CHICAGO — D.C. United on Friday addressed an urgent need for back-line depth by selecting Creighton’s Akeem Ward, a right back from Northern Virginia, in the first round of the MLS draft. The club also added to a position with less need, acquiring veteran goalkeeper Chris Seitz, a former Maryland Terrapin, in a trade with the Houston Dynamo.
United rated Ward as the top prospect at right back and claimed him with the No. 14 pick, bolstering a back-line corps with just four other healthy bodies (none of whom are natural options on the right side).
The organization remains in the market for a starter at that position, but with Ward, there is, at least, a prospect in the mix.
“It’s obviously a position of need,” General Manager Dave Kasper said. “We’re very thin at both wide back positions, so it was a selection with that in mind.”
Ward could also provide cover on the left side, where returning starter Joseph Mora is the lone option.
Ward is from Vienna, Va., played club teams at Prince William Soccer and Bethesda Soccer Club, and attended McLean High School for one year before enrolling at a Minnesota private school. He was once a ballboy for United matches at RFK Stadium.
“Seeing the players come out, and just be in awe,” he said, reflecting on those opportunities. “And now it’s surreal to think that I can be one of those players that kids could be looking up to.”
Ward seems likely to begin his career with Loudoun United, a Leesburg-based second-division team that D.C. is launching this spring. Given D.C.'s dearth of right backs, however, he could receive his first-team chance earlier than expected.
From United’s right-back corps last season, Nick DeLeon signed with Toronto FC, Oniel Fisher is recovering from ACL surgery and Chris Odoi-Atsem is undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
At the moment, Paul Arriola, an attacker who provided cover at that position late last season, is the front-runner.
Besides seeking additional help at right back, Kasper said United is in the market for “quite possibly a starting center back.” Steve Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant are the incumbents. The team also needs someone to back up striker Wayne Rooney; United did not retain Darren Mattocks.
There is an abundance of goalkeepers after the Seitz trade, which involved United sending a 2020 second-round pick to New England for a second-rounder Friday and third- and fourth-rounders in 2020. D.C. then dealt Friday’s pick to Houston for Seitz. The Dynamo will keep almost half of Seitz’s salary on its books; he made $155,000 last year.
“It’s making our goalkeeping situation very solid, which is important in a long MLS season,” Kasper said. “We’re getting a guy we know very well and who can still perform at a high level. And the price is right.”
Seitz, who will turn 32 in March, will vie with newly acquired Earl Edwards Jr. to back up Bill Hamid. Edwards, 26, might end up starting for Loudoun United.
Last year, Seitz started five early-season matches before yielding to Joe Willis and made six regular season appearances overall. Previously, he spent three years with Real Salt Lake, one with the Philadelphia Union, seven with FC Dallas.
Seitz started more than 10 regular season matches three times: 2010, 2014 and 2016, when he was in the lineup in 28 of 34 matches for Dallas and posted 10 shutouts.
With Seitz’s arrival, David Ousted, the starter much of last season until Hamid returned from Denmark, is the odd man out. United is eager to shed his $375,000 guaranteed contract by trading him or reaching an agreement that allows him to sign overseas.
United signed William & Mary attacker Antonio Bustamante (Springfield, Va.) to a homegrown contract — he’ll begin his career at Loudoun United — and is in talks with Maryland central defender Donovan Pines (Clarksville, Md.) about a homegrown deal.
Negotiations with Argentine club Velez Sarsfield continue over midfielder Yamil Asad returning to United, Kasper said.
In the draft, UCLA midfielder Frankie Amaya was the top overall pick, claimed by expansion FC Cincinnati. Virginia Commonwealth attacker Siad Haji was No. 2 by the San Jose Earthquakes.
Two players from NCAA champion Maryland went to Minnesota in the first round: goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair at No. 7 and left back Chase Gasper (Gonzaga High School) at No. 15.
Maryland defender Andrew Samuels and midfielder Amar Sejdic went back to back in the second round, to Houston 33rd overall and Montreal 34th, respectively. Georgetown defender Brendan McDonough was No. 35, to Vancouver.