Perhaps the claims that MLS is trending away from older-player signings were overstated.
We spent the winter lauding the signings of youth Latin American talent, which bring both the promise of on-field quality in the present in addition to sell-on potential in the future. The summer, apparently, is going to be spent skewering the signings of older European talent. The likes of Fernando Torres and Iker Casillas have been strongly linked with MLS moves, and the latest bombshell involves Wayne Rooney potentially making a big-money transfer to D.C. United.
The last part of the statement, regarding the financial aspect, is where the concern sets in. The 32-year-old Rooney joining an MLS team at this juncture isn't necessarily a bad thing for the immediate present. He had an uneven season in his storybook return to Everton, but he still scored 10 goals (though none since December) and flashed the glimpses of the quality that made him the Premier League's second all-time leading scorer. He's well past his prime, but he's not totally washed, and at D.C. he wouldn't have to worry about being drowned in a midfield role.
When you consider everything that his potential signing is–and especially what it isn't–though, it makes it hard to wrap your head around the dollar figures being reported. An apparent $17 million plus wages will be required to pull off the signing, though it'll reportedly be heavily subsidized by Everton and his former side, Manchester United, which is still on the hook for bankrolling him. When you compare and contrast that with the $15 million Atlanta United spent to land Ezequiel Barco, a 19-year-old Argentine star on the rise, it's laughable and a sunk cost with one possible desired outcome.
With D.C. United opening a new stadium this summer, it's clearly looking for an instant gratification kind of splash, both on the field and at the box office. The club has engaged in talks with agent Mino Raiola in regards to Mario Balotelli, according to SI.com's Grant Wahl, and other reports have linked the club to the likes of Carlos Tevez (who, after openly admitting that his cash-grab move to China was a vacation, should set off red-flag alarms everywhere). Whether the club needs a star that's been around the block a few times to accompany its stadium opening is another discussion entirely, but it is evident D.C. is hoping to go in that direction and that making an immediate, short-term statement is more important than carrying out a long-term formula that fits within any club identity.
That identity seemed to be centered on younger talent, with a midfield built around 23-year-olds Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta and Ian Harkes, 24-year-old Yamil Asad and rising 18-year-old U.S. prospect Chris Durkin. There's clearly a need up top, with the club managing a paltry eight goals in seven matches, but when you factor in that it has played two "home" games at temporary venues while navigating a road trip that will extend until the July 14 stadium opening, the club was always going to find things difficult to start the season. Knee-jerk shelling out for Rooney could wind up being a reckless maneuver in the long term, but with the transfer window coincidentally opening four days before D.C. hosts Vancouver at its new home, the front-office reasoning would appear to be pretty transparent.
And older forward signings in MLS can work, when players come with the right mentality. They're not counted on to provide as much industry in the midfield as say a Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo may have been. David Villa came at 32. Robbie Keane came over at 31. Thierry Henry came over at 32. They're arguably all on the Mount Rushmore of foreign MLS signings that check all the boxes and proved to be prolific despite bringing years and years of wear and tear to the USA. At 37, Didier Drogba was lightning in a bottle for his season and a half, hitting double-digit goal totals twice and providing a spark for the Montreal Impact on a playoff run while also visibly connecting with the club's academy and younger players.
As for those arguing that Zlatan Ibrahimovic's signing was widely praised despite him being four years older than Rooney, consider that Ibra is a unique exception and was signed, somehow, for relative peanuts. Nobody would bat an eye if Rooney was coming over as a Targeted Allocation Money signing with little risk and an obvious short-term window. That he's reportedly going to be soaking up Designated Player money for multiple years, though, is where the eyebrows begin to be raised.
And if there's a veteran, former Manchester United striker worth throwing huge DP dollars at, it's Chicharito. He's three years younger than Rooney with considerably less tread on the tires. He's the biggest golden marketing goose remaining for MLS in Mexico, and he still has difference-making potential on the field for years to come. Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey recently claimed the club will drop eight figures on a difference-maker this summer, and Chicharito would certainly fit the bill.
So while we wait on the completion of a deal and the details that go along with it, it's clear to see that dropping eight figures on Rooney, no matter how it's subsidized, doesn't really add up for a long-term return on the investment. That money could be spent on so many more promising players and in so many better ways for the club's long-term fortunes and viability. But perhaps that's not the point for D.C. in this instance.