Wishing on a Star, United Gets Gallardo

Marcelo Gallardo is likely to earn in excess of $1 million this season.
Marcelo Gallardo is likely to earn in excess of $1 million this season. "He's hungrier than he has ever been," United Coach Tom Soehn said. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Marcelo Gallardo, D.C. United's newly minted midfielder, does not offer David Beckham's charm. He will not radically boost ticket sales as Mexican idol Cuauht¿moc Blanco has done for Chicago and probably won't match New York forward Juan Pablo ¿ngel's scoring aptitude.

But Gallardo will provide United with its most internationally accomplished player in years, a marquee talent whose performance, team officials believe, will live up to his sterling r¿sum¿ and golden salary, the biggest in club history.

"It's not every day that you have the opportunity to bring into your club someone who has played the [playmaking] position for Argentina," United General Manager Dave Kasper said yesterday at the National Press Club, where Gallardo was formally introduced. "I think that speaks volumes."

Terms of the two-year, guaranteed contract were not disclosed, but Gallardo, 32, was acquired through MLS's year-old designated player rule, which allows clubs to sign someone, such as Beckham, outside the normal salary restrictions. The league pays $400,000 of a designated player's salary, with the club responsible for the balance. (All other players are compensated fully by MLS.)

Although Gallardo's earnings probably will not be known until salary lists are distributed by the players' union in the spring, he is likely to take home in excess of $1 million. United's highest-paid player last year was Brazilian forward Luciano Emilio ($293,000). Between 2004 and 2006, Freddy Adu's guaranteed salary was $550,000, though his base salary was $300,000.

Speaking on the designated player option, United President Kevin Payne said: "We didn't dive right into it because we had a team that, at the time [last year], we were happy with and we didn't have the [salary] cap room, frankly. So it was never a consideration. . . . But we made a commitment to ourselves that we were going to make the room this year."

United initially targeted another pricey Argentine, Juan Sebastian Ver¿n, but when the deal collapsed in the late stages in December, the club turned its attention to Gallardo, who had fallen out of favor with French club Paris Saint-Germain and negotiated his way out of the contract. At that point, "things really came to life," Kasper said. "When the opportunity came and it became real, we acted very quickly."

Gallardo's representatives said he also drew interest from clubs in Germany, Turkey and Argentina, including River Plate, the famed Buenos Aires team where he spent his early years before moving to French club Monaco.

Speaking through an interpreter, Gallardo said: "I was convinced to come here when I began talking to management of D.C. United and I saw the great ambition that they have for this club. I shared that same ambition, that same passion that they demonstrated to me."

United is hoping Gallardo will continue the club's tradition of fielding Latin American playmaking stars, following Marco Etcheverry (1996-2002) and Christian Gomez (2004-07). Despite his impressive past, though, Gallardo is, by no means, a sure thing. He was dropped from the starting lineup by Paris Saint-Germain last fall and is no longer in the national team picture.

United Coach Tom Soehn said he believes Gallardo's diminished role in Paris will serve as motivation.

"A guy like that who has accomplished so much, when you don't get a taste of what you love to do, you get hungry again," he said. "His eagerness to join us and acclimate quickly shows me how much he wants to get back to where he was. He's hungrier than he has ever been."

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