Will Wayne Rooney dominate the MLS like past big-money European transfers?

Photo: DC United

Yesterday MLS club D.C. United announced the arrival of English forward Wayne Rooney on their twitter account. The 32-year-old signed a three-and-a-half year contract with the last place team in a steadily improving league fueled by  young and exciting transfers. 

Anytime a club, especially an MLS club, signs a player with Rooney’s pedigree there is an understandable buzz in the media. The all-time leading scorer for the English National team and Manchester United doesn’t sign with an MLS club often. However, the MLS is no longer a backwater league ready to be dominated by washed-up European stars. Thierry Henry’s arrival in 2010 provides the perfect benchmark for comparison.

Eight years ago, Henry arrived to New York Red Bulls in July on a free transfer. Over the next four and a half seasons, Henry made 122 league appearances for New York, scoring 51 goals. The French forward scored double digit goals in all four of his full seasons with the club. He even captained them from 2011-2015, scoring wonder goals like this.

The MLS, though, just isn’t the same as when Henry arrived. In the last two years alone Ezequiel Barco, (Atlanta United), Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United), Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle Sounders), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles FC), Sebastian Blanco (Portland Timbers), and Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) were the incoming transfers over £4 million. The average age of these acquisitions? A little over 24 years old. The influx of cash into the league hasn’t often been spent on aging stars. Barco, for example, was 18 at the time of his £10.9 million arrival to Atlanta.

How does this relate to Rooney, you may ask. Frankly, his fee (believed to be almost £9.5 million) makes his acquisition almost wasteful in the new MLS. Compared to Atlanta United’s  2017 acquisitions of Almiron and Martinez for a combined total of £10.8 million, the Rooney deal seems even worse. Even if their production is identical, Rooney’s worth will be nearly non-existent by the time his contract expires. Barco, on the other hand, will likely command significantly more than the £10.8 million Atlanta acquired him for.

D.C. is opening their new stadium, Audi Field, this summer, and the acquisition of Rooney seems to be their attempt to insure the seats will be filled. The first game at Audi Field happens to be July 14, just four days after the opening of the summer transfer window, when Rooney will be able to suit up for the Black and Red.

D.C. United’s concept art for their new stadium. Photo: DCUnited.com 

For nearly £10 million, Rooney needs to do more than bump the ticket sales for D.C. With Everton last year, though playing further from goal than most of his career, Rooney scored ten league goals. However, he only managed one key pass per game in Premier League games.

While D.C. could use a high-volume scorer, their offensive woes go beyond merely lacking a finisher. D.C. is last in the Eastern Conference with only 19 goals through 12 games. The Black and Red are second to last in MLS with only 10.8 shots per game and are fourth worst in pass success percentage at 77.6%. While the English forward can undoubtedly score, D.C. need much more than a scorer. Frankly, a player in the mold of Rooney’s former Everton teammate Gylfi Siggurdson would make much more such for D.C.

Even if Rooney adds doubt-digit goals for the Capital City club, his irrationally high price tag in comparison to other MLS signings will overshadow his production. Whether D.C. United like it or not, the only way to understand the transfer is as an insurance that tickets to Audi Field will be sold.

Will Rooney dominate the MLS like Henry eight years ago? Is he worth the high price tag? Let us know your thoughts by commenting down below. You can also tweet us at @AllOutFootball_ using the hashtag #AOF.