31 January 2008

Waiting on me?

There's a post I'm trying to write. Something that incorporates our recent signings, or failure to signs, and the nature of United. I'm just finding it tricky on how to be clear, but let me state the topic outright so you know at least what I'm thinking about. There's been some commentary recently about D.C. United essentially becoming a "South American" side. It seems to me that there's some derision when this is said. And I want to talk about it, but I need to get my head together and be clear about things.

29 January 2008

Meet Marcelo Gallardo

Marcelo Gallardo makes DC history today just for being the team's first Designated Player. There's still an MLS season to play and determine if he'll go down as a Denilson or Reyna DP, or turn out to have it like Blanco or Angel.

What do we know about him?

He's 5'6"", and thus nicknamed "El Muñeco" - "The Doll". I fully expect opposing defenders to hack and foul him, to disrupt his game.

He made his professional debut with River Plate at the age of 16. After seven years, 109 appearances, and 17 goals in Argentina, he transfered to French Club Monaco. His spell in the French Premiere Devision lasted four seasons. During that time, AS Monaco won the league (2000), the league cup (2003), and champion's trophy (2000). In 2000, Gallardo was named French Ligue 1 Footballer of the Year. A fallout with Monaco's coach precipitated his return to River Plate in 2003. During his second stint with River he scored 25 goals in 77 appearances, and won the Clausura in 2004. One year ago, he returned to the French first division with Paris Saint-Germain for a lackluster season, starting only one game.

He's been capped by Argentina 44 times, and has scored 14 goals for the national side. Besides playing on the 1998 and 2002 World Cup squads, he was also on the Olympic team that won a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996.

Clearly, Gallardo has been on teams that win hardware. The question now is, will that continue or is that in the past?

Other Reactions
  • DCSundevil "I hope that the front office are right about Gallardo."

  • My Soccer Blog on our very own Beckham: "Gallardo should be able to bring some solid technical skills to the team"
As a footnote, in comments earlier I mentioned that Gallardo was meant to market the team to Argentineans. To clarify, I meant to point out that I think to the suits in MLS, a significant factor in being pursued as a DP is marketability beyond MLS fans.

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It was a decently warm game when D.C. United opened the home season in 2006 against the New York Red Bulls. Despite the previous years ignominious defeat to Chicago, the mood was somewhat optimistic. Several prognosticators picked United to finish first in the East for the upcoming year. With Christian Gomez serving a red card suspension, and Nick Rimando injured from preseason, the line-up was perhaps not the entire first string. Onto the field came Troy Perkins, Brandon Prideaux, Facundo Erpen, John Wilson, Joshua Gros, Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen, Clyde Simms, Freddy Adu, Lucio Filomeno and , Jaime Moreno. The team would fall behind early, but the insertion of Alecko Eskandarian in the second half rallied the team, which drew 2-2. That team would go on to the Supporter's Shield in 2006, with Troy Perkins displacing Rimando as United's #1 keeper, and Christian Gomez returning to an MVP Award.

It is now 2008, and from that original line-up, only Ben Olsen, Clyde Simms, and Jaime Moreno remain. Substitutes Eskandarian and Quaranta are gone. Gomez is now gone, despite his suspension. Rimando is gone. Of the 16 players mentioned, only three remain, and only Brian Namoff can really be said to have been part of that club as well and still be part of the team. That's three-quarters of lineup that has changed in two years.

Last year I wrote frequently that it was a rebuilding year, and while the results may not have reflected that idea (another successful Supporter's Shield Campaign), you can not deny that since 2006, this team has been rebuilt. Entirely. New head coach, new players, and now a new designated player. The implications of this should not be lost, and BDR has voiced a point that I agree with: "Nothing that happens this upcoming season can be blamed on a nowakian hangover."

He's right, and let's state it in another way -- 2008 is a statement year for Soehn, Kasper, and Payne. This is a team, more than any other since roughly early in this decade, where they have made a significant moved to put the team they want on the field. They have made choices, in what to acquire, and in what not to acquire. They have put their vision, the vision they believe in, on the field.

Let us take Kevin Payne at his word (pretty easy to do, since he's not really given us much of a reason to ever doubt him): The mission of D.C. United is to serve the community and win championships. United has let their most visible humanitarian go to Houston. United has let the 2006 MLS MVP leave for a designated player. We are being told, in other words, that this team is more likely than that team to fulfill those two goals. Oscar may have a point about marketing to Argentinian population, but that's not the mission of D.C. United as stated. The two foremost principles are silverware and community involvement. And this, we are told, is the best team to embody those principles.

