20 December 2007

An Expert Opinion on The Holidays

Hey everyone, Ben Olsen here. I know everyone's busy with the Holidays, and that some people are upset about a War on Christmas. Well, me too. This is a time when we should all be celebrating be a part of this crazy thing called life, and being part of that extended dysfunctional family called humanity. We may not see eye-to-eye at times, but we're alike in many more ways than we differ.

As a leader, it's my job sometimes to put myself in the spotlight in difficult situation. Believe me, after you've had to talk to Brian Hall after one of his phantom foul calls, getting between Chris Hitchens and the Catholic League is easy in comparison. So if we all are going to get upset about what terminology to use this time of year, then maybe we should just agree that no matter what, we all need a little Ben Olsen in our lives. I may not have the standing of the great religious leaders or scientists in life, but that's probably a good thing. We need to calm down a bit. I'm not saying to live without passion, but you need to maintain the right amount of intensity in your life, sticking for what you believe in without going over the line of being a jerk. I know exactly where that line is, and every time I stop Alex Prus for a chat, I go right up to that line, but not over it.

I know we all want to celebrate the miracle of the season, but our traditions divide us on which miracles to choose, and perhaps divide us on saying which ones actually happened. Look, all I know is that third goal I put in against New York is on videotape, you all saw it on YouTube, so I think we can agree it happened. And this time of year is a time for humility, so I want you to remember that even after that amazing hat trick, I still compared myself to a dog's ass in the post-game interviews. That's the holiday spirit.

Some of you may be worried that we're losing the mysticism of the season, but then again I can offer myself as a solution. Science can explain many things, but the growth rate of my facial hair is a known contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics. So there's still room for the unexplained, for the miraculous, even in our technologically crazy world.

So look, I know we all want to claim ownership of this time of year for our own causes, but you have to know how to share the ball sometimes. There's no reason to get annoyed on how people wish you the best for the year, just remember that they're wishing you the best. That's the spirit of the season -- the Ben Olsen spirit. Let's all try to keep together this holiday season, and appreciate our fellows who are just trying to get by on this spinning globe. Happy Ben days, and a Merry Olsen to all. I think we can all agree on that.



"The people have spoken. The soccer people, anyway." - Steve Goff

"The people have spoken, the bastards." - Dick Tuck

Steve Goff has claimed victory in the Best US Soccer Blog sweepstakes, and while I have not heard anything official, I doubt I will just as I had no idea we were even nominated. If, at some point, I see vote totals, I will try and let you know how we did. If we must lose out, then losing at least to a blog from our city should cushion the blow. You know, at least it wasn't Ives. To those of you that cast a few votes our way, my thanks. Let me say this - We are not finished here. As part of our continuing mission to offer you the best opinion, rush-to-judgement, and biased analysis, we shall continue. Goff may make the soccer web interesting, but we want to make it fun. Congratulation to Mr. Goff, whose reporting is truly excellent and makes writing about D.C. United and MLS easier in many, many ways. We hope to take you down next year if we get a chance. See, because it's a derby now.

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19 December 2007

Happy Holidays from The DCenters!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year. May all of your Supporter's Shield-dreams come true!

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I see a ship in the Harbour

D.C. United will take on Jamaican team Harbour View in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champion's Cup. You may remember this as the team United faced in the 2005 CCC, where United won both legs 2-1 before crashing out against UNAM Pumas.

Over at An American's View, Brian Garrison tries to get ahead of the expectation setting game:

So how do I think DC United will do in this tournament? Honestly, I have no idea. I don't know because it seems as if we are in for a major roster restructuring that really has yet to take shape as of today. Yes, we have already lost a starting defender and are on the verge of losing our starting goalkeeper, but according to other sources, there should be some rather large changes in the club that will happen next month for sure. As we don't even know who will be in our starting 11, or really even have a good idea, I don't know how we will do in the tournament. I don't think we will do any worse than the Semi-Finals, but who really knows.

He's correct in one sense, in that United's roster will likely still not yet be finalized by the time of the first round. Let's not forget that Fred wasn't integrated into the line-up when United faced Olimpia of Honduras last year. But, let me restate my position from last year which remains unchanged: MLS teams should advance in the first round of this tournament. If an MLS team loses in the first round, it is not the kind of disappointment you can dismiss with "they weren't in form yet." It doesn't matter. I expect, regardless of whether our roster is finalized or not, a win over two legs. In fact, I demand it.

