Rooney has a year left on his contract with Everton but reports in Britain said he has grown frustrated at his boyhood club. United would have to pay a transfer fee or negotiate a free move. His market value is estimated at $17 million, a far cry from the $77 million price tag six years ago.
Talks between Rooney’s representatives and the MLS side accelerated in recent weeks, and one person familiar with the negotiations said D.C. has a 50 percent chance of acquiring him during the MLS transfer and trade window, which will open July 10.
Everton Manager Sam Allardyce said in the Liverpool Echo that only a “massive” offer from a team in China or MLS would prompt Rooney’s departure.
“Do I want him to stay?” Allardyce said. “Yes.”
D.C. approached Rooney last year as well, but he decided to remain in England. A striker or withdrawn forward most of his career, Rooney has played a central midfield role most of this season. He recorded a hat trick against West Ham in November and scored one apiece in consecutive outings against Liverpool, Newcastle and Swansea City in December. However, he has not scored since.
In international play, Rooney scored once in seven UEFA Europa League matches.
His salary demands would undoubtedly make him the highest-paid player in the D.C. organization. (He earns about $10 million at Everton, a substantial cut from his Manchester United earnings.) United carries one of the smallest payrolls in the league but, with the anticipation of increased revenue from a new stadium opening this summer, the club is planning to increase spending.
D.C. has targeted big names such as Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez and Italy’s Mario Balotelli, sources said.
Through intermediaries, United also explored the remote possibility of signing Spanish superstar Andres Iniesta, who is leaving Barcelona this season after 17 years. However, the midfielder is likely to sign with a Chinese club.
Faced with scoring problems last year, United did not acquire a high-end forward in the offseason. Instead, Coach Ben Olsen has rotated league veterans Darren Mattocks (three goals) and Patrick Mullins (none) while relying on a revamped midfield. United (1-4-2) has scored multiple goals in just two matches.
The club has also lacked star power for a number of years, and with Audi Field opening July 14, D.C. seems intent to add one or two marquee players soon. Paul Arriola, a U.S. national team winger, is the only designated player, a term used to describe those earning more than standard league wages. United has two designated-player slots available.
Club officials have declined to publicly specify targeted players.
Asked Tuesday whether United needs to upgrade the roster, Olsen said flatly: “Yes.”
Without identifying the most-pressing issues, he said the club is aiming to add “some high-end quality. I think that’s what we’re in the market for.”
United has not employed a world-renowned player since Argentina’s Marcelo Gallardo in 2008. He lasted just one year.