DC United Plays it Safe with Return of Christian Gomez

After a year of exile in Colorado, Christian Gomez and DC United are reuniting for the 2009 season, and though it is a conservative and possibly short sighted decision, I must say given the deal they made to get him back I am starting to come around myself after some initial misgivings.

First of all, Christian Gomez is flat out a great player in MLS despite his being benched and banished from Colorado, as well as his scrappy exit from DC last off-season. Gomez was easily as good as ever up until July last year when the regime change in Colorado pretty sealed his fate with the Rapids. He just didn’t fit into their new coach’s style. True, Gomez is 34 and likely beginning to head downhill, but no question he is still a game changer in MLS and will be a huge improvement for DC United’s offense this season.

All the quotes from players coming out about his return all express their delight at having him back in the team and attest to his obvious skill. Gomez himself has been nothing but clear and emphatic about his desire to return the team towards its usual winning ways. And this is a guy that has the ability to carry a team on his back when things aren’t going well, an attitude sorely lacking last season when he was gone.

Also, chemistry problems were a huge issue last season, and had DC United gone out and signed virtually any other playmaker, those issues could easily have reared their ugly head again. But it’s extremely unlikely Gomez will be anything but an addition to team chemistry given his familiarity with the team and players. There’s also no transition shock bringing in someone to this area, Gomez and his family loved it here and couldn’t wait to move back.

So, in terms of ability and chemistry, no question Gomez is about as good as it gets if you’re going to play it safe.

Secondly, the deal DC made to get him is an exceptionally safe deal when balanced against his almost certain value. DC loses Guerrero, its DP slot, and a second round draft pick in return for Gomez with Colorado paying half his salary, an international slot, and an intriguing young goalkeeper.

So, breaking this deal down, the draft pick, international slot, young goalkeeper, and even the DP slot are all sweeteners, not the main course. No, the real meat of the deal is trading Gomez at 200 K for Guerrero’s 150 K cap hit. Basically trading an overpaid, but solid winger for an aging, but extremely talented former league MVP for 50 K more, to be brutally honest.

No doubt Guerrero was a great addition to the team last year, and he is classy player as well as pretty much the only true wing player on the team. But honestly, for 150 K you’d really expect a bit more production from an outside midfielder. With four goals and 20 assists in 101 career MLS games, there’s no reason to think Guerrero would be any more than a one goal four assist player next year too. Fred is almost certain to double or even triple those numbers, even a youngster like Pontius could certainly put up similar numbers at a lot less money.

Neither, however would be anywhere near as good as Guerrero defensively, but they’re certainly decent enough defensively to make the deal palatable. Guerrero would actually be a better left back, but the team has gone with much more economical players like Burch, Zaher and Wallace there, so that’s not really an option either, so if anyone on the team had to go, he’s the best bait unless Colorado just lost their mind and wanted the rights to Lightning Rod Dyachenko or something like that instead of a solid starter.

Bottom line is that it’s very likely DC had to either accept Gomez at full price, or throw in a starting quality player. I think clearly Gomez would not be as great an addition if he cost 400K and hampered the team’s ability to spend for a player they truly need like in central defense. But as it is, getting Gomez at half pay means they still have ample money to chase position players they need. So, if it had to be a player, Guerrero is actually about the best DC could hope for. It cuts a bit of fat out of the salary cap in a role that can be reasonably well filled with guys already on the roster, and most importantly, the player wasn’t a young player with potential as DC needs to keep all those it can.

As for the rest of the deal, the DP slot is pretty worthless anyway as we only had it for the rest of this year, and using it would mean you have to find a one year player to use it on – not a palatable thought given the Gallardo fiasco – or DC would face a tough decision on Emilio at the end of this year. Plus, if you aren’t going to use that DP slot for a playmaker, much less on an even bigger gamble for an expensive defender it’s really not a big loss. Nor was the slot all that big of a trade value to any team but Colorado as it was their slot we got for only two years in the original Gomez deal.

As for the international spot, draft pick, and goalkeeper. Let’s face it, if I can’t even remember that goalkeeper’s name this deep in this article, nor do I even have the energy or inclination to look it up, how good can he be? The international spot might well be a boon if we in fact use it for someone valuable, but if it’s for another Jose Carvallo (sorry Martin) then who cares about that. Even the draft pick is nebulous. If DC tanks another season, then it’s a good pick in the second round last year. But, frankly if we tank another year, a good pick in the second round is hardly succor or solace. Most likely it’s an end of round pick that’s even more of a crap shoot than every pick is inherently.

I can understand the consternation, and feelings of vulnerability like the team had been fleeced in getting Gomez back, but there’s no question in my mind this particular deal is well and truly in DC’s best interests for the moment.

Unfortunately, we don’t live only for the moments that this season will bring. As glorious as another Cup or two will be, let’s face it, if Gomez is on his way downhill and Moreno not far behind, as well as Emilio struggling through another season, then DC is well and truly effed. I personally believe Emilio and Gomez can be significant contributors well worth their salaries next season and Moreno can be eased into a supersub role as well soccer gods willing. But the fact remains that all of them can underwhelm and DC will be in a world of pain next year.

But that’s really the only downside to this deal. This deal for Gomez is as safe and reasonably profitable as any move this off-season could possibly be. As much as I would have liked to see some bold move towards signing a young Marco, or a savvy Lubos Kubik clone to lead the team into the next generation, I suppose it’s better to be safe than sorry.