As for the semi-finals, that will be another story.

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18 December 2007


Two items. Item the First, Logan's Revenge breaks three weeks of radio silence to report that D.C. United is to blame for the Veron deal falling through. Key graf:

According to sources close to Veron, he felt a little smothered by DCU and was not pleased that they had jumped the gun on certain aspects of the proceedings. DCU had leaked that Veron had gotten a visa. That was true, but it wasn't to come stateside to announce his signing, but rather to first come check out the scene, the city, and the facilitates.*

Am I going to say that this isn't true? Nope, but I will say this - I don't see any real fault for DC here. United has carefully said nothing publicly about Veron. If the NDL story is true, then Veron has remarkably thin skin. I mean, seriously, leaks about rumors of a transfer? In the soccer world? Unthinkable! How could he possibly be asked to handle the pressure?! Interrobangs?!?!?!

More likely, this is a half true, half false situation which has managed to be spun in a way to make the DCU front office look bad. And while there are things to be upset with the Front Office with from time to time (such as the way Esky was notified of his trade to Toronto) this one doesn't make the list.

Item the Second. Commenter Adam notes today's Marc Fisher piece on Victor MacFarlane, and wonders about the kicker:
Might the team still end up with a stadium near Poplar Point, I asked. "Absolutely," MacFarlane replied. Stay tuned.

Am I ecstatic? No. If there is a plan, we're a long way from seeing it documented. And I would really, really like to see something. Until then, it the mirage of an illusion.

*Yes, I know. It's a blog post, though, and I'm not about to cast stones about spelling. "Definitely" still gives me problems some days. That's not the problem UPDATE: It now reads "facilities" See, just your average blog typo. Why didn't I correct it? Well, I'm not about that entire situational ethics and not wanting to misquote people thing. So I left it as is, even though I was sure it was a typo. Just so you know, this is the kind of thing I agonize over. For about two minutes.

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17 December 2007


I'd like to take this moment to wrap up the entire Veron story. The DCenters was pretty neutral on the signing of Juan Sebastian Veron, and to the extent that we're disappointed he's not signing it's because it was clear that this was the guy the Front Office wanted. We never believed, and I'm sure you never believed, that Veron was the magic bullet to take us to the next level. He would have been a piece of the plan that United was putting together. I bring this up especially in light of this Martin Rodgers piece on Yahoo:

The important question now is where D.C. United goes from here. Early suggestions indicate it may look elsewhere in South America for another high-profile player. How quickly, and how urgently, the club chases a designated or senior international player will give an important insight into the current mindset of president Kevin Payne and his organization.

Are they happy being perhaps the most-respected club in MLS, with a loyal and vocal fan-base and an effective, consistent, well-drilled team?

Or do they want to rival the Los Angeles Galaxy in the fame game and spread their message to a wider audience?

I don't believe the premise that United was bidding on Veron primarily as a play for global notice. Instead, Veron was a piece that United saw as a way of winning championships. While the team would certainly have changed with Veron in the mix (moving back to a 3-5-2 became a much higher probability bet), the team was never going to be about Veron.

The question for me, beyond who United signs, is how this affects their planning. Do they still intend to deploy the strategy they had developed with Juan Sebastian on the team, or do they look for the players they can find, and develop a new strategy for the next season? My sense, based on the last few years, is the latter is the more likely approach.

On a side note, reflecting a sentiment I think many of us share, commenter Goose writes the following: "His reason for not coming is the same reason that I would've loved having him on DC." True that.

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14 December 2007


SI.COM is now retracting their earlier comments:

On the day Juan Sebastian Veron was to tell his teammates of his plans to leave Estudiantes de la Plata and play for D.C. United he realized he couldn't do it...Veron had agreed in principal to a multiyear contract with D.C. United that would have paid him close to $4 million annually. United was so confident in the deal that Veron was scheduled to leave Argentina on Tuesday and be in Washington D.C. for a Wednesday afternoon press conferences where he would be presented with his new jersey and meet his new teammates...It was his old teammates, however, that prevented him from making the move.
"I'm staying because of the fans and my teammates. The truth is that I couldn't say goodbye," Veron told Ole.com. "My teammates' request for me to stay was very important. And I couldn't ignore the fans' affection. It is impossible not to be touched when you are an Estudiantes fan."

