Wayne Rooney and D.C. United have resolved major issues in their negotiations and could soon finalize a deal that clears the way for the English soccer superstar to join the MLS club this summer, sources close to the talks said Monday.
The sides continue to work though minor matters, and barring significant setbacks, the 32-year-old attacker seems likely to visit Washington in the next two weeks for closing meetings and a physical.
“Feeling good to wrap up this week or early next,” one source said. “Getting close.”
United executives have not commented on their pursuit of Rooney, the all-time leading scorer for Manchester United and the English national team. However, during D.C.’s visit to Salt Lake City over the weekend, Coach Ben Olsen told The Post: “There is obviously interest here and interest there. Hopefully everyone can meet and get it done.”
If a deal is struck, Rooney would not be eligible to play until the MLS transfer and trade window opens July 10.
In the wake of a nine-month Premier League season with Everton, he is scheduled to go on vacation soon before resuming workouts. However, he and his wife have begun preliminary house-hunting in the D.C. area, one source said.
News of the negotiations first broke on the Insider last week. Sources, however, cautioned at the time that the chances of a deal were 50-50.
Rooney scored 10 goals in 31 league matches this season for Everton, which on Sunday completed the 2017-18 campaign by finishing eighth on the 20-team circuit. (He missed the finale with a minor knee injury.) He also recorded one goal in seven appearances in the UEFA Europa League, an international competition.
United is prepared to pay him at least $5 million annually through 2020, a figure that would place him among the top earners in MLS. D.C. would also have to pay a substantial transfer fee to Everton to acquire his rights; he is under contract with the Liverpool-based club next season. He played the previous 13 years with Manchester United.
The total package has raised questions about whether United is overpaying for a player past his prime and no longer involved with the World Cup-bound national team. However, although he is no longer the most feared striker in England, Rooney is still capable of performing at an influential level in MLS, which in its 23rd year remains behind the Premier League and other venerable European leagues in competitive quality.
His best stretch this season came in November and December, when he recorded six goals in a five-game span, including a hat trick against West Ham. Playing a deeper role the second half of the season, he did not score in the final five months.
Rooney’s global name recognition would also enhance D.C.’s brand as it attempts to raise its profile after years of falling behind ambitious MLS organizations, such as Toronto, Seattle and Atlanta.
In data released last week by the MLS Players Association, United had the second-lowest payroll in the league and employed no one earning more than $1 million. Amid claims of heavy financial losses playing at RFK Stadium, D.C. has been among the thriftiest spenders in MLS for many years.
United’s interest in Rooney comes as the team is preparing to move into a 20,000-capacity stadium, Audi Field, in Southwest D.C. Revenue generated by the new venue would help offset the costs of Rooney’s acquisition, but at the same time, United needs a marquee player to accelerate ticket sales and attract additional sponsors.
The organization said it has sold more than 10,000 season tickets and plans to cap the total at 12,500. Because the stadium is opening midseason, United will have to pack 15 home matches into three-plus months; there are just five away games in that stretch.
Besides Audi Field, United is in the process of building a training center in Leesburg, Va. It’s tentatively scheduled to open next spring, replacing a rudimentary facility (one grass field, two shipping containers for storing equipment and a portable toilet) on the north side of the RFK Stadium campus.
Despite growing optimism in D.C. circles about acquiring Rooney, some in the organization remain cautious. In 2007, Argentine midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron was on the brink of becoming the club’s first mega signing when, at the 11th hour, he changed his mind and joined his boyhood club, Estudiantes.