Plenty to share from D.C. United’s media availability with Ben Olsen, Dave Kasper and Kevin Payne on Monday morning at RFK Stadium:
*A new contract for 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario has been ”our highest priority,” Payne said. “We’ve been working hard on that, but it’s been a very collegial process. Dwayne has been very professional about it. For the most part, he lets his representation handle those conversations.”
De Rosario has one year left on his current deal, but after winning the league award last year and becoming the focal point of the attack after being acquired midseason from the New York Red Bulls, both sides have wanted to lock into a long-term contract.
Added Kasper: “In terms of re-signing MVPs, he has been the most professional I’ve dealt with at this club. He is a priority. We want to get it done. He wants to get it done. Hopefully, we can move in that direction shortly.”
United’s other recent MVPs were Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez.
On Friday, De Rosario said talks were “moving forward” and he was optimistic about reaching a resolution.
If United does strike a deal with De Rosario, the club would presumably have three designated players. Midfielder Branko Boskovic and forward Hamdi Salihi are already in that category, meaning the club would be paying three players beyond the standard contracts.
“I can’t categorize what DeRo’s status will be,” Payne said. “I’m not going to speculate where that is going to end up.”
Boskovic’s contract expires in mid-July and “we’ll be revisiting his status at some point” in the future, Payne added.
*The club has signed defensive midfielder Marcelo Saragosa, who played 116 matches with four MLS clubs before moving to the Azerbaijan first division the past two seasons. Saragosa, 30, will provide depth behind projected starter Perry Kitchen, who will miss time while on U.S. under-23 duty in the spring and a possible Olympic assignment this summer.
*Two young Brazilians are expected to begin trials with the club in Arizona, where United will train over the next 10 days and play friendlies against Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. Club officials declined to identify the prospects until they begin workouts.
*United acquired allocation money to help offset payroll demands from the Portland Timbers in exchange for an international roster slot in the 2012-13 seasons.
*Josh Lambo, a former FC Dallas goalkeeper on trial with United the past two weeks, won’t join the club for training in Arizona, putting ex-Chicago Fire keeper Andrew Dykstra in prime position to earn the No. 3 slot behind Bill Hamid and Joe Willis. It’s unclear whether United will invite any additional keepers to camp.
*Defender-midfielder Conor Shanosky, a homegrown player who wasn’t able to crack the game-day lineup last year, is tentatively set to go on a season-long loan to Fort Lauderdale in the second-tier NASL. He needs regular playing time and isn’t going to receive it with United’s first team at this time, club officials concluded.
*Club officials will meet with Honduran federation representatives soon to discuss Andy Najar’s participation in the Olympic qualifying tournament this spring — a call-up that would force him to miss several MLS matches.
*On the decisions to release several veterans this offseason, Payne said: “We felt that we needed to create a new culture, a new culture in the locker room. That’s why it’s been a big focus on not only the quality of the players we brought in, but the character of the players we brought in. We’re excited about it. We feel we have a chance to develop a new sense of responsibility and competitiveness and leadership that maybe we’ve lacked the last few years.”
*On the roster-building process, Payne said: “We knew we had a good starting point. We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to accomplish and how to go about accomplishing it, and we tried to act very methodically. We weren’t looking for headlines. We weren’t looking for quantity of players; that’s actually a good thing. We haven’t had to add as many as some teams in the league. That’s a matter of necessity; we weren’t in that situation.”
The priorities were on “depth at certain positions, the starting quality at the forward position in particular. ... Time will tell. We’ll find out once the games start getting played whether we made the right decisions but we are pretty pleased with the way the team has come together in the offseason.”
United’s primary acquisitions were starting right back Robbie Russell (Real Salt Lake), Argentine center back Emiliano Dudar (Swiss club Young Boys), midfielders Saragosa, Danny Cruz (Houston) and Nick DeLeon (University of Louisville), and forwards Salihi (Rapid Vienna) and Maicon Santos (Dallas).
Kasper said the club is looking to add one or two more key players before the March 10 opener against Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium. The club continues to evaluate several trialists who have been with the club for multiple weeks.
“We believe this is one of the deepest rosters we’ve had in quite some time,” he said. “We have real competition in the working week, Monday through Friday, for the starting jobs. We also think this group is going to do special things.”
Olsen said the club’s offseason work has paid off.
“We were patient. We got a lot of pressure to sign guys but we really wanted to make sure we got the right guy.”
Aside from depth and experience, Olsen wanted “bite [because] we were a little bit soft last year in general and we needed some guys who had a little bit of that X factor, a little bit of that anger. ...
“On paper, we’ve done a very good job. Keep in mind, it’s just on paper. There is a lot of work to do over the next month to figure these guys out and get everyone to know each other. ...
“It’s going to take time. There are still some new guys. We have a core group back, but the new guys are eager and enthusiastic to make this thing work.”
Olsen’s thoughts on.....
Maicon Santos: “He fits our style. I don’t think he’s been at the right team. I think he’s at the right team now” after playing for Chivas USA, Toronto FC and FC Dallas.
Boskovic’s return from a long-term knee injury: “We became a counterattack team last year largely because we didn’t have Boskovic. He is a playmaker, he gives us possession, and he’s going to make players around him much better.”
Saragosa: “Very experienced, knows this league and brings us some bite.”
Najar: “We’re looking for big things from [him] this year. The second year [in 2011] is always tough.”
Cruz: “Talk more about bite: This kid played hockey and was a running back in football. They’ve nicknamed him ‘Crash’ already. Every day he’s going to make people work and make people better.”
Left back Daniel Woolard: “Maybe our best defender last year.”
Outside back Chris Korb: “He will compete at right back and left back. ... Russell and Woolard, are they the guys [starting on the corners]? Maybe right now, but Korb is pushing them.”
Speaking in general terms about the team, “We’re not getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re very excited for the season to get underway,” Payne said: “We think we have the tools to be a very, very competitive team.”