“We need to improve. That’s clear to see,” Rooney said at his introductory news conference Monday at the Newseum in Washington. “We have to improve and start getting better results. I think there’s talent on the team. I think maybe with a little bit of guidance, a little bit of help on and off the pitch, I can help them.”
The 32-year-old is the latest aging European star to make his way to MLS. Rooney led Manchester United to five English Premier League championships and is the club’s career leading scorer, but he was adamant that the has more he wants to achieve in his next chapter.
“I’m not here to see out the last few years of my career,” Rooney said. “I’m here to compete. I’m here to win. That’s the way I’ve always played.”
Rooney arrived in the United States on Thursday and was greeted by fans at the airport, which he said he was not expecting. Since then, he has started practicing, and the focus has been on ensuring he is fit for United’s Audi Field opener July 14, the first time he will be eligible to play. Rooney said the heat and humidity have not been major issues.
When Rooney visited D.C. in May for contract talks and a physical exam, Dave Kasper, United’s general manager and vice president of soccer operations, said the new stadium was the first place the staff took Rooney. When Rooney said how this felt like the right time for him to join D.C. United, he pointed toward his excitement about Audi Field and the forthcoming new training grounds.
Since the initial stages, United ownership saw a chance to supplement the new developments with the signing of a player such as Rooney.
“One of the first meetings that I had with the ownership back in 2012, with Jason Levien and Erick Thohir, was that their No. 1 priority was to build a stadium, and once we build a stadium, we were going to look to add world-class talent,” Kasper said.
Levien, the club’s managing partner and chief executive, said there has been a buzz around the team since the Rooney signing, ranging from ticket sales to sponsorships. Rooney, the highest-profile player in United history, was part of the “initial splash,” Levien said. “But it starts with us having to win because if we don’t win with Wayne Rooney, then we’re all going to be disappointed.”
Kasper said the team plans to make more additions after the transfer window opens July 10. Last week, United hired Rodrigo Robles to be its director of South American scouting.
“I’m sure there are more players coming; hopefully that’s the case, anyway,” Rooney said. “We want to keep trying to build on the team. I know it’s been a tough few years for the club, but the club is moving in the right direction, I think. The league has gotten better, and I think the club has realized that.”
Rooney’s experience instantly qualify him to lead the club. Once United returns to practice after its game Wednesday in Los Angeles, Rooney said he’ll start to “get to know the players’ personalities and sort of work out which players need a kick up the backside and which players need an arm around them.”
As for turning around United’s season, much of the weight already has been placed on Rooney, but Kasper doesn’t expect the pressure to be an issue. United brought Rooney here to turn D.C. into a club that’s different than the one it is now, and Rooney arrived in Washington convinced that will be the case.
“If I believed this team would be at the bottom of soccer for the next three years, I wouldn’t have decided to join here,” Rooney said. “I’m excited, and I believe the team will move up the league.”
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