I like entertaining soccer and I like soccer entertainment, generally in that order.
Wayne Rooney’s now-official transfer to D.C. United could check both boxes. It could check neither. It’s definitely got people talking, some for and some against what would be a big-money move with both significant upside and significant risk as the club prepares to open Audi Field just days after the Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 10.
What are people saying? Let’s run through some of the most common refrains while you get ExtraTime Radio’s thoughts. Just hit play and scroll.
He makes MLS look like a retirement league
Let’s get this one out of the way immediately.
If you’re still using the “retirement league” cliché in any capacity other than trolling – in which case, it might be time to come up with new material – you’re either not paying attention to what’s happening in MLS or you simply don’t care enough to educate yourself. Either way, no skin off my back.
Fact is, more than ever before, clubs are targeting and landing young, ambitious players from all over the world, in particular South America. Where are TAM and DP dollars going? Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Kaku, Diego Rossi, Jesus Medina, Alberth Elis and many more like them represent a much bigger trend than Zlatan and Rooney.
You good with David Villa “retiring” in MLS? How about Thierry Henry? Or David Beckham? Did being on the wrong side of 30 seem to slow Robbie Keane? At 32, Rooney would be arriving at the same time in his career as four all-time MLS greats.
There’s no need to be completely dogmatic here. D.C. United can sign him without it being a referendum on the whole league. It isn’t 2007 anymore.
Rooney is washed, and he’s not a striker anymore
If you expect 2011-12 Wayne Rooney to walk through the doors at D.C. United, Everton or any other club in the world, you’re going to have to build a time machine. He’s no longer the singular attacking force he once was for Manchester United and England.
But c’mon, Rooney is nowhere close to washed up. This is a guy who just bagged 10 goals in the Premier League (all before the end of December) while playing basically every attacking position on the field as well as deeper in central midfield, where Sam Allardyce preferred him in this calendar year.
When he played close to goal, he scored goals. When he didn’t, he didn’t. Look at D.C. United’s roster and tell me with a straight face that Ben Olsen isn’t going to play Rooney close to goal, either up top or at the very least tucked in behind the likes of Patrick Mullins or Darren Mattocks (or another summer signing).
“OK, but it’s not the age, it’s the mileage,” you might argue. And yet Rooney found the energy to make 27 starts in what many would argue is the most physically-demanding league in the world over the past eight months, despite playing for a coach who doesn’t seem to value him. Seems he’s reasonably healthy and motivated to me.
And if he’s healthy, he’ll be productive. He may not have Beckham and Landon Donovan in D.C., but he’s still more than capable of Keane-esque production via quality (technical and tactical) and veteran guile. By the way, Keane missed out on double digits the year before signing with the Galaxy. He did just fine.
Rooney costs too much money, which could be better spent elsewhere
If the reports are in the ballpark, there’s no doubt D.C. United would be dropping a ton of money, far more than they ever have before, to land Rooney, whose contract with Everton runs through 2019.
Welcome to MLS in 2018, To compete, you’ve got to spend enough keep up with the rest of the league, which is flying forward at a breakneck pace in just about every category of investment, or at least have a damn good plan for how to bridge the gap (for instance, as I wrote earlier this week, Peter Vermes).
D.C. are spending – on Audi Field and a new training facility – just not on first-team talent relative to the rest of the league. Their total outlay remains second bottom in MLS, only the Houston Dynamo are spending less, per the figures the MLS Players Union released on Thursday. Which is to say, with the revenue from Audi Field, there ought to be room to grow.
So should general manager Dave Kasper spend a rumored eight-figure amount for Rooney? Or should he target a South American starlet like Almiron, Rossi or Medina instead?
Frankly, if the plan doesn’t include doing both and more, D.C. are still going to be looking up at the rest of the Eastern Conference. Right now, they’ve got a young core figuring it out game by game, but more quality and more quality depth (they need both) won’t come cheap.
Neither will Rooney, but if he’s part of a larger plan through 2020 and beyond, D.C. could be re-energized both on the field and off it.
Rooney won’t make D.C. United more relevant in the District
Here’s one thing that doesn’t happen without Rooney: TMZ stopping Ben Olsen for impromptu chats that result in headlines that include the words “shades” and “diss.”
Jokes aside, identity is important, and many argue signing Rooney wouldn’t fit the identity of a club built on the backs of Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Raul Diaz Arce, Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez as well as a host of domestic standouts (think Olsen, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes and Eddie Pope, among many others).
ESPN’s Sebastian Salazar grew up with the club, and I trust he knows D.C. United and his city much better than I ever will.
Like folks (DMV’s Latino community) that used to actually FILL RFK in late 90s/early 2000s. Remember that? THAT’s what our soccer market is. How about trying to re-engage those fans with first-ever big $ move in club history? Think Rooney moves needle in Mt. Pleasant? #DCU #MLS— Sebastian Salazar (@SebiSalazarFUT) May 11, 2018
That makes sense to me. D.C. United ought to go out and try to find the next Moreno, Etcheverry or Almiron. Maybe they can sign their own version of Diego Valeri this summer. Give the Barra Brava a throwback that honors the club’s rich history and helps it win games at the same time.
It also makes sense to me that there is a sizable number of general sports fans and, let’s be honest, Eurosnobs whose ears will perk up if they see Rooney in Black-and-Red and would be happy to spend their money at Audi Field. Still, I get the concern. Rooney is not Zlatan, his personality alone won’t carry the room, and those fans may be temporary.
That’s where winning comes in. It all comes down to one question: Does Wayne Rooney help D.C. United win? That must ultimately be the overriding reason D.C. United decide to do this deal.
Winners are always relevant. Winning makes that price tag look much more reasonable. Winning justifies the means.