D.C. United has grown more confident that it will reach a deal with English superstar Wayne Rooney, people close to the talks said Friday, but issues involving his transfer from Premier League club Everton remain unresolved.
Sky Sports reported a move could be completed as soon as Monday, but people with knowledge of the negotiations who did not want to be identified told The Washington Post that they would be surprised if a final agreement came together that quickly.
The team and player have agreed on general contract terms, but because Everton owns his rights until next summer, United has had to negotiate on two fronts since engaging in discussions this spring. The club's interest became public in a May 8 report by The Post.
Also, a source close to the team said the possibility of Italian striker Mario Balotelli coming to Washington is "pretty dead." Balotelli, out of contract after scoring 33 goals in two seasons for French side Nice, apparently wants to remain in Europe.
United would not have acquired both Rooney and Balotelli. The club has had other players on its designated-player wish list, in case the Rooney deal didn't materialize. Several weeks ago, D.C. was loosely in the market for Mexican World Cup forward Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Argentine forward Carlos Tevez. If a big name arrives, United might try to acquire a young designated player as well.
D.C. officials have declined to comment on the player search. Only coach Ben Olsen has acknowledged mutual interest involving Rooney and United.
Rooney, 32, is the career scoring leader for Manchester United and the English national team. He scored 10 league goals this past season for Everton, his boyhood club.
Last week, Rooney visited Washington for talks with club officials and tours of both the new stadium, Audi Field, and the Washington area. Having played his entire pro career in North West England for Manchester United and Everton, Rooney visited in part to become more comfortable with the idea of moving stateside. The trip also allowed D.C. officials to gauge his interest in playing in MLS. United has proposed a guaranteed contract through the 2020 season with a salary of at least $5 million, sources said.
If a deal is reached, Rooney could begin training at any time but couldn't start playing until the MLS transfer and trade window opens July 10. Audi Field, a 20,000-capacity venue two blocks from Nationals Park, will open July 14.
Much of United's summer business hinges on the acquisition of Rooney or another major marketable name, such as Balotelli, to appeal to the public and potential sponsors. Since the Rooney news broke, one source said, several companies have told the team that such an acquisition probably would attract their business.
The club's slow start (2-5-3, last place in the Eastern Conference) has clearly not helped business. United has sold more than 10,000 season tickets and, if necessary, will cap the total at 12,500 to leave plenty of seats available for single-game purchases. But the organization is also under pressure to sell a large number of seats to 15 matches over three-plus months - a congested schedule necessitated by the stadium's midseason opening and the heavy load of away games during the first half of the campaign.
By the time Audi Field opens, United will have played 12 road matches and two off-site home games, at Maryland SoccerPlex and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
United is off this weekend and will host second-division North Carolina FC on Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup's fourth round at Maryland SoccerPlex.