*D.C. United is in position to claim a college prospect who would have gone in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft last week. Maryland forward Christiano Francois, who missed the fall season for academic reasons after a strong freshman campaign in 2012, has signed with the league and will be available in a special waiver draft.
As with all player dispersal platforms entering the winter, United holds the first pick. Giuseppe Gentile, a junior forward from Charlotte, is also available. The players will learn their destinations no later than 4 p.m. ET on Friday.
I profiled Francois last year, exploring his harrowing experience during the 2010 Haitian earthquake and subsequent relocation to New Jersey for high school at famed St. Benedict’s. Language barriers slowed his academic progress at Maryland and forced him to miss the 2013 campaign. He also had offers from NASL and USL clubs this month.
In 2012, Francois (5 feet 7, 140 pounds) posted five goals and four assists despite starting just three matches. He appeared in all 24 games and, as part of an electrifying performance, scored in the College Cup semifinal against Georgetown.
Gentile was Soccer America’s freshman of the year in 2011 with 10 goals. He had nine goals and seven assists as a sophomore and eight goals this past season.
This special draft does call into question league policy. Had Francois been available in the SuperDraft, United would not have acquired him; the club had its sights set on Cal’s Steve Birnbaum all along and ended up selecting the center back with the No. 2 overall pick. Another club would have snagged Francois soon thereafter.
The signing delay means Francois could now end up at United, which has geographic and historical ties to the Maryland program. This is not to imply wrongdoing, but on the surface, it does create another perception problem for a league that often operates in the shadows.
Prohibiting college players from signing immediately after the draft and making them wait until the summer for waivers or a weighted lottery only invites them to sign overseas. I don’t know if a remedy exists, but it remains an imperfect system.
Francois’s departure is another setback for Maryland, the 2013 runner-up which had already lost four forwards: two-time Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins (New England), sophomore Schillo Tshuma (Portland), senior Jake Pace and incoming freshman Jordan Hamilton, who opted to sign a homegrown contract with Toronto FC.
*As expected, United announced defender Chris Korb had signed a new contract. Korb was about to enter the fourth, and final, year of his original deal. Terms were not disclosed. Last year his base salary was $50,000. Presumably, he received a decent bump.
With Sean Franklin pegged to start at right back, Korb begins preseason atop the depth chart at left back. Korb has played on both corners during his pro career. Unless United makes another move, second-year Taylor Kemp is the only other serious candidate on the left. (United did not re-sign Daniel Woolard and Dennis Iapichino.)
*United’s preseason plans are set:
Players will report to RFK Stadium on Saturday for physicals and fitness testing. They’ll train Sunday through Tuesday, although the snow cover and chilly forecast will probably limit outdoor work.
Camp begins in earnest Wednesday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The two-week stay will include friendlies with the Chicago Fire (Feb. 8 and 12) and Toronto FC (Feb. 5). United’s website will live stream all three matches: 7 p.m. on the 5th and 8th, 10 a.m. on the 12th. A scrimmage might also be added.
After a week in Washington, United will report to Charleston, S.C., for the Carolina Challenge Cup at Blackbaud Stadium. Live streams are in the works.
United vs. Houston Dynamo, 5
Charleston Battery vs. Seattle Sounders, 7:15
Sounders vs. Dynamo, 5
Battery vs. United, 7:15
United vs. Sounders, 5
Battery vs. Dynamo, 7:15
United’s season opener is March 8 against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.