I will never pretend to be any of the following things:
- An MLS salary cap expert
- An International soccer agent
- Anyone with any type of GM experience outside of FIFA Ultimate Team
Therefore, it’s hard for me to criticize DC United for not bringing in a big-name designated player over the past few seasons, but the club is working tirelessly to try to squeeze some moves in before Wednesday’s MLS transfer deadline to improve the team.
They signed Hungarian National Team player Zoltan Stieber (yes, that’s Bethesda-Olney Academy standout Gabe Segal in the background), sent Bobby Boswell to Altanta United in a move that can probably be seen as getting a contract off of the books, and sent Lamar Negal to Seattle.
But the news that really stood out, for me, is that they were willing to pony up a $4.5 million transfer fee and a $10 million salary ($5 million per year for 2 years) for experienced Chilean CDM Gary Medel.
The club’s past hesitancy to splash significant money towards a relevant “superstar” signing and potential face of the franchise that has been missing for so long, has left supporters with the impression that the money simply wasn’t there to be spent. But with new stadium Audi Field being constructed, it’s refreshing to see the black and red make more of an effort to field a legitimate team for the remainder of the season, heading into 2017-18.
A few things that probably aren’t helping DC United’s chances in the current transfer market:
1. Name Recognition
Unlike a club like LA Galaxy, who can approach a player and his agent and list off names like Lampard, Beckham, Donovan, Ashley Cole, and a host of other International superstars who have played for the club, DC United hasn’t had one of those names in a long time. The club’s early success was built around USMNT standout players like John Harkes, Eddie Pope, Ben Olsen, Roy Lassiter and Richie Williams, coupled with rare International finds like Raul Diaz Arce, Marco Etcheverry, Jaime Moreno, Ryan Nelson, and others.
However, the league has evolved, and the chances of finding these “diamonds in the rough” are becoming increasingly difficult. It’s quite possible that Brazilian Luciano Emilio, who was the team’s leading scorer between 2007-2009, was the last International standout to have donned the red and black, not named Andy Najar… who was only 17 when he was tied for DC United’s leading goal scorer in 2010….with five goals.
Front office can tell players and their agents about what it would be like to be the face of the franchise in the Nation’s Capital, and how great the new stadium will be, but players are going to do their homework before up and moving to a new club. When they start looking at past DCU rosters and having a hard time recognizing any of the names (no disrespect at all to current/past DC United players, we are talking about International name recognition when compared to the LA Galaxies, Chicago Fires of the world), it’s possible that you start realizing why they end up losing a talent like Gary Medel to Besiktas.
2. Not Doing Us Any Favors
In terms of International players weighing their options, and considering MLS to be a top choice, the following issues and/or people are not doing us any favors when it comes to MLS becoming a desirable destination for top International players.
- The timing. It’s the World Cup next year, and players will want to land with clubs in top-flight leagues where they will not only get minutes, but will also be pushed in training sessions every day to prepare them for the competition.
- Current Italian National Team coach Giampiero Ventura. Last season, Sebastian Giovinco was left off of Italy’s National Team roster despite being, arguably, the league’s most dynamic player. The reason given by Ventura: “MLS Doesn’t matter“.
- Past US Men’s National Team manager, and all-time International great Jurgen Klinsmann. The German has a son who is coming through the US Youth National Team ranks, yet despite calling the US home for a number of years, he continually criticized MLS whenever players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey chose their domestic league over playing abroad.
So What Now? 10 Potential DC United Transfer Targets
The MLS transfer deadline ends tomorrow, August 9th. The fact that DC United has made late moves to free up cap space by releasing Boswell and Neagle, along with the fact that the club appears to have made a significant pitch to Gary Medel, means that it’s possible we could see a significant signing.
When you start looking at some of the top players in the league, and what clubs paid to get them, such as:
- Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, only 24 years old, reportedly moved from Torino to MLS for around $4 million.
- Nemanja Nikolics, Chicago Fire, only 29 years old and 2nd leading goalscorer in MLS, moved to MLS for around $3.5 million.
- Diego Valeri, still only 31, 4th leading goalscorer in MLS, transferred to MLS for around $2.35 million.
It’s apparently possible for DC United to obtain a real difference-maker for the amount they were willing to pay for Medel.
Here are ten names that, if I were playing Fantasy MLS GM, I might consider pitching as the next potential face of the franchise in the Nation’s Capital:
1. Sebastian Larsson
32-year-old experienced, skillful central attacking midfielder with loads of EPL experience. 90 Caps for Sweden. Reportedly close to signing with Hull City, has expressed desire to remain in top league, DC United transfer might be a long shot but he is currently without a club and no guarantee he will see minutes at Hull if he makes the move.
