D.C. United, seeking to shake up its roster after another losing season, dropped five players yesterday, including forward Roy Lassiter, Major League Soccer's all-time leader in goals. But the biggest move may be coming soon, according to sources around MLS, who say United is weighing trade offers for one of its most distinguished players, Bolivian forward Jaime Moreno.
The club also is pursuing Cesar La Paglia, a highly regarded Argentine forward-midfielder. Coach Ray Hudson is planning to depart for Argentina on Thursday and will spend two weeks scouting La Paglia and other players there.
La Paglia, 23, has played two seasons for Talleres de Cordoba after spending time with the famed Boca Juniors club. Normally a player of La Paglia's stature would be too expensive for the budget-conscious MLS, but Argentina's financial crisis has left many clubs selling players for significantly lower transfer fees.
United began making personnel moves yesterday by waiving Lassiter, 33, who failed to score in 12 league games after being picked up in June on waivers; Colombian forward Henry Zambrano (one goal in five late-season appearances); midfielder Petter Villegas, who had two goals and five assists in 14 starts; and back-up goalkeeper Mike McGinty (no league appearances).
In addition, the club announced midfielder Lazo Alavanja's contract will not be renewed. He started 10 games and did not register a point.
The team was able to clear an estimated $125,000 from its payroll, which had been at the $1.7 million salary cap. But to make room for several impact players, United officials seem set to trade the high-priced Moreno or captain Marco Etcheverry. Several MLS teams have approached United about Moreno, sources said.
Both Moreno and Etcheverry would probably have to accept pay cuts to remain with United. Salary figures are kept confidential by MLS, which owns all player contracts, but both are known to earn about a half-million dollars apiece. Defender Eddie Pope's salary also is in MLS's upper scales, but he appears unlikely to be traded.
Moreno, who will turn 29 in January, has 69 goals and 52 assists since joining United midway through MLS's 1996 inaugural season. But his failure to fully recover from knee surgery last winter troubled the coaching staff, and some in the organization have questioned his work ethic. He finished with three goals and four assists in 16 appearances this past season.