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What does Wayne Rooney’s arrival mean to D.C. United?

The Black-and-Red are on uncharted ground, and no one seems sure where they’re going to end up

Almost two months ago, when rumors of Wayne Rooney considering a move to D.C. United before reports of his agreeing in principle to a deal came to light, a friend asked me privately what my thoughts were on it. I think my answer then is the same as it is now that he’s actually here in Washington, where he met several hundred of his newest fans:

“Hey man I just work here.”

I truly don’t know what to think of it. Some people think it changes nothing on the organization’s current fortunes, others find themselves re-uniting with the Black-and-Red like a much beloved friend from school. What I do know is because there are so many ramifications to it throughout the organization, that strangely enough whatever happens on the field may be the easy part.

On the field, a 32-year-old Rooney may not have the same impact that a 32-year-old David Beckham arriving at the LA Galaxy a decade ago; Rooney comes from a reunion tour at Everton where his appearances diminished and were not as productive as Beckham’s, who was helping Real Madrid to one in a series of countless La Liga titles. If one looks at their abilities upon their respective/presumed MLS arrivals, Becks appeared to have more in the tank then than Rooney does now.

And if there is a precedent, things aren’t going to change immediately overnight. Remember when the Galaxy floundered after Beckham’s arrival, which lingering into 2008, and he would get into arguments with fans on both sides of the field in games during that period? You could make some case the same thing happened up North when the current defending MLS Cup champions started making “big” moves. Toronto FC was bringing in names of some familiarity as Designated Players, such as Dutch striker Danny Koevermans and Werder Bremen (and Germany) regular Torsten Frings on a roster that finished in the bottom (or bottom half) of the MLS standings.

So what happened in both instances? Well, L.A. brought in Bruce Arena as the coach and general manager before 2009. TFC brought in Tim Bezbatchenko as GM in 2013, and followed it up with two-time executive of the year Bill Manning as team president in 2015, and both teams took off after that. Now, before those who have been pining for Ben Olsen and Dave Kasper to be relieved of their duties say that this is precisely the type of change that will vault D.C. to wherever their fortunes lie, there’s a lot of off-field things to hash out that directly impact both men.

And it’s the off-the-field part I’m not sure about, largely because of so many things that have to sort themselves out with United. First and foremost is whose name will be at the top of the organizational chart. D.C.’s ownership in currently in flux as Erick Thohir and Patrick Soon-Shiong are working out a deal for the former to sell to the latter (or to the latter plus others).

Then you have whatever that ownership has planned for D.C. United. There remains speculation that current Managing General Partner and CEO Jason Levien has ideas for a collaborative relationship between D.C. and recently relegated Swansea City beyond the obligatory training stints and exchange of ideas that the Black-and-Red experienced in the days with Inter Milan when Thohir (who was majority owner of both clubs at the time) was in charge of those clubs. And that’s all we have at this point, speculation.

Ben Olsen hints at additions, plural, to come, and the sheer number of things that could mean is the scary part is that could mean a number of things. Big picture for a second: With Audi Field opening in two weeks, a USL stadium and training facility about to break ground in Loudoun County after that, more than a half-billion dollars in land and materials so far is being geared towards a soccer team. THIS soccer team, that is not only attempting to insert itself back into the local sports climate after being gone for essentially a decade, but launching a USL team and constructing two other buildings in the immediate months to come.

Has there been any substantial expression of what the plans are for this soccer team to its current largest advocates? None that we’ve been made aware of, and it’s that unknown that is of concern.

Obviously, you don’t have to go far to notice Wayne Rooney’s past demons on the internet, so how is he getting sold on this move? Is it the lure of the quieter ‘burbs of Loudoun and Fairfax for the Rooney family, especially when the training site does become a reality? Living closer to the city may be what he pines for, but when you’re coming from a period in your life where how many suitcases your family brings on vacation is scrutinized, maybe living in Northwest D.C. is a cakewalk by comparison.

But by accounts public and private, Rooney sounds like a nice person who wants to challenge himself and cares about soccer. Taking on a role as one of his league’s most visible faces won’t be new to him, but doing things that a Beckham, or a David Villa, or any of the internationally recognized names that have come to MLS and really enjoyed their time in the league might be. Seeing what the infrastructure around Rooney is like right now, I’m not sure what it is that he’s seeing, but obviously if I did, I’d be the one who just signed an eight-figure deal to come to MLS.

The last time D.C. United was this aspirational was when they signed three international players, including River Plate legend Marcelo Gallardo, in the 2007 offseason. All three were shown the door at the end of the 2008 season, and the team has scraped by using bubble gum and tinfoil on many things on and off the field since. That’s eleven and a half years between then and Rooney’s emergence through the international arrivals door at Dulles yesterday. Perhaps it’s the pitch the team made to Rooney that would help us best gauge what the plans are for United are top to bottom, and perhaps that is what should be shared with fans old and new alike.

Hemingway once said “The best way you can find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them,” and I think the time has come for that trust to be returned. After all, we’re all buying the same ticket, we’re all on the same ride.