WASHINGTON — Wayne Rooney is coming to Major League Soccer with D.C. United, the latest star to take his talents across the pond to the United States.
Rooney follows the lead of Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic and retired countryman David Beckham by leaving Europe for MLS later in their careers. He signed a 3 1/2 year designated-player contract with D.C. United and is expected to make his debut July 14 when the team opens its new stadium in Southeast Washington against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The 32-year-old Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for England’s national team and Manchester United in the Premier League.
"It is fantastic to be joining D.C. United at such an exciting time in the club’s history," Rooney said Thursday after D.C. United announced the long-reported signing. "Moving to America and MLS fulfills another career ambition for me. I have the hunger to be a success here and will give D.C. 100 per cent — as I have always done for every team I have ever played for."
Rooney leaves Everton, his boyhood team he returned to after playing for Manchester United. He scored 11 goals in 40 games in his second stint with Everton.
Hours before the signing was announced, Rooney posted a photo to Twitter of himself on a plane with an American flag emoji. The move will become official July 10 when the international transfer window opens.
Rooney’s 208 Premier League goals are second behind only Alan Shearer’s 260. Rooney’s 53 goals and 119 games lead England in international play.
Even at his age, Rooney gives D.C. United and MLS another headliner.
"I think it’s the right move for him," Beckham said. "I think that it’s exciting for the fans. People that watch the game and understand the game in the U.S., they know who Wayne Rooney is, they know who Zlatan is, they know these big players. So to actually see them perform in their league is something that’s special."
Adding Rooney gives last-place D.C. United a spark as it opens its new stadium not far from where the Nationals play. The club is 2-4-6 this season and could no doubt benefit by adding a scorer such as Rooney.
"He is a world-class player and he elevates those around him, both through his work ethic and winning mentality," general manager Dave Kasper said. "We are beyond excited to add someone of Rooney’s calibre."
D.C. United managing general partner and CEO Jason Levien called signing Rooney a "seminal moment" for the organization.
"Wayne is a global soccer icon and his presence at D.C. United will elevate our product on the pitch and soccer as a whole in our city and in this country," Levien said. "Wayne has thrived when competing at the most elite levels of soccer and we’re thrilled to have his leadership as we enter this new era at Audi Field."
Whereas Beckham and Ibrahimovic joined the LA Galaxy in their 30s, Rooney chose a team on the East Coast, closer to England. Beckham considers it a positive for Rooney professionally and personally.
"I think he’ll do really well," Beckham said. "I think D.C. is the right club for him. I think it’s a great city. I think it’s a great city for him to move to his family and enjoy the time that he’s going to be there."