DC United Hits Rewind Button

With the imminent departure of Gallardo, as well as the possible return of the play maker he replaced, Christian Gomez, it would seem DC United is attempting to put the sand back in the hourglass. But that might not be the best way to right the ship after such a disappointing season.

DC United’s new owners apparently want a do-over as they were clearly un-amused by shelling out approximately 2.5 million in new players last January, only to see the team tank in MLS and CONCACAF and lose fifty percent of their games overall. That’s about 100K per loss if you’re counting, and I think they clearly are.

It was such a promising January last year too. After Gomez had refused DC’s salary offer and was dealt away, United introduced five shiny new South Americans, and now none are likely to make it a full year. Niell and Carvallo didn’t even make the Summer last year, Peralta is gone on loan this winter as we couldn’t even sell him, Martinez is in limbo but probably gone soon, and now designated player Marcelo Gallardo is off to River on loan as apparently they don’t want even want to shell out a transfer fee for him.

(Rumors abound that rather than a straight sale to River, which would require a transfer fee, DC is going to loan him out for the remainder of his contract and collect a loan fee, which must obviously be less than a transfer fee (which Gallardo would also collect a percentage of). So, basically, United is washing their hands of him for a nominal fee that frees up salary and roster room that can be used elsewhere. But, it also means River is clearly wary of shelling out too much money for him either.)

So there you have it, United’s biggest signings of last year all purged with pretty much nothing in return apart from the roster and salary cap space they are no longer owed. Which leaves United right back in almost the same situation they were in last January after Gomez refused United’s contract offers, and in an odd twist, Gomez might well return to fill the hole Gallardo leaves in the central midfield. This might be seen as admitting a mistake last winter, but honestly no one could have predicted how badly those moves turned out for everyone involved. Surely Gomez won’t be holier than thou. His purgatory in the Big Dick should have been enough to humble anyone, and aside from that bitter contract negotiation last winter, Christian is nothing but a class act.

Now, if you are one of those Chicken Little types, you may well be hyperventilating a bit given United’s current roster situation. Yes, there are holes in the team you could drive a herd of cats through. Yes, there is the shuddering thought of another round of chemistry issues after a mad scramble to hurl money at whatever skilled South American shows an interest in coming to America, especially considering how well DC’s front office and coaching staff handled the influx of talent last year.

But, there may well be a silver lining to all this as it gives DC a real chance to re-structure the team to get it on a more even keel heading into the future. No disrespect to Gallardo, who I maintain is the most talented player ever to lace up boots in this league since Donadoni, Beckham and Blanco included. But United with Gallardo was hamstrung with salary cap, and had a lot of key offensive players approaching the end of their careers here at the same time.

But, without Gallardo and the expensive Gonzalo brothers, United now has about 800K to spend over the next two months and that’s a lot of gelt able to hide a multitude of sins.

Consider this, with Moreno, Emilio, and Quaranta with Doe or Khumalo as extras, they have a pretty nice rotation of forwards. You’ve got an old expensive guy, an expensive solid pro, and a young talent who can sub for either of them without a hitch, while at the same time a nice balance of speed and power on the bench to keep you afloat in a pinch. So no real worries at forward this year, and even if both Moreno and Emilio bail on next year, you only need to hope Pontius pans out, or sign another scorer which you should have money (and hopefully a scouting system) to do.

In midfield, you now have a few problems, but they can be overcome both short and long term too. With Guerrero, Fred, and Simms you have three solid pros, two who are over paid for sure, but the Fred of 2007 is worth the money, while the 2008 version is a bit more sketchy. However, either are also good trade bait if you find somebody cheaper or a youngster develops. Still, there’s no real worries over their positions for the most part, nor are there concerns about next year as all of them can return or soccer gods willing, be upgraded.

The real worry is the playmaker and leadership role which Gallardo leaves gapingly vacant. But, he would have been in the last year of his deal here and have to be replaced at the end of the season anyway. Gomez would seem to be an obvious choice to fill both roles, but honestly, he has the same problem. He’s even older and nearly as expensive, so really should only be re-acquired as a last resort, and even then only if Colorado is willing to offer a fair deal. If they hold DC ransom, we should definitly pass. Christian is a great stop gap for one year for sure, but is that really the best thing for the team going into the future?

The way to look at this is take that big wad of cash and go after fixing the foundations of the team, not just have a revolving door of shiny new foreigners every off-season. Unless, there’s a sure-fire DP out there, which I doubt, DC should be looking for a younger playmaker to build the team around (or restructure the team a bit to play a five man midfield, or two two-way players in the middle, etc.), and then literally heaving the rest of the money at some rock solid defenders with some leadership potential.

They should be able to find somebody for that central midfield role too. There’s plenty of talent in MLS, USL-1, and the region as we saw in CONCACAF play. An alluring designated player could be found if they’re lucky, but at the very least a solid pro, or a young phenom can be brought in given the money they can afford to spend. And the guy doesn’t have to be lights out fantastic either because the money you save from the difference between his salary and Gallardo’s should easily be enough to beef up the rest of the team so the new guy isn’t carrying the full load.

