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DC United hoping Wayne Rooney can turn its fortunes

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, right, celebrates with teammate Anthony Martial after scoring during an English Premier League soccer match between against Swansea City in Manchester, England. (Jon Super / Associated Press)
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, right, celebrates with teammate Anthony Martial after scoring during an English Premier League soccer match between against Swansea City in Manchester, England. (Jon Super / Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – There is a new international star in Washington.

Major League Soccer’s D.C. United introduced former Manchester United, Everton and England captain Wayne Rooney on Monday. He will wear the No. 9 jersey while trying to spark a struggling club as its most expensive signing.

“I’m not here to see out my last few years,” said the 32-year-old Rooney, a five-time Premier League champion. “I’m here to compete, I’m here to win, and that’s the way I’ve always played. That’s the way I’ll always play.”

Before Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals skated off with the 2018 Stanley Cup, it had been 26 years since D.C. had won a major sports title. But local soccer fans always put an asterisk on that skid, pointing to D.C. United’s four MLS Cups in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004.

“We know that D.C. United for years and years has made us a champion,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at Rooney’s welcome, held just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. “And we are proud to have won the Stanley Cup for Washington D.C. We think we have a World Series in our future, as well. And we know that soccer and soccer fans are going to be incredibly supportive of D.C. United.”

More recently, however, a prolonged search for a new stadium has made D.C. United one of the league’s more budget-conscious clubs, in an era during which others were increasing their spending on European stars and South American prospects.

United still made the playoffs four times between 2012 and 2016. But the club finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2017 and has started poorly again ahead of opening its new stadium July 14.

Acquiring Rooney, who signed a three-and-a-half year contract worth roughly $13 million, according to the Washington Post, is a move ownership hopes will signal to fans a new level of investment.

“Our fans have I think had a healthy dose of skepticism about the organization,” co-owner and managing partner Jason Levien said. “And there’s a whole new generation of folks who live in D.C. who don’t remember the ‘90s and the early 2000s when we were winning championships. And this time it’s for them.”

Rooney is no stranger to teams with winning pedigrees. Manchester United has 20 league titles, and his boyhood club Everton has nine. Rooney is hoping he can help United rediscover its old identity, not create a new one.

“I think the club has got great history, and it’s been tough over the last few years,” Rooney said. “And the club needs to look back at the history it’s got and it needs to try and create more.”

United currently sits 13 points out of a playoff spot, but it has a home-heavy schedule coming up and at least three matches in hand on every other team in the East. The team is also much improved offensively, scoring 21 goals in 13 matches.

“I think our expected points based on our analytics and our data is we should be somewhere around 16 points at the moment,” D.C. United general manager Dave Kasper said. “So we have dropped points along the way. We’re at 10. It is what it is. But we play 15 of our last 20 games at home.”


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