D.C. United sits second in the Eastern Conference, still a contender to reach MLS Cup but in a rut after a fast start to a hopeful season. Victories and goals have dried up, exposing roster needs as the summer transfer and trade window opened Tuesday.
United has until Aug. 7 to place orders in the domestic and international markets.
A year after redefining the organization by signing English superstar Wayne Rooney, D.C. is not expected to make a major splash. But with the conference title there for the taking — the top six teams are separated by eight points — United understands it can’t stand pat.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be another Wayne Rooney,” Coach Ben Olsen said, “but there are pieces out there that can bolster this group.”
Some teams have already announced moves. Most notably, the New England Revolution, United’s opponent Friday at Audi Field, added Argentine forward Gustavo Bou as a designated player from Mexican club Tijuana. (It’s unclear whether he will be in uniform Friday.)
“You see teams that, even if things are going okay, identify deficiencies and not be afraid to go,” Olsen said. “We’ll see if we can get something done.”
United (8-5-7, 31 points) does not have any glaring needs like it did last year before signing Rooney, but it could use attacking help: During this current 1-2-5 rut, D.C. has scored eight goals, with three coming in one game.
The only name to surface has been midfielder Yamil Asad, a D.C. starter in 2018 who this past winter returned to the Argentine club, Velez Sarsfield, that owned his contract. Asad is available again, and United retained his MLS rights.
He has appeared in just one match, however, since leaving MLS.
Besides D.C.'s interest in Asad, at least two teams around the league have inquired about trading for his rights, one person familiar with Asad’s situation said.
United has some financial flexibility and would gain more should Zoltan Stieber depart this summer. The Hungarian midfielder, whose guaranteed contract of $787,000 is second highest on the roster, has made three starts and nine appearances totaling 301 minutes.
A move to a European club would allow D.C. to recoup corresponding salary-cap space. Nothing seems imminent, though, and in all likelihood, he will stay through the end of the season.
On a smaller scale, United has offered a homegrown contract to U.S. under-17 national team midfielder Bryang Kayo. However, two people said, he wants to explore European options first.
United officials are also spending time on Luciano Acosta, the Argentine playmaker whose contract expires at the end of the year. D.C. extended an offer that would, by some estimates, quadruple his current salary of $600,000.
Acosta, however, is apparently looking for a bigger deal and could end up playing out his MLS contract before signing abroad this winter. If that were to happen, United would not receive a transfer fee (but would retain MLS rights).
International interest in Acosta peaked this past winter, when Paris Saint-Germain showed serious interest before talks fizzled at the 11th hour. Acosta has failed to replicate his 2018 form, resulting in a drop in market value.
He will serve a red-card suspension Friday and, according to multiple people familiar with the decision, receive an MLS ban for next Thursday’s visit to Cincinnati, as well. (Straight red cards are subject to additional sanctions.)
Acosta’s absence coincides with the return of winger Paul Arriola from U.S. Gold Cup duty. His presence promises to raise the intensity of a team that Olsen says has lost some of its bite.
“We need to have a little more desperation and urgency about getting results in the way we had last year,” Olsen said, citing United’s late surge into the 2018 playoffs. “We were forced to have that last year because we had no choice. Now we have a little bit of a choice. Players have a choice to say, ‘I am going to show up today and be at my best or I’m not and maybe we’ll get away with it.' That mentality — whether it’s one, two or three players — has to change.”
Notes: New England’s flight Thursday was canceled because of thunderstorms, forcing the team to travel on game day. . . .
The Revolution, which in May hired Bruce Arena as coach, is on a 4-0-3 run. . . .
D.C. rookie defender Donovan Pines was named to the MLS homegrown squad that will face Chivas Guadalajara’s under-20 team July 30 in Orlando as part of All-Star Game festivities. . . .
United announced a Sept. 4 friendly against Mexican club Puebla at Audi Field.
New England Revolution at D.C. United
Where: Audi Field.
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Records: United 8-5-7, 31 points; Revolution 6-8-5, 23 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK Bill Hamid; Ds Leonardo Jara, Donovan Pines, Frederic Brillant, Steve Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; MFs Paul Arriola, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Lucas Rodriguez; F Wayne Rooney.
New England probable starters: GK Matt Turner; Ds Brandon Bye, Andrew Farrell, Jalil Anibaba, Edgar Castillo; MFs Teal Bunbury, Wilfried Zahibo, Luis Caicedo, Carles Gil, Juan Agudelo; F Juan Caicedo.