That’s the real bonus of losing Gallardo. If he’d stayed, you only have about 250K (The Gonzalo’s money minus a few upgrades to Quaranta, Simms, etc.) to solve your defensive woes, all in all not too promising. But that immediately springs up to 500K if you sign a midrange salary guy for playmaker. There is no doubt in my mind, DC United can find 2-3 solid pros to fill out a defense with that much money available. I’m not talking Rogers and Epsteins from god knows where, I’m talking good old fashioned gosh darned American beef wallowing around in the North Americans leagues. Money talks. Lots of MLS defenders would love to come to visit the White House now that DC has some money to throw around.

By my estimation, DC has a solid right back in Bryan Namoff, a great backup right sided defender/midfielder in Devon McTavish, who can play anywhere in a pinch. A decent prospect in central defense in Greg Janicki, and not much else there. Oddly enough, the left appears to be covered. Burch is a solid player there, and Wallace or Zaher will fight to be a very capable backup (or even Guerrero is a possibility if a left midfielder emerges from the depths of the roster). So, central defense is clearly the problem.

Not only that, but the club is still lacking for leadership, which is a very traditional role for a central defender as well. So, it would behoove DC to fork over some enticing money either in signing a beast from somewhere in the region, or spiriting away a veteran from some MLS team ready to move in a new direction (and veteran doesn’t mean old, either). Maybe even finding a diamond in the rough from the undrafted college ranks like they did with Boswell. Whatever, nearly a half million is a lot of enticement, and if you get lucky and find one for less, even better, then you can go out and get another one for good measure.

Bottom line is that DC is losing a tremendous talent in Gallardo and no one should be happy at his departure. He never really got a fair shake here by the soccer gods. He was breathtaking at times, but injuries prevented much else and soured many including the owners apparently which is a true shame. Now, granted there are those who will snarkily point out, DC did about the same with him in the lineup (6-7-1), or without him (5-8-3). But, that is misleading in the sense that DC was a markedly more dynamic and dangerous team with him on the field, and there were a lot more absences than his that played into DC’s abysmal record.

So, the owners are clearly showing they meant business when they voiced their displeasure about last season, and Gallardo is maybe being scapegoated a bit for that, but as long as Chang and McFarlane cutting their losses now doesn’t mean they are going to be gun shy about spending to find new players (which is an article for another day, analyzing their ownership moves), DC should end up in great shape at the end of this.

Gallardo, sadly, we hardly knew ya, but if DC comes out of this a much more balanced team in the long run, a little pain now will totally be worth it and good luck in River Plate.

5 replies
  1. Julius
    Julius says:

    What a wonderful and rational analysis. As has been mentioned on your podcast, America does not produce high quality skill players, thus leaving the team to search abroad for a playmaker, and any real young playmaker is going to want a lot of money to come to the US (possibly more than any team can afford). Maybe there is no choice other than sticking with aging players like Gomez.

  2. Mike Martin
    Mike Martin says:

    Thanks for the comments! BUt, I disagree. I believe there are plenty playmakers in this region and in American leagues that DC could find. Maybe even a second tier Euro (Like Norway, let”s take one of theirs for a change!)or South American (Think Bolivia, or Ecuador as opposed to Argentina), or even an African nation import. Whatever. There are guys out there. And getting a playmaker doesn”t necessarily mean buying a classic number 10 either. Schelotto or Beckham or Huckerby or Rocha or Kljestan, Holden, Claudio Lopez, Ronnie O”brien, Van den Bergh, etc. are not really a number 10s, but they are the "playmakers" on those teams. If DC can”t find a guy capable of being a difference maker on the field with anywhere from 200K to virtually unlimited money (DP slot) to spend, then the team truly needs to replace it”s front office.

  3. Martin Fernandez
    Martin Fernandez says:

    Thanks Mike, very well put. I for one see no loss in Gallardo leaving and lots to gain in Gomez coming back (if he does) – despite his age. But then you already know that from all the Gallardo trashing I did during the last year on the podcast…

  4. Bruce Arena
    Bruce Arena says:

    The US DOES produce playmakers. The difference is that they produce American playmakers. Those are the guys that are very much attacking, direct style players. Unfortunately, DC United does not play that style.

  5. Nick
    Nick says:

    I am really worried about the new season. United has some major gaps right in the center spine of the team and that is not good.

    First, I don’t agree that we are solid at forward. How long can we keep having Moreno pull the fat out of the fire. Each year he gets older and sometime he just not going to be able to respond.

    In addition, Emilo was very average last year and with support potentially weaker than last year, he may struggle even more. I’m absolutely not sold on Doe and I’ll be surprised if he does anything this year. I do have some hope for Khumalo and Pontius, but that is a long shot.

    The midfield is not better. Weak on the wings and no attacking midfielder, and most importantly NO LEADER. Hopefully, Simms will continue to be strong, otherwise this is not a good midfield.

    The backline is a mess. We miss strong central defender with speed. Heck we miss speed all over the field but that a differnt issue. – Look at what the Bulls are doing this year and we could get run off the field.

    It speaks volumes to me that our best defender is a little better than average right back. Namoff may be the only player in the back that could move into another teams starting lineup. Then we have Wallace but he is clearly unproven.

    Finally, we have Clayton a good but not great keeper, who is expensive by MLS standards – and this team passed over a generation Addidas keeper that many belive could start for most MLS teams and could be the next Brad Guzan.

    It that analysis doesn’t generate a little concern for the new season it should.

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