Goff is confirming that the deal is off for now:

All those breathless reports you read last night and this morning that Veron had signed and was going to be introduced at RFK Wednesday? How shall I put it.....Dead Wrong. Y'all should know better than trust what you read on that Internet machine...There does remain a possibility a deal could be reached, but as of early this afternoon, it ain't happening.

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Louder, louder

Whomever it is, they stood up and were counted. Good for them.

Although I don't know that I would have admitted listening to All Songs Considered (But you do listen to it? Yes, but I don't admit it, except parenthetically. That's important.)

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I wonder if we could get Andrew Lloyd Weber to write a musical with everyone signing "Veron, Veron, Veron" waiting for Juan to appear on a balcony?

...and then the female part of the chorus would sing "La Brujita" as a coutnerpoint...

...and if we could get him to do that, would it still be overrated kitsch? (Yes.)

Regardless, the first major US media report that Veron has been signed is out from Sports Illustrated:

Juan Sebastian Veron and D.C. United have agreed to a $3-4 million a year deal that will be signed and officially announced next week, SI.com has learned.

Goff counters this report with "no, nothing is certain yet," and I am inclined to believe Goff on this. While many of the details in the SI.COM report match the rumors that we've seen publicly and have been emailed to us, and the salary details seem about right (in fact, exactly what we predicted), my (informed) guess is that an agreement exists in principle between United and Veron, including a timetable on final decisions and scheduling, but the deal is not yet fully consummated.

(UPDATE: Yes, reports like this or this, saying Veron is not coming, are pretty much treated the same way as reports like the ones that say he is coming. It is not yet confirmed one way or the other. I maintain that an agreement in principle was in fact reached, but until everything is final, it can go anywhere.)

Now, over on the Hello/Goodbye list on the right, I'm only putting in the confirmed news. Right now both Josh and Troy are still with the team, and I will hold off until there's an official announcement before updating the board. Still, looking at the key personnel changes, the big picture including probable (though perhaps not highly probable) moves is like this:

OUT: Boswell, Carroll, Gomez, Gros, Perkins

IN: Veron, Wells, 1 Attacker from Argentina (Lopez?), 1 defender, 1 more player?

Five starters out, five starters in... Yeah, perhaps 2007 was a rebuilding year, it just happened to be December when the rebuilding happened.

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13 December 2007

The Ex XI

One of the recurring tropes heard during the transfer season is "Trust in Payne." And while there have certainly been great acquisitions in our history masterminded by the Front Office, exactly how good is United when it comes to making trades? As a game to test the theory, let's put together a starting line-up of players that United have either traded to another MLS team or outright released but then played for an MLS team, and see how good a team we can create. We're going to consider the players as they are today. Players that transferred directly overseas are not considered, since we'd all like Ryan Nelsen back, there wasn't much choice in letting him go. Accordingly, here's the team I can put together.

  • GK Nick Rimando (traded 2006 to Real Salt Lake)
  • LB Brandon Prideaux (traded 2007 to Colorado)
  • CB Mike Petke (traded 2005 to Colorado)
  • CB Bobby Boswell (traded 2007 to Houston)
  • RB Chris Albright (traded 2003 to LA)
  • CDM Brian Carroll (expansion draft 2007 to San Jose)
  • LM Dema Kovalenko (released after 2005, signed with New York after time in the Ukraine)
  • RM Justin Mapp (traded 2003 to Chicago)
  • CM Freddy Adu (traded 2007 to Salt Lake)
  • CF Alecko Eskandarian (traded 2007 to Toronto)
  • CF Jaime Moreno (traded 2002 to New York)

That's my list, and yes, I cheated in using Jaime, but I think the point stands -- They realized they could get him back after trading him, and they got him back. Of the rest of that list, the only player that I might want back and instantly start is Chris Albright (who converted after his trade). That seems perhaps the big mistake player that's out there. I might also be interested in seeing Rimando to push Wells, Petke for defensive depth, and perhaps Justin Mapp and Esky as potential sub options.

