Over the past couple of years, as D.C. United has waxed and waned between a playoff contender and one of the worst teams in the league, the team has been a quiet presence within MLS. With all the new exciting expansion teams entering the league, and United’s insistence upon prudence, cobbling together teams while paying rent at RFK Stadium waiting for Audi Field to become a reality, United has slipped into anonymity for the most part.
That seemingly changed in the course of an afternoon last Tuesday, when Steven Goff first reported that United was in talks to sign Wayne Rooney, who would be by a wide margin the most famous player to suit up for the Black-and-Red. Since then, Alexi Lalas talked to TMZ about Rooney. TMZ tracked Ben Olsen down at National Airport for a response, and much has been discussed otherwise about the potential signing.
Taylor Twellman entered the fray on ESPN’s broadcast on Sunday, when he discussed the potential move during halftime of the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders clash. If you haven’t seen the clip, here it is:
Twellman said a lot in just over a minute of talking about the Black-and-Red and Rooney. He brought up a lot of points, but that minute didn’t allow him much context for what he said. So let’s break down and give some meaning to everything he had to say about the potential blockbuster move.
This is about the franchise for D.C. United, who for about the past 10 years has spent zero point zero! Zero point zero! This is a franchise that has multiple people doing multiple jobs.
Twellman is trying to drive his point home with the “zero point zero” phrase, but it’s no secret that the past decade or so has been a lean time for United. But that’s solely down to the team being in a wait and see mode until they could get the stadium situation in order. Remember, this team was looking into options for moving the team. Those might have been ruses to get a stadium in D.C., but there was still at least conversations about a potential move.
United’s stinginess has been evident both on and off the field. The owners made it known that they were losing a lot of money by playing at RFK Stadium, and weren’t interested in increasing those financial losses by spending on a high-priced Designated Player. Olsen and Dave Kasper managed to make that work in some years - 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 - while suffering in others - 2013, 2017, and (it would seem) 2018.
As to multiple people doing multiple jobs, Twellman is spot on. There are people who work multiple roles in the front office, which is not ideal for multiple reasons. Hopefully, with the move to Audi Field, the situation can be rectified, and United can fill out front office positions with employees who can help take the team forward into the modern MLS.
Do they have the infrastructure? Do they know what’s coming, when a mega superstar shows up? Or is this just a bandaid?
United, at least in recent memory, have had nothing like this to deal with. Last year’s transfer haul in the summer should have been a big deal. Paul Arriola was the biggest name, but Russell Canouse and Zoltan Stieber were big pickups as well. United called a press conference to introduce those three and Bruno Miranda. There was an open practice so fans could see those four in action.
But, on that day, it was the regular handful of reporters in attendance. Five or six at the most, all the reporters who are generally at the open practices once a week. Which would not be the case if Rooney arrives. So it’s a fair question from Twellman, one that can’t be answered though until the moment arrives. And this kind of goes back to the point about the multiple people doing multiple jobs. A more robust staff would surely help any potential mayhem from Rooney joining United.
Because in all seriousness, in the metropolitan area of D.C. United, D.C. United is irrelevant. It’s non-existent. So in order to revive the franchise, you got to do this because you haven’t done anything for the last ten years.
United isn’t by any means the only MLS team who suffers from this, but Twellman is once again spot on. United are relegated to having their games on NewsChannel 8 locally. There is hardly any marketing of this team in the area, and pre-Rooney, you’d never expect to hear them discussed on local TV or radio shows.
Also, United is about two months from opening the stadium that they toiled over for years. But is there much buzz in the area about that? United fans who follow along closely might notice it, but that’s hardly reaching many people in a region of millions. So while Rooney would certainly help boost the team in this area, given that he would be a short-term fix, the team has to figure out a way to become more permanently relevant in the area.
Now if this is the jumpstart to the academy, and the infrastructure, and the training fields, and younger players, and a real D.C. United team, then I’m all for it.
This is where Twellman gets hyperbolic with a couple of his claims. As we and others have reported, United are currently in the process of building a training facility to go along with a USL stadium out in Loudoun County. The $50m project consists of a modular stadium to house United’s lower-division team, as well as a training facility that will be comparable to those seen elsewhere in MLS.
But an important aspect that Twellman left off here is the timing of everything. There was no way that United would attempt to build a training facility before they had secured the stadium. It would make no sense to spend millions on a facility, only then to move a couple of years later if United couldn’t have gotten a stadium within the District. Maybe the two projects could have been more closely aligned, but United spent so much time and resources into getting Audi Field that the Loudoun facility had to wait.
Hopefully, Twellman’s comment about bringing in young players has more to do with the major marquee signings, and not in general. Because while United leaned on MLS veterans for their revival after the 2013 season, they have strayed away from those types of signings within the past year. David Ousted, Steve Clark, and Zoltan Stieber have been brought in throughout the past year. But at the same time, so have Arriola, Canouse, Miranda, Junior Moreno, Yamil Asad, and Ulises Segura, all players under the age of 25. United has generally gotten much younger over the past year, though they could still use some younger quality, in comparison to what Rooney would bring to the club.
There should now also be hope, with the type of money that D.C. United is throwing around for player acquisitions and facilities, that United can finally move away from the pay-to-play structure for the academy teams. It’s one of the last teams in MLS that makes the players pay to play with the academy teams, which is rather exclusionary to having parents or guardians who can afford to pay.
An academy that is free to all would widen the net for United to find local talent, and would allow those who might not otherwise have the chance an opportunity of working their way through the academy teams and up to the first team, much like Bill Hamid and Andy Najar.
But if this more about getting people to show up to Audi Field, and have them talk about it for 18 months, then guess what, in 18 months from now, we are still going to be talking about raccoons at RFK, and not about arguably the strongest academy team and area in this country.
Okay, this was some low-hanging fruit that Taylor was swinging at with the comment about the raccoons. As much as we all love RFK, the team is moving into a new era at Audi Field. And if national pundits are still talking about raccoons at RFK in a year and a half, then it’s on them for not being able to move on.
D.C. United, it’s on you, it’s not on Wayne Rooney, to make this work.
This is very fair.
There’s already been a lot discussed nationally and locally about what Rooney signing with United would mean. And there are strong arguments both for and against bringing him here, which have been discussed at length. But given that Rooney will be 33 by the end of the season, he’s not the long-term answer. He would definitely give United a bump, locally and nationally, but it’s unlikely that his tenure in the nation’s capital would last much more than the two and a half years that he is supposedly going to come here.
Which means United has to change, and has to be the organization that takes advantage of the potential signing of Rooney, but then uses it to catapult themselves beyond his presence. Because if they can’t then they will be right back to where they are now when Rooney leaves.