This winter, as the Black-and-Red’s head coach further remolds the squad in his vision, another EPL veteran has arrived: Polish international midfielder Mateusz Klich from Leeds United.
The 32-year-olds, alongside Greek international forward Taxi Fountas, are two of D.C.’s three Designated Players. And Rooney, readying for his first full season in charge, believes their latest addition is key to what they’re building.
“I spoke about it a lot, many times last season, is the mentality of the group,” Rooney said, addressing the Klich signing shortly after it went official Thursday. “Of course, we were a very young group. So in terms of players I was wanting to bring in, they had to fit that, they had to fit the profile which I wanted.
“And Mateusz, we spoke to many people about him who know him, who know how he’s worked at Leeds and his character. And that's the one thing that shone through from everyone I spoke to and obviously speaking to the player himself, I could see that. He's a confident lad.”
"Very big player for us"
Klich, who Rooney described as a “leader” who plays as both a box-to-box and attacking midfielder, is under contract through 2024 with an option in 2025. He was vital in Leeds earning promotion back to the Premier League in 2020, finishing with 24 goals and 21 assists in 195 matches across all competitions at the historic club.
Klich, with 41 caps for Poland, brings a wealth of experience to D.C. United, which finished bottom of the MLS table last season. Rooney oversaw his first game in late July, though the plan always seemed to overturn the roster this winter and build a foundation for 2023.
The Black-and-Red’s new midfielder can’t join training until his work visa is in hand, a process Rooney said may prove beneficial since he’s already played a half-season at Leeds. But once he’s integrated, the envisioned impact is clear.
“I know the Premier League very well and I think you see by the sendoff which Leeds United gave him, you can see how highly thought of he was at Leeds,” said Rooney, the all-time leading scorer for both England’s national team and Manchester United.
“I know that's not easy, because Leeds are a very big club who have had many great players over the years. He's thought of as a great there, for what he's done helping them get out of the Championship and then obviously the last couple of years in the Premier League. I think we've got a player who will be a very big player for us.”
Klich said he first heard of D.C. United’s interest during the World Cup when he was on holiday with his family. Reports then began surfacing in early December, with Klich noting he contacted two Poland teammates – Charlotte FC star Karol Swiderski and ex-Chicago Fire FC winger Przemysław Frankowski – to learn more about MLS.
With Rooney’s inquiries and endorsements from trusted contacts, Klich’s mind was made up. Now he just wants to help D.C. begin again.
“I think I can control the game from midfield,” Klich said. “I can do combination plays between each other, and I can help the team with connecting attack and defense, just be there for everyone who needs to be on the pitch.
“I do like running and I do like to play No. 8 position, No. 10 position where I can be involved in every attack, every combination play we can do. I think I can bring some experience to the team, obviously. It's always easy to talk, but it's harder to do on the pitch.”
Klich is D.C. United’s eighth new signing this winter, making them one of the busiest clubs league-wide in the transfer market. Rooney seems eager to bring more players in, already leaning heavily on MLS experience (fullbacks Pedro Santos and Ruan as two examples).
“We have to make sure we stay focused and always be alive to players who have come available from now until the window closes,” said Rooney, who played for D.C. from 2018-19. “But if you ask me, am I happy to go into the season with the squad I've got available now? Then I would be.”
Of course, this refresh is all designed to restore D.C. United’s glory days. The four-time MLS Cup champions have made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs just twice in the last six years.
“I think a realistic target of course and what we all want is to make playoffs,” Rooney said. “I think we want to compete in this league. I feel we've done some really good business to be able to do that. I think for us, our priority is to try and make playoffs. I think once you do that, we all know anything can happen from there.”