But the point remains -- I wouldn't swap this team for the team we have right now, and this could have been the team we have right now if you don't make certain moves (okay, you can't have both Dema and Mapp, since they were traded for each other, but you get my meaning, right?)

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12 December 2007

Beyond Good and Evil: Out- Boswell, In- Wells + draft pick

It's going to take some time for me to really evaluate the now completed Bobby Boswell for Zach Wells deal. The Goffather updated his original scoop with the telling detail that Bobby requested the trade. Given the situation, Bobby wanting out, Troy wanting to go abroad, United seems to have neatly handled a way to accommodate both players' wishes. Our think back line is even thinner, but so it goes. I think this deal is impossible to evaluate in terms of "good" or "bad." It depends on your tolerance of the unknown. We know less about United then we did, and for some of you that may be a good thing. It is a move with tremendous potential, but it is a potential equally for greatness as disappointment.

This is a risky move, if you define risk as uncertainty. Just as in picking your stocks, riskier investment may yield bigger rewards, but they may also fall flat. I think we know where Bobby's talent ceiling was, and that most of us thought we would perceive Bobby's 2008 season closer to his 2005 and 2006 seasons, as opposed to the 2007 let-down. And that would have been a good MLS defender, perhaps not great, but at least good.

As for Mr. Wells, I think he is something of an unknown commodity in terms of potential. He has shown promise, yes, but he has also shown weakness. Troy Perkins showed us what he was last year, and he was one notch down from the top tier of MLS Keepers. Zach Wells has yet to prove that he can be an average every day starter, and while he has the skills in terms of quickness and distribution, I'm not sure how well he will be in terms of tactical decision making (I say this even though this is the very trait that is praised in his Houston player bio... I just haven't seen it yet. Not consistently).

Anyways, Bobby Boswell gets filed on a long list of players that I am sad to see leave, even if I can understand the reasoning. Perhaps somewhere he can get together with Mike Petke and Alecko Eskandarian and remember the good times. And perhaps one day DevonMcTavish.Com will feature a fake video about Bobby the intern being bossed around.

To those in Houston, you are getting a decent MLS Center Back, with the potential to occasionally be a very good center back at the MLS level. He is not the next Ryan Nelsen, but he will do his job well for you.

And to Zach Wells, we bid you welcome. You are now the #2 keeper, and apparently you're a candidate for a very fast promotion. We welcome you as well, and hope you enjoy your time hear in DC. D.C. United's list of keepers, including Garlick, Presthus, Warren, Rimando, and Perkins features many decent keepers, but few that I would call exceptional. May you be the first, but know that if you are just as good as the last two in your position, that will be enough for now.

UPDATE: Sorry, comments should have been turned on earlier. They are now.

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The Nature of Perception and Causality in the Transfer Market

Strange how the apparent order of things can affect perception. Consider...

1) United wants to acquire Cannon. 2) Perkins will go to Europe. 3) D gets annoyed.


1) Perkins will go to Europe. 2) United wants to acquire Cannon. 3) D is complacent.

Same facts, different order, and a different story. United wanting to move Troy Perkins to get Joe Cannon struck me as irresponsible. But selling Perkins and getting Cannon as a replacement, that at least makes some sense. If the deal was, as reported, Boswell and cash out, Cannon in... Well, you can debate the merits of that deal. It's dead now, so it doesn't matter. Still, the motivation of the front office becomes at least intelligible. Deciding to ditch Perkins for Cannon was ridiculous (again, this is about salary cap management and choosing the most bang for your buck, not simply picking the top player at a position.) Deciding to get Cannon because Perkins wants to go overseas? Well, it's not so much an elective choice ("How do I upgrade?") as a choice of necessity ("Wow, who should we get now that our #1 keeper is gone?"). And while you can debate the merits of Cannon, as a one or two year replacement of necessity there's a lot of compelling logic there.

Which bring us to... well, it bring us to another post later on.

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11 December 2007

On the Cannon In, Perkins Out Story

Steve Goff is reporting that United may move Joe Cannon into the line up, and Troy Perkins may leave for parts unknown. Now, I personally tend to want to give the front office the benefit of the doubt on things, but unless Troy Perkins was out the door, I dislike this move. Is Cannon a better keeper than Perkins right now? Sure. Does Cannon make fewer mistakes on close free kicks than Perkins? Yup. Does Cannon have better distribution than Perkins? I'd say so. About the only thing where I think Troy has the edge is when it comes to patrolling the air on corners and crosses. Still, I'd rather have Troy Perkins. Because while Cannon is a better keeper, Perkins is the better value.

