“We are going to have a lot of interesting pieces,” D.C. United Ben Olsen said Tuesday. “We are going to have to figure out the best group and who we are going forward because who we are at the moment is not good enough.”
The breakup between United and its English superstar appeared amicable. Rooney said his family wanted to return home to England and the Derby County opportunity to transition from playing to coaching was one he couldn’t turn down.
“The opportunity came up for me to join Derby County in January, as a player but also as a coach, which was important to start that transition for the next stage of my career,” Rooney told United senior director of content and strategy Michael Cohen. “For my family and myself to be back in England around our extended family and friends was part of the reason also. So that opportunity came about, and I felt it was the right opportunity for me at this time.”
While United continues to search for his replacements, Rooney will remain with the team through the 2019 season. The United captain will return to training Thursday in preparation for United’s game Sunday against the LA Galaxy.
So where does that leave the team? United general manager Dave Kasper was busy Tuesday dealing with multiple Major League Soccer clubs to acquire Felipe while two other signings are all but official.
Signed: Former Red Bull returns to Atlantic Cup rivalry
First, United traded $62,500 in General Allocation Money (GAM) and an International Roster spot in 2020 to the Portland Timbers for $212,500 in 2019 Targeted Allocation Money.
United then announced the signing of 28-year-old Felipe Martins from the Vancouver Whitecaps. United sent $75,000 of 2020 TAM and an International Roster Spot in 2020 to Vancouver for the midfielder. Martins, who has a Green Card, does not occupy an International Roster Spot.
“We are looking forward to adding more MLS experience to our midfield with the acquisition of Felipe,” Kasper said in statement. “We’re excited to add his ability to connect the game and break lines with his passing, as well as his competitiveness and bite.”
Martins scored one goal in 18 appearances in his second season with Vancouver Whitecaps, but most United fans will remember Felipe from his physical play while a member of rival New York Red Bulls. In three seasons with the Red Bulls, the Brazilian scored 10 goals and recorded nine assists.
He told Vancouver reporters he hopes his hard work will bring pride to United fans.
"I hope to get there, get to work, and day-by-day win those fans that maybe one day hated me so much. I'm ready to get there, work hard, make the playoffs, make the DC United fans and the organization proud." #SCU #MLS
— Har Journalist (@HarJournalist) August 6, 2019
Potential Prospects: A pair of attacking pieces switching coasts
Former LA Galaxy striker Ola Kamara arrived in D.C. Monday and is in the final stages of completing a transfer to United from Chinese Super League Shenzhen. He was not at the first 15 minutes of open training Tuesday, but headed to practice after the doors closed to reporters. While the paperwork is still being finalized, the transfer fee could reach $2.5 million, according to the Washington Post.
D.C. United in the final stages of acquiring Norwegian F Ola Kamara, the former Columbus and L.A. Galaxy striker who moved to Shenzhen (China) in February. Transfer fee ~$2.5 million. DCU also needs to move up on #MLS allocation list, so trade with Colorado. More to come …
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) August 2, 2019
Though he is not a like-for-like solution to losing Rooney next season, Kamara adds a true striker to the lineup.
“We get another No. 9, almost true No. 9 in Ola, who I am looking forward to playing with,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “There is a great opportunity with every player in the locker room to grow. I don’t base my own success on someone else. It is of course a collective effort, but in the end I am excited to still be a part of D.C. United.”
Boateng, Kamara’s former teammate with the Galaxy, is also set to join United before the transfer window closes. In his four seasons with LA, Boateng has scored nine goals and recorded 13 assists. He has most recently played off the bench for the Galaxy.
United reportedly paid money for the midfielder to switch coasts ahead of the United-Galaxy clash.
.@LAGalaxy has sent @Emaboateng to D.C. United for cash, one of the moves the team needs to make to fund the acquisition of Argentine winger Cristian Pavon. Another @LAGalaxy deal involving another veteran player is expected this afternoon
— Kevin Baxter (@kbaxter11) August 6, 2019
Far-Fetched: Two superstar personalities
While it seemed like every player in the league was linked with United in the hours following Rooney’s Derby County announcement, two big overseas names popped into play: Arsenal winger Mesut Özil and free agent Mario Balotelli.
Özil’s camp seemed more realistic than Balotelli, who is reportedly in talks with Brazilian side Flamengo, according to Goal.com.
Meanwhile, Özil’s representatives will reportedly hold talks with United officials next week. Any transfer would not happen until the January transfer window, as first reported by the Washington Post.
The 30-year-old attacking midfielder signed a new contract at the start of 2019 that runs through June 2021.
Recently, Özil has fallen out with his English club and manager Unai Emery, who is entering his second year. Özil consistently played more than 2,000 minutes under former manager Arsene Wenger, but saw a drastic decrease once Emery arrived. He scored five goals in 1,741 Premier League minutes last season. His current market value is upwards of 28 million euros.
When asked about the pressure to sign another marquee player following the departure of Rooney, Olsen said he wants to do what is best for the club, community and fanbase.
“I think that should always be the focus: a product they are proud of from an entertainment standpoint and an effort standpoint,” Olsen said.
Rooney is a player who resonated with the community through his stature, skill and ability to help produce wins.
“I think that these guys are rare. It would be nice to have something to replace that,” Olsen said. “But, if it is a 23-year-old kid that comes in and scores goals and plays exciting soccer and is a winner and represents the values of fans here and myself, that is cool, too.”
Right now, United is at a major turning point following a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Philadelphia Union, with injuries to two defensive midfielders and the announcement of Rooney’s departure. The team is visibly frustrated and looking to turn the season around with nine games remaining.
“It’s a time to pivot. I think there are a few different ways to pivot,” Olsen said. “A lot of that I will put on myself from here on. We are going to have some time pieces. Whether we are a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, I cannot tell you that. I can tell you we have been doing a lot of work in the war room with the whiteboard and figuring it out.”