District Fútbol Report: DCU’s Levein, Kasper discuss Rooney coaching hire

Jason Levien, left, D.C. United CEO and co-chairman, Danita Johnson, D.C. United president of business operations, Dave Kasper, D.C. United president of soccer operations, Wayne Rooney, D.C. United head coach, Lucy Rushton, D.C. United general manager, and Steven Birnbaum, D.C. United defender and captain, pose for photographers during a news conference to announce Rooney as the new head coach of MLS soccer club D.C. United, Tuesday, July 12, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Welcome to the District Fútbol Report, WTOP Sports’ soccer blog by José Umaña, recapping the week’s action from D.C.’s two soccer teams and taking you around the world’s game.

What was a tabloid rumor became official Tuesday afternoon: English superstar Wayne Rooney is back in the nation’s capital as the new head coach for D.C. United.

Rooney’s return to the Black and Red comes after spending 18 months managing Championship side Derby County in the English second division.

For managing owner Jason Levien and President of Soccer Operations Dave Kasper, Rooney’s hiring was a swift but needed process to save United’s 2022 season and its standing in the area’s sports market. Despite fighting back to earn a 2-2 at home against the Columbus Crew Wednesday night, D.C. (5-10-4, 18 points) currently sit in last place in the Eastern Conference.

Levien and Kasper spoke to the media following the introductory press conference and gave details on the coaching search, choosing Rooney, and plans going forward. Here are some of those key takeaways:

Coaching search sped up in June, Rooney’s resignation drove it faster

Following the removal of Hernan Losada six games into the season in April, United officials planned to give assistant coach Chad Ashton the head coaching role until the end of the year before hiring a new person in charge. However, after only winning two out of 10 games after the firing, a change was needed.

Kasper said losing during that span forced officials within the club to start speeding up the coaching search. United interviewed four candidates in two weeks, including some who the club interviewed during the last hiring process.

Meanwhile, Levien remained in contact with Rooney and his agent since the former English superstar left D.C., saying that he would reach out about players that would fit in MLS. Meanwhile, Levien, who owns a stake in Championship side Swansea City, saw Rooney in-person manage Derby County through multiple financial problems, which ultimately led to its drop to the third division.

Weeks after the season ended, Rooney issued his resignation and planned to take a break before evaluating new managerial opportunities. However, for United officials, it was a sign to inquire about his interest in coaching D.C.

“After Hernan left and things which didn’t seem to be moving in the right direction, I reached out to Wayne and his agent and was hopeful they’d be interested but wasn’t sure,” Levien said. “That’s when the process started in our deliberations as to whether this was the right time to make a change and whether Wayne was the right person to bring to the table.”

Head coach Wayne Rooney says DC United is the only MLS club he would have coached

Ironically, the day after United suffered its most embarrassing loss in club history — a 7-0 defeat to rivals Philadelphia last Thursday — was the most “significant” day in the negotiations, Kasper said, as the front office elected to pull the trigger and make the coaching change.

“I think it’s risk reward,” Levein said. “You bring the wrong huge name in, who doesn’t want to be here, who’s not driven to have that kind of success, It can backfire…The belief here is that Wayne’s here for the right reasons.”

Coleen Rooney with her husband former England soccer player Wayne Rooney as they arrive together at the High Court, in London, Thursday, May 12, 2022. A trial involving a social media dispute between two soccer spouses has opened in London. Rebekah Vardy sued for libel after Coleen Rooney accused her of sharing her private social media posts with The Sun newspaper. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Rooney’s family situation

Rooney said multiple times during his introductory press conference that his family approved his decision to return stateside.

However, this time around, his wife, Coleen Rooney, and his four sons will not be joining him. Instead, both sides plan to travel frequently to see each other. Rooney listed his eldest son entering high school as one of the reasons why the family made the decision.

“That’s not an issue whatsoever from a family point of view,” Rooney said.

DC United head coach Wayne Rooney on discussing DC's offer with his wife

Levein said Wayne Rooney’s family situation was heavily discussed among the club’s staff before making the offer. It’s been widely reported that Rooney ended his player contract with the Black and Red early because his wife did not like living in D.C. It was confirmed once text messages from Coleen Rooney saying she felt homesick were shown in court during a libel case.

That previous experience has many fans concerned if Wayne Rooney can stay in the job long outside of poor results. Levein said the realities of one’s personal life are always a challenge but does believe Rooney is focused on his role. He plans to live five minutes away from United’s training facility in Loudoun County, Virginia, with one of his assistant coaches.

“I think he’s going to inject a lot of positive energy and enthusiasm and vision for the team and a pathway going forward, and I’m hoping he stays here quite a long time,” Levein said.