Perkins' salary impact will be in the 85-90K range, and Goff reports that Cannon will be "the highest-paid goalie in MLS next season (around $200,000)." That's a $110K difference, and if you have that kind of cap room, are you using it to marginally upgrade your keeper, or to add a quality defender, or winger, or third attacker. All of the other options seem like a better options than replace a Perkins, an above average keeper, with Cannon, an elite MLS keeper. Perkins wasn't the reason we lost many games (I can think of maybe two), unless you fault him for some disorganized defense on occasion. Our defense cost us games. Our attack becoming one dimensional cost us more games. This is, on the surface, not the move I'd like to see.

That being said, I'm evaluating this potential development in isolation. Perhaps it makes more sense when we see the full context of roster moves. But right now, I think this is a bad idea. In fact, BDR may be a perpetually worried fellow, but I agree with him that DC United could be "...over-paying for an old goalie who's no better than the underpaid goalie you already have? I understand things change, but it feels like things are changing for the wrong reasons and in the wrong directions. I don't want to root for Greenbelt Galaxy. " I would change "no better" to "marginally better" myself, but that's my only quibble. Of course, for the flip side, Brian Garrison says "I think having Joe Cannon in goal will present DC United a much better opportunity to make a stronger run at any of the 6 possible trophies that United will be up for next season." Perhaps, but I think that unless United is addressing its other shopping needs in short order, this looks like a move we don't need, and it has the potential of closing doors I'd rather remain open.

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Change over Time

One year ago today, the news broke that Freddy Adu and Nick Rimando had been traded to Real Salt Lake. Four days later, Brandon Prideaux was gone to Colorado. On December 20, Piotr Nowak left and Tom Soehn was promoted. Two days later, Esky was gone. Within a span of two weeks, United saw five significant changes to its roster.

Why do I mention this now? Because we're about to enter the same time period, and while things may vary in the precise timing, I think we'll have answers from Christmas. Yes, we're hearing a bunch of rumors on things, but right now we don't have anything verified. Yes, I know that a date for the Veron signing has shown up on various message boards. December 18 was one. We've gotten an email that said December 19 and provided various specifics. Yes, we saw the rumor in the comments about Moreno leaving for Qatar, but then again Moreno has also been seen in town by certain writers of this blog, and so it's all up in the air. It's all confusion and mish-mash... for now. But things will settle down in the next few weeks. This is the time period when all sorts of things are whispered, shouted, denied, refuted, resurface, and finally appear. And here's the thing: We'll know soon. One way or the other, we'll know about Veron, and Gomez, and Moreno, and we'll probably know about some folks we haven't heard about. Patience, my friends.

Now, the more interesting question is this: Do you really want Veron? I think there's some concern from knowledgeable people that he could be that worst kind of acquisition - The supposed superstar who doesn't really have it anymore, or is injury prone, or whatever, so he lollygags around the midfield and things never click. I can understand that fear. Look at what Dallas (or, to a lesser degree, New York) got in their designated player signings. And while I understand the fear, I don't share it yet. I can say it is something that, if Veron is signed, people will be looking for signs of it, but we'll see. Right now Payne and company are doing pretty well in their recent acquisitions, having added a league MVP, quality midfielder, and sleeper left back last year. So right now they have credit to burn, and earned the "trust their judgement" tag for the time being. But this is, to be quite simple, the biggest acquisition move D.C. United has tried to make since 2004, so quite a bit of political capital has been invested in getting this player. And if things don't go well, you wonder how far the collateral damage could go.

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07 December 2007

Rumours of a Midfield shuffle...

So Veron is close to signing, and Gomez and DC are far apart in contract negotiations. Both Goff and Spanish language news sources report that Veron will sign for United The latter actually says that Veron "would be preparing his suitcases to join DC United in the United States" and more importantly, that the player has applied for a visa to come up north.

