D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper agreed to sit down for our annual end-of-season chat about the roster and the club’s direction. Rest assured, after qualifying for MLS’s playoffs for the first time in five years and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, today’s discussion was more upbeat than past years. Nonetheless, the club will have to address several issues over the next two months.
First, a bit of news: Center back Dejan Jakovic, whose contract was to expire next month, signed a new deal with the club. Terms were not disclosed.
What is Branko Boskovic‘s status?
“We met with Branko yesterday and we will have a follow-up meeting today.”
He is under contract through next summer, but Ben Olsen suggested a decision on his future is coming soon.
“It’s his personal family situation. It’s a recent issue, we’re discussing it, and we are talking through it.”
Something beyond soccer is pulling him home to Montenegro?
“Yes, it’s something he has brought to our attention. We understand and we’ll make a decision soon.”
Do you want him back?
“We would love to have Branko back. We want to make sure Branko is going to be happy. We would absolutely like to have Branko back for six months and possibly more, but family comes first.”
Olsen says your biggest need is a bonafide striker. But last offseason, you signed a player that seemed to fit that description in Hamdi Salihi. He has a guaranteed deal through next year but didn’t produce this season. Where do you go from here?
“At this point, we are in the process of player meetings. We need a little time to decompress over this holiday weekend. We have been actively scouting players for the past six months in a lot of different positions, and we will work to hopefully get stronger in that [forward] position. It’s early days. We are in meetings. We are in talks. They are going to continue.”
What went wrong with Salihi, who arrived as an experienced, proven scorer? Last winter he seemed to be the final missing piece.
“Some players take a longer time to adjust. He had a hard time adjusting to our league — our style of play, the pace of the league. There were a lot of expectations with Hamdi. He didn’t settle in right away. Maybe his confidence went a little bit. When a player isn’t playing on a regular basis, he is not sharp. And he is judged by scoring goals. So it’s a double-edged sword. He never really found his groove.”
Given his designated player status, does it weigh heavier on the front office because of the financial commitment?
“When you see ‘designated player,’ there is a level of expectation. While I understand the level of expectation, it’s a little unfair because when you bring in a foreign player, you just don’t know how quickly he is going to adjust — or if and when he will adjust. We see that with a lot of foreign players in our league, whether they are young or senior-level players. It’s not always a slam dunk.”
Bill Hamid was coy about a possible training stint overseas this winter. Do you have plans for young players to go abroad for a few weeks?
“We are evaluating some training opportunities.”
I am assuming that, after undergoing back surgery and transitioning into a full-time assistant coach during his recovery late in the season, veteran forward Josh Wolff will retire.
“He is another player we have been talking to about his future.”
Do you sense that, with new investors in place this offseason, you will have greater financial flexibility in your player search?
“We have had some initial conversations with ownership. They obviously are happy with the finish this year, but we want to get better. Designated players are always a possibility and an avenue to get better. At this stage, there is a level of support for that, but it has to be the right move for many reasons — commercial reasons, playing reasons. We don’t want to rush out and make the wrong decision.”
But your player pool is wider than in past offseasons?
“Yes. But we still don’t have our own stadium, a new stadium with a better financial situation for the club. That’s important to keep in mind because we are running a business here.”
So without the revenue flow from a new stadium, there are still financial constraints?
What is the greatest need for this club?
“The good news is we are confident we are going to keep the core of this team together. We do always want to get better. We need to get better up top. Down the stretch, we felt that, if we had a striker who was a little hotter, especially in DeRo’s absence, we would have scored more goals. That’s one area we certainly will focus on.”
If you decide to sign a higher-profile player or players, do you have the salary cap space to accommodate them, or would you have to move some current players?
“We have enough to work with.”
Kurt Morsink, who retired this season to become a scout, has been on assignment abroad looking at potential signings, correct?
“He has. It’s always tough to scout during the season, but by hiring Kurt, we have been able to expand our scouting.”
What happens next with the current roster? You have to decide whether to exercise options on most player contracts by Dec. 1, right?
“It’s a couple days before Dec. 1. We have, more or less, a week. A fair number of decisions will be made by then, but some will take longer. A player can decide whether to continue discussions with the club or take chances in the re-entry draft.”
There are rumblings that United will embark on an Asian tour early in preseason before setting up camp in Orlando in February. Erick Thohir, United’s Indonesian investor, suggested it, I imagine. Is all of that accurate?
“Yes. It would be Indonesia and other countries. I imagine we’ll know whether we’ll do it by the end of December. Our plan is to do a tour of Indonesia in the near future — it could be in preseason, it could be postseason, it might be the following year.”
Players and coaches aren’t always thrilled about training overseas, given the travel and other demands. Are you reluctant to commit to such a trip before the season?
“It would be an early trip. If you do it closer to the season, there is concern with jet lag and travel, but as an initial trip, we feel it’s something we can accommodate.”
What picks do you have for the MLS draft in mid-January in Indianapolis?
“First and fourth rounds. We have the third-to-last pick in each of those rounds.”