A new year dawns, and with MLS training camps set to open in just two weeks, D.C. United has been eerily quiet. The only commotion at RFK Stadium this winter was the Military Bowl.
The club addressed the right back position in November but passed in the re-entry drafts and didn’t announce any international signings or additional trades before the holidays. In fact, United announced more retirements (Santino Quaranta and Devon McTavish) than acquisitions (Robbie Russell).
Moves are coming, United officials promise. After declining the contract options on several players and cutting ties with Charlie Davies, the club has ample roster space and a bit of salary cap room to reconfigure its look.
So far, however, United has been silent. No word on left back depth. No new strikers. No new contract for 2011 MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario. Meantime, the Los Angeles Galaxy, the reigning champion with far fewer pressing needs than United, has been busy tinkering with personnel and, it appears, planning for David Beckham’s return.
United currently lists 18 players on the first-team roster, leaving room for as many as a dozen acquisitions. (Eight to 10 is more realistic.) The club will select seventh overall in the MLS college draft in nine days in Kansas City but doesn’t have a second-round pick, which went to Columbus as part of the Jed Zayner trade in 2010. It also has three picks in the four-round supplemental draft the following week.
In addition to the contracted players, left wing Austin da Luz and Zayner, who missed most of last season with injuries, have been invited to training camp to try to earn a roster spot.
Behind the scenes, United has been active. Coach Ben Olsen scouted in Europe, and assistants Chad Ashton and Pat Onstad ventured to Africa and Latin America, respectively. The club has kept a close eye on the college prospects and, assuming it doesn’t trade its first-round pick, will claim a Generation Adidas signee or top senior, such as Maryland striker Casey Townsend. (North Carolina’s clever midfielder Enzo Martinez is also expected to sign with MLS.)
The international market, however, is United’s primary source for players. The club has been linked with Emiliano Dudar, a 6-foot-3, 30-year-old central defender from Argentina whose most recent club during a well-traveled career was Young Boys in Switzerland. Beyond that, United has kept its plans under wraps, with few clues about impending moves.
The chances of a massive signing are slim. With De Rosario expected to receive a pay raise and Branko Boskovic on a designated player deal through June 30, United doesn’t appear to have the budget to add a high-profile player. (Owner Will Chang has money, but he doesn’t have AEG or Red Bull money to spend on glamorous DPs.) That said, United will need to address the frontline and depth at other positions with available resources.
Many starting slots are set: Bill Hamid in goal (unless West Brom makes DCU an offer it can’t refuse), Russell at right back, Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald at center back, Perry Kitchen at defensive midfield, Andy Najar on the right wing, Boskovic on the left or in the middle, De Rosario in the middle or up top, Chris Pontius on the left or on the frontline.
United has depth at forward (veteran Josh Wolff and second-year Blake Brettschneider), right back (Chris Korb), defensive midfield (Stephen King and Kurt Morsink), center back (Ethan White) and goalkeeper (Joe Willis).
At the moment, Daniel Woolard is the top choice at left back — an adequate but unspectacular option.
The most glaring need is a proven striker, a game-changer who can relieve the pressure that De Rosario will again endure. Davies enjoyed some fine moments last season but lacked consistency and smart decision-making. There were also legitimate questions about his capability of ever returning to his pre-accident form.
So that’s where United stands — with a strong base anchored by De Rosario but in need of players, both primary and secondary, before Olsen gathers his crew at RFK in two weeks.