By some curious flow of events, Greg Baum in the Australian The Aget writes today How Victory bungled Fred deal, and drops a ton of gems for us to pick up and marvel at:
Sources close to Fred say he chose not even to look at what would obviously have been a lucrative offer from American club DC United when it arrived two days before the grand final, but asked instead for an upgrade of his terms with Victory.

Even more telling is that the difference between bringing him stateside might have been as little as $40k, or in MLS parlance approximately 3 Justin Mooses. Fred even considered playing for the Socceroos, thanks to fast tracking citizenship for elite athletes.

If you've stuck this far, you may be wondering where this post is headed. Let's see if I can tie this together. We've been speculating who would stay and go in the off season. Now, Gomez appears to be the odd man out, Moreno is likely to stay, and Veron should be training at the RFK Auxiliary fields come February. On the field, Soehn might experiment with Fred playing a more prominent role in the attack, along with Veron. It could be a worthwhile experiment at the beginning of the season.

A straight up Veron (400k) for Gomez (227k) swap, nets a Salary Cap increase of 173k. Just under D's estimated 200k that the team needs to trim. United still must renegotiate Moreno's salary down, maybe pad it with performance related incentives where PKs count 1/2 as much as goals in the run of plan.

The salary cap situation for United is still very tight. If the team is indeed looking to sign another defender and another forward, expect more player moves in the off-season, and not of the developmental player variety.

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06 December 2007

Uninformed Speculation: How to make Veron fit.

Yesterday's post on the salary cap implications of adding Veron to the roster inspired some great comments, and Skippy summarized the reaction like this: "Wow. I think you turned everyone sour on Veron with a single post." That was not my intent, but I can see why it happened. Things look really tight, especially if we're not just trying to add Veron, but also give Gomez a raise to keep him, and to add another player (either defensive depth or a good forward option - I think we get one or the other, not both.) So how will it happen?

First, let me be clear: I have no inside information of any sort, but I think we can take a reasoned approach and come up with an approximation. Veron is not coming to DC without the Designated Player rule, but I doubt he gets anything close to $10M per year. In fact, over $5M per year would be somewhat stunning. A two year deal (or, more likely, one year plus one option year) for $3M-$4M base salary would seem reasonable, with incentives and bonuses that could reach $5M. That still means we get a $400,000 cap hit, but even that is manageable.

Let's start with Vanney. My guess is United renegotiates his contract to somewhere in the 80K-130K range, and then trades him. No one is likely to want Vanney with his existing salary (in fact, United didn't take him without Colorado picking up much of the tab (Erpen's salary, which was around $120K if I recall correctly, was all United was on the hook for.) Still, that's only a savings of about $150K. United does have some allocation room left even after the Fred and Emilio signings, so that may get us another $50K. To me, that means you can add Veron just with the Vanney renegotiation. But what about other players?

To me, there are three decent options: Trade Vanney at the new contract price for allocation money, or rework Jaime Moreno's deal (almost $300K is a lot for his current production, even factoring in a "soul of the team" premium), or consider trading... Bryan Namoff. At nearly $90K, he's reasonably priced but still taking up a chunk of salary. I can see other teams being interested in him, and being willing to give up allocation money or a decent third forward option for anything from 50-120K. I don't like the idea, since we're not exactly deep at right bank, but it is something that I think should be in people's minds. Another option is to trade Boswell, who is very cheap against the cap, could command a decent return in either allocation money or personnel. The problem with trading Boswell is that he is a cap value right now, and his trade value is reduced since he was on the bench. It might make more sense to deal Boswell midseason if that's the way you want to go (and, really, I don't want to go that way, but I am horribly biased).

So I think there are ways of making this work, it's just going to be tight, especially if we're not just looking at Veron, but Veron plus one other starter. And it could be awkward.

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05 December 2007

Salary Cap Implications of Veron: Someone's gonna go.

While yesterday I talked about how the money for Veron didn't imply much of a trade-off, there is a trade that needs to be considered: Adding a designated player $400K to the salary cap. Ridge Mahoney talks a bit about this today, so let's look closer. $400K salary cap hit for a designated player. United doesn't have the room for that right now. Now, I don't have 2008 Salary figures, but I think we can take a good guess as to how things stand. Let's take the 2007 Base Salaries, and add 5% as a rough estimate for built-in contract increases, and we'll adjust for the departure of Brian Carroll and the anticipated retirement of Josh Gros:

I've left in North, Crowe, and Mupier since while they're gone, those salaries will also likely go to new draft picks. Now, to afford Veron's $400K salary hit, United would need to get to about $1.85M, and right now they're almost $150K over that number before any negotiations with Christian Gomez or others about raises. Given that I think there's no way we keep Christian without at least $50,000/year more, that means DCU is probably in a position where to keep Veron, plus Gomez, plus Moreno, they need to trim about $200K, or acquire allocations to help pay those salaries and keep us under the cap. Looking at the list, do you see where cuts can get made?

