By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, the onetime Argentine star who became the highest-paid player in D.C. United history last season before failing to meet expectations amid a series of injuries, is attempting to negotiate a contract settlement that will allow him to join revered Buenos Aires club River Plate.
A deal would open the possibility of United reacquiring 2006 MLS most valuable player Christian Gómez, sources close to the club said.
Last winter, amid a contract impasse, United traded Gómez to the Colorado Rapids. United then acquired Gallardo, a Argentine national team veteran on the downside of his career, and gave him a $1.9 million salary -- three times more than any United player had ever earned.
United issued a statement yesterday, saying, "We've spoken with Marcelo at length about his desire to continue his career in Argentina and expect resolution of the issue in the coming days." Club officials declined requests for further comment.
Gallardo, 33, was excused from the start of United training camp last week to continue rehabilitation from adductor surgery and to address unspecified personal matters in Argentina.
Last year, he appeared in only half of United's league matches (15) and five of 16 tournament games. He was sidelined much of the summer after undergoing hernia surgery and missed the last three league games with a knee injury as United missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
With several new starters, including Gallardo, United was slow to build chemistry. But after finding a rhythm, Gallardo became influential spearheading the attack and scored two spectacular goals.
However, the hernia required surgery and sidelined him for longer than expected. Ailments to other starters also contributed to United's downfall.
At least two Argentine clubs have shown keen interest in acquiring Gallardo, a legendary figure at River Plate, where he starred from 1992 to '99 and 2003 to '06. Argentine news reports yesterday indicated a deal with the Buenos Aires club is close.
United's investors probably won't shed many tears if Gallardo departs. While MLS's centralized business structure means the league pays up to $400,000 of a player's salary, a team is responsible for the balance -- in this case, $1.5 million. Gallardo was acquired under MLS's designated player rule, which allows clubs to sign high-priced talent outside normal salary guidelines.
The most celebrated signing was English superstar David Beckham, who, after two adequate seasons with Los Angeles, is on loan to Italian giant AC Milan and might pursue a permanent move.
Gallardo's exit would allow United to acquire another marquee foreign player, but a more likely scenario is the reacquisition of Gómez and a new forward from Latin America.
A Gómez associate, who did not want to be identified, said Gómez is eager to return to Washington after falling out of favor in Colorado. A coaching change last summer resulted in only periodic appearances. Colorado has been aggressively shopping him around the league and, at one point, was in discussions with FC Dallas before talks cooled.
Gómez, 34, joined United late in the 2004 season and helped the club to its fourth MLS Cup title that fall. In 2006 and '07, his play was integral to United winning the Supporters' Shield, awarded to the team that earns the most points in the regular season.
United Notes: Defender Devon McTavish, who started 25 of 30 league games last season, signed a new contract. The Winchester, Va., native was earning $33,000, the minimum for a senior roster player. Terms of the new deal were not announced. . . . All but one of United's home matches this year will be played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, according to the complete schedule released yesterday. The season opener (March 22 at Los Angeles) and home opener (March 28 vs. Chicago) had been previously announced.