2. Zoran Tosic
Skillful Serbian winger (76 International caps) who, at only 30 years of age, always seems to shine whenever he’s played for CSKA Moscow in Champions League. Started career early with Manchester United, before going on to make 182 appearances and score 37 goals for CSKA Moscow in 7 seasons. Currently without a club, initial transfer fee when he signed for CSKA in 2010 was only $3 million so it’s very possible they could get him for significantly less than Medel while pursuing additional options.
3. Ezequiel Lavezzi
The 32 year-old Argentinian signed for around $6.5 million when he transferred to the Chinese League last February. He has recently been criticized in China for a severe lack of judgement when posting what he believed to be a funny photo, so he may be looking for greener pastures. While his behavior off of the field may be in question, his ability to score goals on the pitch, coupled with his pace and creativity, would make an immediate impact. While his high weekly wages in China would be hard to compete with, his contract is coming to an end and it’s unlikely another Chinese club would sign him.
4. Ashley Young
Past England International, 32 years of age. Reportedly in talks with Watford, contact with United expiring soon and injury issues have seen his value drop. Maybe he has noticed his old United buddy Schweinsteiger being reinvented in Chicago and wants to be the face of an MLS franchise?
5. Bryan Ruiz
31-year-old striker, former teammates with Clint Dempsey at Fulham, CONCACAF International player with Costa Rica. Loads of international experience, contract is coming to an end with Sporting CP in Portugal and United could probably afford to bring him in, as the player is likely looking for minutes (versus trying to break into a team elsewhere) heading into 2018 World Cup.
6. Salomon Kalou
32-year-old Ivory Coast International winger with pace, skill, and experience who is hoping to come out of International retirement before the World Cup. Maybe becoming the face of an MLS club would help those chances. Hasn’t agreed to a new contract with Hertha Berlin and has expressed his desire to move to MLS.
7. Roberto Soldado
32-year-old Spanish striker who can find the back of the net. Contract is coming to an end with Villareal, club not likely to offer a new deal. Reportedly in discussions with Besiktas which means he likely wants to remain in Europe, but maybe USA is more appealing than trying to break into a Turkish side who just completed the signing of fellow Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo.
8. Vladimir Weiss
While he’s number 8 on my list, he’s the one guy who I would literally beg DC United’s front office to pursue. 27-year-old Slovakia international with pace, skill, and creativity to burn. Could play as a winger, center attacking mid, or possibly even striker in MLS. He’s only 5’9, so maybe he’s notice how well Giovinco has done in Toronto. Started his professional career with Manchester City, during a time when they were signing players like Tevez, Adebayor, David Silva, and Balotelli. Went on loan to a few clubs, most notably Rangers where he became a fan favorite. He constantly Tweets about a potential move back to Glasgow, and has bounced around a bit these past few years. He’s on the market, still in his prime, and could be a real difference maker in MLS.
9. Michel Bastos
34-year-old Brazilian with loads of International experience. Just signed with Brazilian club Palmeiras this past December, but hasn’t seen much action from what I can find, and has made a number of moves in the past few seasons. While getting up there in age, Bastos has the type of skill that few players in the world possess. Great crosser of the ball, has a cannon for a shot, and is very dangerous hitting set pieces. Can play winger, outside back, or possibly even CAM. Palmeiras signed him for around $4.7 million, but maybe if DC United made a big pitch for him to end his career as the key man in the capital of the United States, he could be persuaded.
10. Gareth Barry
If you’re still reading this and thinking to yourself “we’ve tried to sign two CDM’s, Medel and Nigel De Jong, yet the first 9 players on your list are all attacking threats”, I can’t say that I blame you. For those who still remember Ben Olsen’s playing days towards the end of his career (started off as a very pacy, dynamic young wing player, one of the top young USMNT prospects before injuries forced him to evolve) as a CDM, it’s obvious why DC United is pursuing a much-needed field general in the middle of the pitch.
Gareth Barry, 36, might not be the young, explosive, dynamic 6/CDM that he never was, but he reads the game well, can get box to box, and could bring some much-needed experience and leadership to the DC United locker room. I just feel like dynamic, skillful attacking players are what fans want to pay to see, and what the team needs to start building around.
Sure, the 6 is the most important position from a tactical standpoint, and the back line always needs extra protection. But DC United is not only in dead last place in this year’s MLS standings, they’re also in dead last place in goals for, with only 19 goals scored throughout 23 matches. Other clubs’ efforts to sign older CM’s for big money, such as Pirlo, Lampard, and Gerrard, didn’t exactly end well.
Argentinian Esteban Cambiasso, another CDM who is up there in age and might be willing to finish his career in MLS, would be another worth considering. But does DC United expect fans to get excited about Nigel De Jong, Gary Medel, or another “experienced” CDM helping to bring in the new Audi Field, when fans seem to be begging for an exciting attacking player who the team can build around?