“Christian is a great player who has played at the highest level for a long time,” said Rooney, who has faced Benteke several times during his career with Manchester United and Everton. “His experience and ability to score goals and help the team will be invaluable. It is exciting for the team and I to get him involved and play. He will make a huge difference.”
Two people familiar with the terms said Benteke, 31, would become the highest-paid player in the club’s history. His salary will exceed Rooney’s $3.5 million deal in 2019, his second and final season as a United player.
Benteke signed during the 2024 season, and the club holds an option for 2025.
He will occupy United’s third and final position for premium players, joining Greek striker Taxi Fontas and Icelandic defensive midfielder Victor Palson.
United have also paid an undisclosed transfer fee, valued in the millions, to Crystal Palace, club of Benteke for the past six seasons.
He is not allowed to play in the MLS until his work visa is approved, a process that usually takes at least two weeks, but he is expected to visit Washington early next week to meet his new teammates, find housing and acclimatize to the weather.
“His strength and power will make him a focal point for our team and his ability to connect play will be a valuable asset to us,” United general manager Lucy Rushton said in a statement. “We are excited to integrate Christian with the team so he can make an immediate impact.”
Dave Kasper, United’s head of football operations, said in an interview that the club began communicating with Benteke’s representatives seven to 10 days ago. At first, he said, the outlook seemed bleak due to the high financial demands.
But Casper said he worked closely with Benteke’s agent, Kismet Iris, and the owners involved negotiated transfer fees and other considerations.
Additionally, Casper said, Rooney spoke to Benteke – an interaction that, although they didn’t know each other well, helped move the process forward. “That played a huge role in bringing him to the club,” Casper said.
In signing Rooney last month, United were counting on the former England star using his stature in the sport to help lure players to Washington.
One of Rooney’s top priorities is to sign a great striker. United didn’t get anywhere with Luton Town’s 6-foot-4 Elia Adebayo, but he traded the Columbus Crew for 6-3 Miguel Perry and Benteke fell 6-2.
Benteke was once one of the best strikers in Europe. Liverpool paid Aston Villa $51 million for the Belgian in 2015, and a year later, Palace acquired him from the Reds for $34 million.
His best season with Palace was his first, 2016-2017, when he scored 15 league goals. He scored 10 in 2020-21 but only four in 11 matches (25 matches) last season. All of those goals came last fall, and while Odsonne Édouard secured the striker’s starting assignment, Benteke went goalless in his last 13 games, mostly as a substitute.
In his career of 280 games, he scored 86 goals and 23 assists.
With the Belgian national team, Benteke scored 18 goals in 45 matches, and last appeared for the second-placed FIFA team in March. He has played in two European Championships.
Benteke is United’s latest acquisition over the summer, joining Berry, the goalkeeper David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), winger Martin Rodriguez (Altay, Turkey), attacking midfielder Raphael Morrison (Derby County, England) and defensive midfielder Palson (Schalke, Germany).
Ochoa and Palsson haven’t made their debut yet.
While Ochoa and Palsson promised to help the defensive case, United did not deal with the back issues. The club (6-13-3) conceded the 47th worst goals in the league, and during that Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat at Charlottecentral defender Brendan Heinz Aike (20 start) suffered a foot injury that is expected to sideline him for the rest of the season.
United lack depth in every defensive position. Sami Al-Jediri, who started the year with second-tier side Loudon United, started at left-back. Right-back Andy Carpenter, a regular fixture for most of the year, has fallen back to a minor role under Rooney. Chris Odoi Atsim started.
Donovan Baines, who has struggled this season, and Tony Alfaro are the best options to replace Heinz Ike and partner with captain Stephen Birnbaum in the center of defence.
Teams are allowed to sign local and international free agents until the list is frozen on September 2.
Benteke joins a crowded group of attackers. Perry and Ola Kamara have rotated as the starting striker while Michael Estrada and Nigel Robertha have not worn a uniform recently.
Neither Camara (seven goals and one assist in 20 games) nor Estrada (four goals and four assists in 16 games) is expected next season. Camara’s $1.5 million contract expires this winter, and Estrada is on loan from Mexican club Toluca.