There are a number of big storylines heading into Sunday’s clash between D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids. But none is bigger than the home debut of D.C. United’s new number 9, Christian Benteke.
They've had to wait a full month, but the Black-and-Red faithful will finally welcome the club’s new Designated Player to Audi Field on Sunday night.
After spending a decade in the English Premier League, amassing 86 goals and 23 assists with Aston Villa, Liverpool, and most recently, Crystal Palace—from whom he was acquired in early August—the Belgian international has found his next challenge in the nation’s capital.
“I think it was the time for me,” Benteke said following his MLS debut away to NYCFC on Wednesday. “I felt that a new challenge would be something that would boost me and bring something different out of me. And when I had the chance to speak to [Wayne Rooney], obviously a legend, it was an easy decision at the end.”
The mutual respect is evident between the two legendary talismen. When Rooney was appointed head coach of D.C. United in the middle of the summer transfer window, the search for a new center forward began almost immediately. After witnessing his talent up close as opponents in the English topflight and making the jump from Europe to D.C. United as a player, there were few better equipped to assess Benteke’s fit for the club.
“Playing against him, he was always a handful for defenders to deal with,” Rooney said. “I think he’s hungry. That’s the main thing. He wants to play. He wants to score goals and he fits the profile of the center forward I was looking to bring in.”
The deal came all the way down to deadline day, but all parties were certain—Benteke was the guy.
After a long wait for his work visa, Rooney was finally able to give him his D.C. United debut on Wednesday, bringing him on in the 73rd minute against NYCFC.
Benteke joined the team in New Jersey the day before the match after a long journey from Belgium. He helped see out a 2-1 victory and gave a glimpse of what D.C. United supporters can expect come Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
“I was delighted to get him on the pitch,” Rooney said during his post-match press conference. “He deserves a lot of credit. He was on a long flight, he hasn’t trained with the team, and to be ready and available to get some minutes, I’m really pleased and delighted.”
The only one more eager to see Benteke in Black-and-Red than the supporters was the man himself. Following his debut on Wednesday, he expressed his excitement to make his home debut on Sunday in a tweet.
“When you see the boys play and you’re not a part of the team, it’s really hard,” he said on Wednesday. “But I’m here now.”
The process of settling into a new club and a new city is never easy, but that’s another challenge the striker is looking forward to.
“The same way that I’m trying to get to know the league, the players, and the lifestyle here, outside of football I will try to be a tourist and learn more about this beautiful city.”
On Sunday, he’ll experience one of the best attractions that the city has to offer when he steps onto the pitch at Audi Field for the first time as a member of the Black-and-Red.