Front office, ownership are in ‘investment mode’ with DC roster

When asked by WTOP what was the conversation with Rooney on bringing in new players, Levein said that United is in “investment mode” to bring in new talent to Audi Field. Kasper added that D.C. would look to add one to two more designated players — high-priced players whose wages don’t entirely count against a team’s salary cap — by the end of the summer.

“I think we need some help,” Kasper said.

United plans to take advantage of Rooney’s ties to the English Premier League and European soccer to fill up holes in the roster. About 10 players in the United Kingdom have already reached out to United’s new manager once word leaked out about his hire about opportunities of playing in MLS, Kasper said.

“He’s certainly going to bring an element of attractiveness, and certainly when we talk to maybe some existing players that we’ve been tracking who have other options in Europe. When you mentioned Wayne’s name, you know [it] definitely raises some eyebrows.”

It is a change of mentality for United, as its ownership has been reluctant to pull the trigger for large-name signings. Instead, the club has opted to sign lesser-known talents in the hopes of selling them in the future.

Ola Kamara and Taxi Fountas are the team’s most expensive players. Still, each makes less than $1.8 million a season, almost two-thirds less than the 15th highest paid player in the league, according to the MLS players union.

Yet, in his introductory press conference, Rooney said he plans to continue the same methods he had in Derby County and bring in talents from the team’s academy squads if they are prepared to go pro. He added that everyone would need to work in the practice field to make his gameday roster regardless of status on the roster or salary.

Following comments from Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez, who is linked with D.C., on only signing with an MLS playoff contender, Rooney said he wants “players who are hungry” and “playing every game, attending every training session.”

United has already begun making waves, trading midfielder Julian Gressel to the Vancouver Whitecaps for $900,000 in general allocation funds, which can use to pay for new signings or adjusting current players’ salaries. More moves are expected once the international transfer window opens in August.

Rooney will not patrol the sidelines until he receives his work visa. It is expected that Ashton will coach the Black and Red on the road vs. Minnesota on Saturday.

Goal of the Week

Even after a week of rivalry games in MLS, the start of the UEFA Women’s EUROs tournament and strong NWSL action, I cannot get Haiti forward Sherly Jeudy’s free kick out of my mind!

With Haiti up 2-0 against Mexico in its CONCACAF W Championship group stage match, the 23-year-old stepped up and hit an unbelievable curling shot into the net. The goal solidified the upset victory for the Central American nation and eliminating Mexico from World Cup qualifying.

Did I miss something? Send your picks for Goal of the Week to jumana@wtop.com and see if your goal makes the next report!

Upcoming matches to watch

Washington Spirit: The Spirit look to bounce back after a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Current Sunday as they host Orlando Pride at Audi Field. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.

Team USA: Now qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. women’s national team must win the CONCACAF W Championship final match against Canada to earn a spot in the 2024 Olympics. Game is set to kickoff at 10 p.m. (If they lose, the U.S. face the winner of the third-place in a playoff for the last spot in the Olympics).

From the Mixed Zone: Forget the World Cup

After international matches around the world, soccer journalists do not have locker room access. Instead, media members wait in a designated area for player interviews. In honor of that tradition, this section where I give you something to think about from a reporter’s point of view. 

Less than a month ago, the D.C. region cried foul when FIFA did not chose its combined bid to host matches in the 2026 World Cup

However, the soccer world has come back in spades to the Chocolate City: announcing multiple events coming to the area in the near future. First, Audi Field was named the host of next year’s MLS All Star game. In September, the U.S. women’s national team — coming off its exploits in the W Championship — will come to town to face Nigeria in a friendly.

Now reports emerged that the National Women’s Soccer League will host this season’s championship game — the one captured by the Sprit last year — in D.C.

Add to this D.C. United hiring Wayne Rooney, Washington Spirit’s attempt for a playoff push and the return of preseason friendlies by European sides, there is a lot of soccer to talk about for this year and and the year to come.

Soccer will always be in the DNA of the D.C. region. Not being able to host World Cup match does not change that.

We can continue complaining about not hosting World Cup matches in 2026 and discuss how mismanaged the bid was. Or we can enjoy the amazing gifts that the soccer gods have given.

D.C. soccer fans should chose the latter.

The take from Lot 8

In honor of the amazing supporter culture that existed in Lot 8 before D.C. United games at RFK Stadium, this section will focus on learning more about soccer through some of the best or more interesting stories available online so you can ready for your next tailgate. Become a more well-informed fan and give these stories about the world’s game your attention.   

José Umaña

José Umaña is a digital editor for WTOP. He’s been working as a journalist for almost a decade, covering local news, education and sports. His work has appeared in The Prince George’s Sentinel, The Montgomery Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel, PressBox and The Diamondback.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up