Yeah, there's Vanney. A salary renogitation has long been rumored, but even if you get him down $100,000, there's still another $100K you need to find somewhere. Now, in my mind, it would not surprise me to see Vanney's salary renegotiated, then see Vanney traded (getting him almost entirely off the books) for allocation money that would help us stay within the cap providing some money to help bolster the salaries of Gomez and Emilio (assuming we don't get the benefit of L.A. salary cap rules).

Of course, if either Moreno or Gomez leaves, then the situation is largely moot. And perhaps there are other people that we need to consider renegotiation with: As much as it hurts me to say it, Ben Olsen and Jaime Moreno are both getting a lot of money, and perhaps you can save some there. Of course, that means we'd be threatening the soul of United, and I can imagine how that would be perceived by hyperactive bloggers like me...

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Wednesday International Coffee from... What was that waiter's name?

UNITED OPEN AGAINST WIZ: Goff has the scoop yesterday, I think, but it hits the main pages of the Post today. United open on the road March 29 against Kansas City, and then the home opener is against Toronto. No, it is not too early to begin speculating about how many points United should get out of those games. But... man, March... that's like four months away. Oh, my head is hurting. Now, when are those CONCACAF Cup games going to be?

CONGRATULATIONS TO CELTIC, NOW QUIT BORING ME: Good to watch Celtic advance into the round of 16 again in the Champion's League, but what a dreary game that was. Celtic looked very pedestrian in their attack, what there was of it, and Milan looked positively disinterested for most of an hour. I'm sure our friends over at Lord of the Wing will call it as they see it once they talk about the match...

HEED ARMY IN TACTICAL RETREAT: It's been far too long since we checked in with our friends in Gateshead, and sadly the news is not good. The official Unibond Premier Division team of the DCenters has dropped three matches straight. That being said, the strong early season start still has them at fourth in the table, and there's time and matches for the points to be made up. Still, the HeedArmy is invoking language that sounds perilously close to "Fight for the Shirt!":

In all the game was there for Gateshead to take, yet we showed the fight of a Buddhist monk at prey time. If the Heed really count themselves as one of the teams that can gain promotion from the UniBond some fight and heart need to be injected in to the players.
C'mon HEED, step it up!

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04 December 2007

The Curious Economics of the Designated Player

One of the basic principles of economics is scarcity. There is a limited resource, and a task is how best to divide it. In Major League Soccer, money is the resource most subject to the rules on scarcity (even without jokes on profitability). We may want our teams to be talent stocked like Barcelona, or Liverpool, or Arsenal, but the money simply isn't there. Indeed, the salary cap puts a known figure to define the supply of the money you have to work with.

In practical terms, the salary cap lends itself to analyzing roster moves in trade-offs. Do you want a proven, above average holding midfielder at $90,000 a year? Or do you trade away that midfielder and promote two promising developmental players to around $45,000 a year? The supply of money is fixed, and you have to make the decision. Even in sports without the salary cap, your bankroll is limited by an owner's willingness and ability to spend money. Every choice in salary has to be viewed as a tradeoff against another choice. Economists like to invoke the term utility somewhere around here, talking about how much you get in return for each dollar your trade for your players.

The Designated Player is a strange world which doesn't seem to adhere to the typical considerations. Other than a choice between having $1.85M to spend in a cap, plus a designated player, or a $2.25M cap without a designated player, there's no trade-off among players to speak of. Look at the Veron situation: It looks that United has decided he's that player they would bring in using the Designated Player rule. Now, let's suppose the two sides sit down and talk money. United wants to spend $14M over two years, and Veron's people want $30M over three years. On a per-annum basis, that's a difference of $3M per year. But, here's the strange thing: In most other roster transactions, United would have to balance the prospect of moving towards the Veron number against better uses for investing that money. I mean, United could pay Veron the $10M he wanted, but they could also invest that $3M in other players. And that option, depending on the players, could look reasonably attractive. It doesn't work in the Veron case, though, since the choice is either "Do we spend more money, or not spend it at all?" You can't save that $3M and spend it elsewhere (other than in the sense of spending it on organizational details.) So there's less marginal utility to saving the money, making it an easier choice to give in to a demand for higher money.

