Though the MLS season is less than two months old, D.C. United has identified cracks in the roster and, according to sources inside and outside the organization, begun exploring potential acquisitions at multiple positions.
It appears unlikely the club would make any moves before the league’s initial roster freeze May 8. The secondary window will swing open July 8 and last a month.
General Manager Dave Kasper scouted in Europe recently and the club has strong connections in Latin America. Trade talks could also heat up.
Given the nature of soccer’s global marketplace, however, MLS teams are continuously evaluating players around the world, so the fact that United is identifying candidates early in the season is not unusual. There is, however, a growing likelihood of transactions this summer.
United (2-3-1) has gone scoreless in four of six matches heading into Saturday’s visit to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Revolution (2-3-2).
On Friday, Coach Ben Olsen played down any imminent or vital action.
“There’s not a week that goes by that we’re not evaluating players within our league or talent from all over the world,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there is one specific area we have to fix right now, but we need to get better.
“Of course, there are going to be two, three areas where you think you potentially could move your team to another level. If an opportunity comes and you have money and [salary] cap space to play with, of course you have to be open-minded about it.”
If United decides to make changes, the question is whether the club will increase spending right away or continue taking a prudent approach. For years, without a revenue-generating stadium, United has kept a tight budget and sat at, or near, the bottom of the 22-team league in roster expenditures (payroll, acquisition fees and other personnel costs).
However, with Audi Field scheduled to open at Buzzard Point in summer 2018, the organization plans to begin relaxing constraints. Jason Levien, United’s managing general partner, said after the stadium groundbreaking in late February that the team would consider investing more heavily during this season, if necessary.
United and Minnesota are the only teams without a designated player, a roster category that requires individual organizations to pay salary costs beyond what the centralized league covers.
United, a playoff qualifier three of the past four seasons, is on firm ground with goalkeeper Bill Hamid, an experienced back line and the central midfield partnership of Luciano Acosta and Ian Harkes (both 22 years old). As for the other positions …
Defensive midfield: Marcelo Sarvas, 35, began the season as the starter for the second consecutive year, but after subpar performances and a one-game MLS suspension, lost the job to Jared Jeffrey last weekend.
Jeffrey can fill the position in a pinch — he performed well in that deep role two weeks ago — but is better suited for a place farther forward. Late last season and early this year, Jeffrey partnered with Acosta in a slot filled now, and for the foreseeable future, by Harkes.
Sarvas’s backup, Rob Vincent, has yet to return from minor knee surgery performed late last month. Vincent is a valuable figure because of his versatility but isn’t the full-time answer at defensive midfield.
Wings: Lloyd Sam has been in good form on the right side, but Patrick Nyarko hadn’t hit his stride before straining a hamstring in training last week. He missed the away defeat to the New York Red Bulls and didn’t travel to Boston.
His replacement, Nick DeLeon, moved up from the backline but departed two minutes into the second half when a groin or abdominal injury began to affect his movement. Sebastien Le Toux then entered.
Injuries, however, are not what most concern the team in the long run; it’s the impact on the game and the age of the group. Sam is 32, Nyarko 31, Le Toux 33 and Lamar Neagle will turn 30 soon. United needs a “young, rising winger,” one source said.
Striker: Patrick Mullins — who made an immediate impact upon arriving last summer and received a significant pay raise this winter — will return to the game-day squad Saturday after recovering from a hamstring injury. If he rediscovers his 2016 form, United should be fine. His replacement, Jose Guillermo Ortiz, has been okay but lacks a second gear when space opens.
Neagle, last year’s top scorer in an on-again, off-again starting role, has entered in the second half in each match this year but has yet to persuade the coaching staff to start regularly. Alhaji Kamara, who arrived with high hopes last summer, will need to prove himself with the second-flight Richmond Kickers, United’s USL affiliates.
United notes: Captain Steve Birnbaum will not play Saturday because of a concussion. “He’s feeling better every day,” Olsen said. “We’re just trying to keep him away from any busy environments right now, so he’s healing.” … Olsen said he wasn’t sure if DeLeon would suit up. … Rookie Eric Klenofsky, the third-choice goalkeeper, might need knee surgery. … Kamara is the only D.C. player assigned to Richmond for Saturday’s home match against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. … Midfielder-defender Chris Durkin is with the U.S. under-17 national team for the CONCACAF championship in Panama. … The Revolution played a 0-0 draw with the visiting San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. … Jose Carlos Rivero is Saturday’s referee. … The game-time weather forecast calls for 50 degrees, cloudy skies and light wind.
D.C. United at New England Revolution
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
TV: NewsChannel 8.
Records: United 2-3-1, 7 points; Revolution 2-3-2, 8 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Sean Franklin, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; MFs Lloyd Sam, Jared Jeffrey, Ian Harkes, Luciano Acosta, Sebastien Le Toux; F Jose Guillermo Ortiz.
N.E. probable starters: GK Cody Cropper; Ds Andrew Farrell, Benjamin Angoua, Antonio Mlinar Delamea, Chris Tierney; MFs Scott Caldwell, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez; Fs Kei Kamara, Juan Agudelo.