DC United acquires Christian Benteke

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DC United took over Belgium international striker Christian Benteke from Crystal Palace on Friday, adding a 10-year Premier League veteran as the MLS transfer and trade window closed and the London club braced for the start of their season.

The deal was struck late Thursday, hours before midnight in MLS and a day before Palace’s opener against Arsenal, giving new manager Wayne Rooney and the bottom-placed organization the biggest squad splash of the summer.

“Christian is a top player who has played at the highest level for a long time,” said Rooney, who has faced Benteke several times during his playing career at Manchester United and Everton. “His experience and ability to score goals and help the team will be invaluable. It’s exciting for the team and me to bring him in and play. He will make a big difference.”

Benteke, 31, will become the highest-paid player in club history, according to two people familiar with the terms. His salary will exceed Rooney’s $3.5 million pact in 2019, his second and final season as a United player.

Benteke has signed until the 2024 season and the club have an option for 2025.

He will fill United’s third and final spot for designated high-end players, joining Greek attacker Taxi Fountas and Iceland defensive midfielder Victor Palsson.

United also paid an undisclosed transfer fee estimated at several millions to Crystal Palace, Benteke’s club, for the last six seasons.

He will not be allowed to play in MLS until his work visa is approved, a process that normally takes at least two weeks, but he is expected to travel to Washington as soon as next week to meet his new teammates, find accommodation and get on with it weather to get used to.

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“His strength and power will make him a focal point of our team and his ability to connect the game will be a valuable asset to us,” United general manager Lucy Rushton said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring Christian into the team so he can make an immediate impact.”

United’s President of Soccer Operations Dave Kasper said in an interview the club started contacting Benteke’s representatives seven to 10 days ago. At first the prospects were bleak because of the high financial requirements.

But Kasper said he worked closely with Benteke’s agent Kismet Eris and the respective owners negotiated the transfer fee and other considerations.

Additionally, Kasper said, Rooney spoke to Benteke — an interaction that, while they didn’t know each other very well, helped move the process forward. “That played a big role in bringing him to the club,” said Kasper.

When Rooney was hired last month, United counted on the former England superstar to use his status in the sport to lure players to Washington.

Signing a big forward was among Rooney’s top priorities. United were stuck with Luton Town’s 6-foot-4 Elijah Adebayo but traded with the Columbus Crew for 6-3 Miguel Berry and landed 6-2 Benteke.

Benteke was once one of the highest rated forwards in Europe. Liverpool paid Aston Villa $51m for the Belgian in 2015 and a year later Palace bought him from the Reds for $34m.

His best season with Palace was his first, in 2016-17, when he scored 15 league goals. He scored 10 goals in 2020-21 but only four of 11 starts (25 appearances) last season. All those goals came last autumn and while Odsonne Édouard secured the starting spot as a striker, Benteke has remained goalless in his last 13 appearances, mostly as a substitute.

In his 280-game Premier League career, he recorded 86 goals and 23 assists.

Benteke has scored 18 goals in 45 games with the Belgium national team, most recently in March for second-placed FIFA. He has participated in two European Championships.

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Benteke is United’s latest acquisition during the summer window, joining Berry, goalkeeper David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), winger Martín Rodríguez (Altay, Turkey), attacking midfielder Ravel Morrison (Derby County, England) and defensive midfielder Palsson (Schalke, Germany) on. .

Ochoa and Palsson are yet to make their debuts.

While Ochoa and Palsson promise to help defensively, United didn’t address backline issues. The club (6-13-3) have conceded a league-worst 47 goals and in Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Charlotte FC centre-back Brandon Hines-Ike (20 starts) suffered a foot injury that is likely to sideline him for the rest of the season will pause the season.

United lack depth in any backline position. Sami Guediri, who started the year at second division side Loudoun United, started at left-back. Right-back Andy Najar, a regular starter for much of the year, was relegated to the role of sub under Rooney; Chris Odoi-Atsem started.

Donovan Pines, who has struggled this season, and Tony Alfaro are the best options to replace Hines-Ike and work alongside captain Steven Birnbaum in central defence.

Teams are allowed to sign domestic and international free agents until the September 2 roster freeze.

Benteke joins a crowded group of forwards. Berry and Ola Kamara have alternated as starters at striker, while Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha have not even been in uniform lately.

Neither Kamara (seven goals and one assist in 20 games) nor Estrada (four goals and four assists in 16 games) are expected to return next season. Kamara’s $1.5m contract expires this winter and Estrada is on loan from Mexican club Toluca.

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