I bring this up because both Anonymous and Nick had good reactions to the initial reports on salary figures being discussed foor Veron. Anon wrote:

How 'bout we pass on Veron and use the 30M for incentives instead. Cash and perks to the team for wins, goals, saves, silverware...

Better yet, how many Emilios could we bring on board for 30M?

Only partly kidding here... that kind of differential has got to weigh on the team a bit -- in the locker room if not on the field.

And that locker-room chemistry is one of the things that defines DCU and makes them great. A bit of a risk, no?

And I admit, that's partially how I look at things, except the answer to his question of "How many Emilios could we get for 30M?" has an answer -- at most one, and Emilio is costing us only a few hundred thousand under the cap. There's not really a choice there. As for locker room chemistry, I imagine that most of the leadership of the team will accept Veron. Galaxy players are standing up for Goldenballs, so there's no reason to think that United players won't accept Veron as one of their own.

Similarly, Nick wrote

The Argentinean press has said 2 years and 20 million dollars since last august. I love Veron, but I don't think he's worth 10 million a year. I'd say that would be Riquelme money...
I agree with Nick entirely -- I would willingly fork out $10M for Riquelme and personally offer him a piggy back ride from South America to DC if it would get him here, and I don't think Veron rises to that value in a traditional sports model. But the question is defeated by the strange economics. If the choice is Veron or nothing, the benefit of saving money is a salary negotiation is reduced. It leads, in a strange way, to artificially inflated salaries. That's not to say that there's no limit to what you spend. You still have to consider what revenue Veron would bring, and how many wins he gets you, and figure out if he's worth it, but the marginal value of each dollar saved is decreased because you can't spend that dollar saved in other places. So while I normally, running a team in pretty much any other league in the world, would look at $10M for Veron and say "that's ridiculous," I won't say it here. If United decides that $10M isn't too much to pay for the player they want, then I know that their paying $10M isn't in some way cheating us out of a better option. And in that case, I suppose the deal makes more sense then it would if there was no Designated Player rule.

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03 December 2007

Follow-up, extracurricular Monday

NAMOFF'S CHANCES TO SEE BRADLEY PLAY WERE ONLY MOSTLY DEAD: Bradley defeated Maryland, and so Bryan Namoff's pesky wedding thing will not be his last chance to see the Bradley team in the NCAA men's soccer finals. Steve Goff has the gamer. With Maryland out of the tournament, Bradley is likely to become my team of choice for the Round of 8, just for club support reasons.

TRIBAL FOOTBALL SAYS "31M USD FOR VERON": This falls well within the "take with a cellar of salt" type of news, but is the first time where a media outlet has claimed to know a number. Even if you assume that the fifteen million pound sum is spread over multiple years, that's still about 10M a year for a three year contract. It's possible that they have their currencies confused. A $15M price seems much more likely to me, as that would be a two year deal at 7M and 8M. Still steep, but at least within reason for United's standards. I mean...

UNITED OUTLAY PROJECT, ROUND 2: Thanks to everyone for their comments on trying to estimate United's outlays. The big expense people got that we didn't include was travel, which we've now added in as a new expense. We've also fiddled with the front office numbers in response to the comments, so we've reduced out estimated DC outlays to about 9.7M. And, of course, we're willing to go father, so if you have concrete data or better guesses, submit them in the comments please. So, to put the previous report in perspective...

TRAVIS - THE PERKINS, NOT THE BAND. NEVER THE BAND: Hat Tip to "Gunnersaurus" at Big Soccer for the news that Troy Perkins' brother Travis is in PGA Q-School, and has a decent shot at a tour card. The final round is today, and we're pulling for him. I figure Travis must be a pretty good golfer, given the way he'd try to flop a high, floating pitching wedge into the green, and Troy would run across and grab it in midair.

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