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Earlier this week, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman opened fire on the impending DC United move for Wayne Rooney, not particularly at the Englishman but at DC United as a club, accusing them of spending zero-point-zero, having multiple people doing multiple jobs and being irrelevant, non-existent in the metropolitan area of DC.

Twellman referred to Wayne Rooney as a mega superstar, a massive superstar. Let’s make that clear. That’s not in question, nor is his ability to compete in MLS with one of the poorer squads in the 2018 competition. Rooney is England’s leading goalscorer and while he has had a quiet season as he returned to Everton, the quality remains. If you haven’t seen the spectacular rant, head over to @CharlieTangoFM and you’ll find it not that far down on the profile.

In this column, we’ll take a look at that spending accusation over the last ten years of MLS campaigns and see how the net spend on playing staff stacks up. Is Rooney to be little more than a name to pull a crowd and a Band-Aid over other problems at the franchise? Or will he be part of a continually developing squad?

The Evidence

DC United’s history in player acquisitions over the last ten years is a mass of developmental draft picks, promotion from their developmental squad, free transfers and undisclosed fees.

‘Undisclosed’ is a word mutually agreed by clubs. On one hand, it protects the selling club from their supporters feeling that they have been ripped off when a prized asset is sold. On the other hand, the buying club don’t reveal that they have potentially overpaid for a player whose performances will be under scrutiny.

Wayne Rooney will almost certainly play as the central attacker of any future DC United system, should he sign. But what of the last 10 top scorers? Were they signed for big money or since initial success in Major League Soccer, have DC United coasted as Twellman insists?

In 2008 and 2009, DC United’s top scorer was Luciano Emilio. He was the last International standout to have donned the red and black, not named Andy Najar. Already top scorer in 2007 with 20 goals, his return diminished to 11 in 2008 and 10 in 2009. He joined the club in January of 2007 from CD Olimpia in Mexico for a minor fee.

By 2010, DC United had promoted Andy Najar to the first team from the academy and along with Australian forward Danny Allsopp signed for another small undisclosed fee, who scored just five goals each, ended the season bottom of the MLS table.

2011 saw the rise of Canadian star Dwayne De Rosario, he claimed top goalscorer honours with 15 goals but was a makeweight in the deal that took Dax McCarty to DC from Portland Timbers for Rodney Wallace. De Rosario scored 15 goals, a big improvement on the previous season. He remained with DC until the end of 2014, as first DC took a big step into the playoffs in 2012 with Chris Pontius adding to the goal threat. Pontius himself came from the 2009 SuperDraft, again without a transfer fee but was marred with injuries in his DC United career.

The wooden spoon returned to DC in 2013 with De Rosario leading two other players in scoring a squad-high three measly goals, although they remarkably did claim the US Open Cup again. Fabian Espindola top-scored in 2014 with 13 goals, he was an MLS Re-Entry Draft Stage Two pick.

Chris Rolfe came from Chicago Fire in mid-season the year before to add 11 goals in 2015, although his fee again is undisclosed. In the last two years, Lamar Neagle was top scorer in 2016 with 9. United acquired the winger from Seattle Sounders FC in exchange for general allocation money and targeted allocation money, spending some cash in the process. Luciano Acosta had been on loan to DC before his move was made permanent in 2017, he repaid the faith shown by United management as he contributed five goals in another miserable campaign. It has to be said, the transfer fee paid to Boca Juniors was the largest paid in DC United club history and the total investment into Acosta was the highest in nearly a decade.

So what does this tell us? It paints a picture of almost a decade of austerity, of tight budgets and a lack of money spent. That does seem to agree with Twellman’s claim but the last two years have seen the club pick up the ball in terms of transfer business with both Neagle and Acosta commanding fees.

The acquisition of Wayne Rooney will be a serious dent in DC coffers but could go a long way to re-establishing the franchise at the forefront of Major League Soccer.