I caught up with D.C. United General Manager Dave Kasper today to discuss several offseason issues …
On forward Fabian Espindola shoving an assistant referee after the season-ending match against New York two weeks ago, Kasper said the club is expecting a suspension beyond the automatic two games for the straight red card. Espindola’s ban would begin at the start of the 2015 regular season and not affect his status for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals in late February and early March.
The MLS disciplinary committee has reviewed the matter and reached a decision on the number of additional games — Kasper declined to say how many — but is awaiting Espindola’s decision about whether to appeal through the players’ union. He is currently home in Argentina.
Kasper said he and Coach Ben Olsen “have spoken with Fabi several times. He knows he made a mistake and he regrets his actions. He’s a passionate guy, but we can’t have our players doing those sorts of things.”
United is attempting to negotiate new deals with the only two players who are completely out of contract: forward David Estrada and goalkeeper Joe Willis.
(If you were wondering, Kasper, the likely MLS executive of the year, is under contract through the 2015 season.)
The club is also in the process of deciding whether to exercise contract options on several players. The deadline is Monday. If an option is not picked up, it does not necessarily mean the player will move elsewhere. In some cases, United will attempt to re-work the terms. Players with no future in Washington will enter the waiver or re-entry drafts.
The other pressing issue is MLS’s expansion draft Dec. 10. Teams have until Dec. 8 to submit their 11-man protected list (players not available for selection by Orlando City and New York City FC).
Clubs do not need to protect current homegrown players; they are exempt. For United, forward Michael Seaton, midfielder Collin Martin and defenders Conor Shanosky and Jalen Robinson are safe.
Teams must protect at least one international player. United has only two: Ghana’s Samuel Inkoom and Canada’s Kyle Porter. (Canada’s Nana Attakora received a green card this year.)
Teams must protect designated players with no-trade contracts. United’s DP, Eddie Johnson, does not have a no-trade clause. And given his $505,000 base salary, guaranteed deal in 2015 and disappointing production this year, United probably would not protect him — nor would DCU expect Orlando or New York to select him.
My guess is United will protect goalkeeper Bill Hamid, defenders Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum and Sean Franklin, midfielders Inkoom, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon, Chris Rolfe and Chris Pontius, and forwards Espindola and Luis Silva. That would leave, among others, Johnson, starting left back Taylor Kemp, starting central midfielder Davy Arnaud, left back-right back Chris Korb exposed.
If United decides to protect Kemp, a second-year player, it might take a chance by exposing an older player on a larger contract, such as Franklin or Pontius. United would love to protect Arnaud, but he turns 35 in June and earns more than $200,000 — both red flags for an expansion team.
When a club loses a player, it is allowed to add one to the protected list. No club can lose more than two players. Said Kasper: “I wish this draft was last year,” when United was preparing to overhaul the roster after a three-win season and wasn’t planning to retain many players. “These are never easy decisions and this year it’s very difficult for us.”
United is in the process of arranging training opportunities in Europe for two or three young players. They would head over for 10-14 days in early January. Hamid will not be among them; he is expected to receive an invitation to U.S. national team camp in January.
Rolfe will have minor surgery this offseason to remove some of the material used to stabilize the broken forearm that sidelined him for about two months this fall. He will need three weeks to recover. Center back Jeff Parke, out for months with migraines and ultimately underwent inner ear surgery, has been working on his fitness for about a month and is hopeful of being cleared to play.
Midfielder Thomas McNamara, selected in the Chivas USA dispersal draft last week, has been in Los Angeles rehabilitating the ACL injury that ended his rookie season in April and is on pace to join the club for the beginning of preseason.
United will gather in Washington on Jan. 24-25 before beginning workouts at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The club is hoping to arrange friendlies in the build-up to the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals Feb. 24 at Alajuelense.
United is not looking to make a big-splash signing this winter.
“We are always looking to get better, but we have a good core here,” Kasper said. “We want to keep it together. Our starting points are much further along heading into next season than they were at the start of this year. This team still has a lot of room to grow. We were right there in the Supporters’ Shield race, and in the playoffs, if Silva is healthy and Rolfe is fully healthy, it’s a different story. We are looking at a lot of possibilities [for the roster] right now. We want to improve our depth and we are casting a wide net.”
He added that “this offseason is a challenge because of the unknowns: the expansion draft and possible changes in the collective bargaining agreement.” United must also consider more than MLS’s regular season: It has the 2014-15 Champions League quarterfinals in February-March and the start of the 2015-16 Champions League in late summer.
Kasper said there is more trade talk around the league this winter than he has heard in past postseasons. “There is going to be a lot of movement,” he predicted.
As for the college draft Jan. 15 in Philadelphia, United has its own first-rounder and Los Angeles’ second-rounder. The club will also weigh options in the re-entry drafts, which last year yielded Boswell, Franklin and Espindola. This year, however, United will select much further down in the order.
United will receive extra financial flexibility in the form of allocation money for participation in both Champions League tournaments. In a new guideline, MLS will also provide allocation money to clubs that lose players in the expansion draft. The amount will depend on whether the team loses one or two players.
United is in discussions with the third-division Richmond Kickers about extending the affiliation for a third season in 2015, Kasper said. United has assigned numerous players to the USL Pro club for short- and long-term assignments. In the long term, DCU has talked about launching its own third-tier club, like several other MLS teams have done recently, but those plans are on the back-burner until the stadium deal and other matters are settled.
In the first two major MLS award announcements, Boswell finished second in defender of the year voting and his center back partner, Birnbaum, was third in rookie polling. While Birnbaum figured to finish behind Dallas forward Tesho Akindele or Chicago midfielder Harry Shipp — he actually finished behind both of them — Boswell seemed the clear favorite among defenders. He played almost every minute of the league schedule and anchored a DCU backline that evolved from one of the worst in MLS in 2013 to a share of the league’s lowest goal against average this year.
Nonetheless, Seattle’s Chad Marshall won the award for the third time. Omar Gonzalez of Los Angeles was third and Michael Parkhurst of Columbus fourth. Boswell earned the most votes among team representatives and media but was a distant second to Marshall among the players’ voting. [Details]