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After M.L.S., Another Stop Awaits Wayne Rooney

Major League Soccer has long had a reputation as a place where European stars come to finish their careers, enjoying the relative anonymity of living in the United States while picking up a few final paychecks against weaker competition.

But M.L.S. seems to be shifting from ultimate destination to penultimate destination, as some of the former greats are playing well enough to earn one more stop, although not with teams as prestigious as the ones they once played on in Europe.

The latest to be moving on is striker Wayne Rooney, 33, who has been a smashing success at D.C. United. He will return to England as a player-coach at Derby County after the conclusion of the M.L.S. season, it was announced Tuesday. His next team plays in the English second tier, and narrowly missed promotion to the Premier League last season, losing in the playoff final.

Rooney spent 16 years as a striker in the Premier League, notably with Manchester United, and starred for the English national team as well.

He arrived at D.C. United last summer and made a splash in an early game against Orlando, foiling a breakaway in injury time with a ball-stealing tackle, dribbling the ball downfield and then completing a long assist on the game-winning goal by Luciano Acosta.

He scored 12 goals in 20 games in his first partial season, and this year he has 11 goals in 23 games. After losing in the first round of the playoffs on penalties last season, United is in a position to qualify again. Rooney will remain with the team through the regular season and any playoff games.

Rooney was motivated largely by a desire to live in his home country, D.C. United said.

“After speaking to Wayne and understanding his difficult situation of being so far away from his family, we have accepted that this is the best decision for all parties,” Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien, the team’s co-chairmen, said in a statement.

“The opportunity to go back home and start the next step of my career in coaching was the factor that made my mind up,” Rooney said in the statement.

While M.L.S. never reached the level of the old North American Soccer League in the 1970s, which had a justified reputation for attracting many washed-up stars looking for a bit of a vacation, it has over the years brought in some European stars past their peak.

In recent years, though, some of them used M.L.S. not as a glorified retirement but as a steppingstone to one more job.

Fullback Ashley Cole, a standout at Arsenal and Chelsea, played three seasons for the Los Angeles Galaxy, then returned to England with Derby last season, though he is now retired.

The Spanish star David Villa moved on after four years at N.Y.C.F.C. and landed at a Japanese team, Vissel Kobe, this season. Sebastian Giovinco, once a mainstay at Juventus, found life after Toronto F.C. with a Saudi Arabian club, Al-Hilal F.C.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Swedish star who is perhaps the M.L.S.’s most exciting and sometimes polarizing player, is out of contract at the end of the season.

“M.L.S. is not the level of Europe, to be honest,” the always brash Ibrahimovic told ESPN last month. “Here, I am like a Ferrari among Fiats.”

Given his All-Star form for the Galaxy, he would certainly be in a position to play elsewhere if he chose. Ibrahimovic has said he was offered significantly more money to play in China, and one would imagine the interest in him there would still be strong.

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