Wayne Rooney has become the latest England star to head to Major League Soccer.
But whereas the likes of David Beckham, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard became neighbours of Hollywood stars by joining the LA Galaxy, Rooney will be bumping shoulders with the American political classes in Washington DC.
Rooney has signed a three-and-a-half year deal with DC United – one of the original MLS clubs but among the least well known outside America.
Formed in 1996, United were one of the original 10 charter clubs in MLS. Under the guidance of future United States coach Bruce Arena – who later managed Beckham at the Galaxy – United dominated the early years of MLS and were crowned champions as winners of the MLS Cup in 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2004, and winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998. Star names in those early years included ex-Sheffield Wednesday midfielder John Harkes, Bolivian forwards Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry, and defensive stalwart Eddie Pope. United also gave teenage prodigy Freddy Adu his professional debut aged just 14.
Since their inception United have played at the cavernous RFK Stadium on the edge of the city, but the average crowds of around 17,000 left huge swathes of the 46,000-capacity venue empty. From July the purpose-built 20,000-seater Audi Field in Buzzard Point will become home, and United hope Rooney will make his debut in the stadium’s inaugural match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on July 14.
Former United States international Ben Olsen spent almost his entire professional career with United – bar a brief loan spell with Nottingham Forest which ended in serious injury. After hanging up his boots in 2009 he joined United’s coaching staff as an assistant but was quickly promoted after the dismissal of Curt Onalfo – getting the job over candidates including recently-announced Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre. Olsen’s only trophy to date was the US Open Cup in 2013, though he was named coach of the year in 2014 after winning the Eastern Conference.
United’s early dominance of the league is a distant memory. After a run of five years without making the play-offs at all, recent appearances have been more sporadic, and usually short-lived, with runs to the Conference semi-finals in 2014 and 2015 the only notable achievements of late. Though not as bad as the nadir of 2013, when they won an MLS-record low three games, last season was a miserable one as United finished last in the East, winning only nine of 34 games. This season has not started much better with United again last in the East with 10 points from 12 games.
After last night's action, here's where we stand heading into the weekend. 👀 pic.twitter.com/SckD5yOuKy— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 10, 2018
Prior to Rooney’s arrival, the current United squad was short on real star power. Emerging United States winger Paul Arriola was the club’s only designated player – commanding a wage outside the league’s salary cap – while other notable names include former Boca Juniors playmaker Luciano Acosta and young midfielder Ian Harkes, son of John. Rooney would be forgiven for not knowing who many of his new team-mates are.