”