D.C. United is turning to South America in an attempt to solve its season-long scoring problems.
One day after releasing high-priced Salvadoran forward Ronald Cerritos, United President Kevin Payne said yesterday that the club is pursuing two Argentines and an Uruguayan as a possible replacement. Payne wouldn't identify them, citing the sensitivity of the search, but said he hopes to bring them to Washington for workouts in the coming weeks.
"They're all proven goal scorers," he said. "Two of them are pure strikers and the other one is a unique player who we think could help us a lot."
Two of the players are free agents and wouldn't require a transfer fee to acquire them, while the other is believed to be under contract and would be more difficult for the league to sign. If a deal can't be reached with any of the three, Payne said that the club would look at other international players.
With Cerritos's $162,000 salary off the books, United appears to have enough space under the $1.7 million salary cap to sign one high-profile forward and, possibly, a midfield or defensive role player. But the club could also trade or release more players in the near future, including veteran goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Troy Perkins last month and earns considerably more than the third goalie, Doug Warren ($86,000 to $25,200).
United might also restructure Perkins's contract. He earns only $850 per month as a developmental player and had to take a second job at a sporting goods store. With Perkins now starting, his agent, Patrick McCabe, is in discussions with D.C. officials about making him a full-salary player.
"Troy's contract situation will be addressed in due course," McCabe said. "We have been assured that he will be taken care of and expect it to be resolved very soon."
Speaking on the team's overall performance this year, Payne said: "Like every team in MLS, we've had good days and bad days. We've had one bad game [a 3-0 loss at Chicago on June 5] and a couple of bad stretches. We've just left too many points [in the standings] on the table because of our failure to score goals, and that's something we're going to address."
United (4-5-4) is averaging 1.15 goals per game, seventh in the 10-team league, but is coming off its highest-scoring game of the year, a 3-1 victory over Columbus on Saturday.
Nonetheless, the club still lacks a powerfully built striker who can create and finish chances in the penalty area. D.C. had planned to give that role to Thiago Martins, but two weeks ago the Brazilian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time in six months and will sit out the remainder of the season.
Alecko Eskandarian scored a pair of spectacular goals on Saturday and is very much in United's plans, but at 5 feet 9 and 165 pounds, he can't fill that physical role. Freddy Adu, a diminutive 15-year-old forward, is a finesse player who is most effective in open space.
"We all know we need to put someone along with Jaime [Moreno] that is going to be a handful . . . that is going to dominate in the air and hold the ball for the second run," Coach Peter Nowak said. "This guy would really help us."
United Notes: D.C. will play an exhibition against the minor league Rochester Raging Rhinos tonight in western New York. Bobby Convey and Earnie Stewart, just back from U.S. national team duty in Grenada, didn't practice yesterday but will meet the team in Rochester. Defenders Ryan Nelsen (groin/abdominal strain) and David Stokes (groin) didn't make the trip. A live audio broadcast will be available at www.dcunited.com.