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Press from near and far converged on the Newseum for an early-afternoon press conference, eagerly anticipating the arrival of former Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney. In the museum’s studio—usually a venue where dazed tourists get themselves photographed in an anchor’s chair—United made some news of their own.
Rooney, England’s all-time leading goalscorer and D.C.’s 13-million-dollar man, strolled in wearing a perfectly-tailored suit, a D.C. United lapel pin affixed on one side of it. He was joined by team officials, and also Mayor Muriel Bowser, who took the podium at the onset of the festivities.
Today, she went on to say, is Wayne Rooney day in D.C.
“Vamos, United!” she proclaimed while posing for a photo with him.
Oft-ignored by local and national media alike, D.C. United hopes this is the new normal. Between the crush of fans and curiosity-seekers at Rooney’s arrival at Dulles on Thursday, and the scores of journalists and personalities in attendance today, United has already made itself more relevant than it has been in years.
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Now comes the harder work: integrating Wayne Rooney into a squad that currently sits at the bottom of the table, and turning this off-the-field success into something tangible on the pitch. United, once a giant of Major League Soccer, hopes Rooney can help lead the franchise back to the promised land.
He seems eager to help.
D.C. United doesn’t “need to look back at its history, it needs to create more history,” Rooney told those in attendance. “I’ve said many times I’m not here to see out [my] last few years, I’m here to compete. I’m here to win, that’s the way I’ve always played.”
It has been a whirlwind few days for Rooney. After touching down on Thursday, the striker headed into D.C., eventually ending up at the Shaw home of United head coach Ben Olsen. There has been some small uncertainty as to where Rooney will play for United, in midfield or as a forward, and the two discussed his potential role. “I know the position he wants me to play,” said Rooney. “I’m prepared to play that role and hopefully repay the manager with goals.”
Olsen wasn’t in attendance today. United is currently on the West Coast, preparing to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday. Rooney, it turns out, wanted to join his teammates on the road—he’s not eligible to play until MLS’ “summer transfer window” opens on July 10, but is free to train with the club.
The club’s trainers thought it better for Rooney to train locally, giving a bunch of young United academy kids a unique opportunity: to work alongside an international legend. After working out with them at RFK on Friday, Rooney picked up a few bags of equipment and helped load them back into the clubhouse.
“He’s humble,” United Managing Partner and CEO Jason Levien told City Paper after the press conference.
When Rooney first visited D.C. in May, Levien went on to say, the club discussed which number he’d wear. There was a conflict—Rooney’s traditional number, 10, was already taken. Traditionally, players of Rooney’s stature would keep that number, taking it from an existing teammate.
“He said, ‘No. I want to fit in. What’s the right number for me? You guys let me know,’” said Levien. “It’s all been that way. People have [wondered] if he’s going to fly differently from the rest of the club for away matches—he’s like, ‘No, I want to be with the team.”
He’ll have to wait a few more days to join his new teammates, which might give him time to try and find a place to live. Still no word on whether he’ll choose the District, Maryland or Virginia.
Rooney did take a moment to shed some light on why he chose to move to the DMV, though.
“I’ve been to places like LA & NY and it’s too hectic,” said Rooney. “It’s like London. For me, I’ve never fancied going to live in London. I need my own space and to get away from things when I need to, and D.C. seems to give me that opportunity.”
For now, there’s no getting away. On Monday, all eyes were on Rooney. In a couple of weeks, we’ll see if he lives up to the hype.