While it is easy to focus on players in a game, this is a year that demands that we truly examine our coaching and front office. Players will win or lose games, but the front office and management will win or lose this season. They, more than any other parties, are responsible for the 2008 campaign. They had done right by us in the past, but the price of professional sports is inevitably "what have you done for me lately." The departure of Boswell, of Gomez, of Perkins... these all signify that while I give the roster moves of the past great credit, they do not matter for this season. This season is about the choices we have seen being made. If they do not work out, the chances of hot-headed, impulsive fans like me yelling for a change at the top of the power structure are much likelier then if United had stood-pat or had greater continuity.

Of course, the reverse applies as well. If United is successful this season, then the Front Office and Tom Soehn will have earned themselves a lot of slack for the next several seasons. They will have made the choices they needed to make. Risk, in the markets, defines uncertainty, and riskier investments have a greater chance of crashing and burning, but also a greater chance of truly spectacular yields. D.C. United is now the most exotic South American tech stock in MLS. And I am invested in it. Fully. Utterly.

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28 January 2008

Degrees of Greatness

Lest I become a complete cheerleader for all things Kasper and Payne, let me suggest that the idea of Gallardo becoming a Designated Player selection, as hinted in this morning's writings from the Goffather, strikes me as a bit troubling.

... it is uncertain whether Gallardo will participate right away or wait until camp moves to Bradenton, Fla., on Wednesday. It also is unclear whether United is acquiring him through MLS's year-old designated player rule, which allows clubs to sign high-profile players, such as David Beckham, outside normal salary guidelines.

That we would let Christian Gomez go because we didn't want to use our Designated Player slot on Gomez is understandable, but only if you have a decent list of impact choices that you would want to use that slot on. But to turn around and use that option on Gomez's replacement, well, that strikes me as a misstep (and one that I hope to see soon isn't being taken.) Let me put it this way - Let's stipulate for a moment that Gallardo will be a better playmaker than Gomez. But Gomez was, I think we can all agree, one of the better playmakers compared to the rest of MLS. So in essence we're banking that Gallardo will give us more improvement as a playmaker than we could reasonable expect to see then if we brought in a playmaker in any other position (say, a winger, or wingback, or center back). Even certain neutrals agree that right now our defense is a bit suspect (even if I disagree with said neutrals on the efficacy of signing Mr. Vanney to fill that hole.) And that's an argument I don't buy, not for a moment, even stipulating that Gallardo is all we want. Is this really worth giving Gallardo what we could have given Christian Gomez (who's about the same age, and we don't have any questions as to whether Christian would be disinterested on the pitch), and not ruffled all these feathers as a result? I doubt it.

So, right now, I'm willing to welcome Gallardo to DC, but a Designated Player acquisition would be a price too high.

UPDATE: I forgot the reason I titled this post what I did in the first place. Yes, to talk about the incremental differences between Gallardo and Gomez, but also to discuss my statement that "Gomez is not a legend" at United. I stand by that statement (for now, though my thinking can change.) He certainly was a great player while he was here, but a Legend to me is someone who fundamentally shapes the entire franchise and its history, and I'm not quite sure he's at the iconic level of an Etcheverry or Moreno. One Anonymous commenter makes a case for Pope, which is good, especially since he scored the single most important goal in defining United for a decade to come, so I can see that. Dave Lifton makes the case for Gomez here.

Oh, and there's a ton to talk about right now, isn't there?

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25 January 2008


Look, I could write a supplemental draft write-up. Or wait for Kinney or Oscar or Bob to do it. And they still may, I don't know. We're pretty independent here. But frankly, if just for the distance they work for the joke, I'm just gonna refer you to The Fullback Files' post on the matter, and commend to your attention the following:

Round 2 - Dan Stratford (midfielder, West Virginia, Fulham academy)...Good God, I hope he doesn't meet a nice girl named Yvonne--imagine the Developmental Players House Party out-takes . . . "So then I'm stumbling into the room drunk, and there's Stratford-upon-Yvonne." The horror.
Some jokes are there, some jokes you need to work for, and some jokes you need to take a bus and change outside of Chicago to get at. That being said, it's worth the fare.

Also, I've done a bit of work on the blogroll, taking out some people who look like they've gone defunct, adding a few (Plenderleith, for one, and Caught in Posession whose comments right now are almost water-cooler chatter for certain MLSNet writers)

QUICK UPDATE: Soccer City FC (need to get them in the blogroll) has some quotes with the afore-mentioned Mr. Stratford. No word on any names of the Significant Other(s). Which is probably as it should be, Bardesque jokes be damned.

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Ultimately the Outrage I Find Can Not Sustain Itself

I am not without pettiness. Part of me reads the story of the falling-out between Christian Gomez and D.C. United, and I want to be incensed at Christian for not showing enough loyalty to come back at the terms United offered. The terms offered were decent -- $300K to $350K per year in cap space. Gomez wanted $500K a year which meant $400K in cap space. You can look at that and say "Hey, that's a difference of only $100K under the cap at most, why not? He has earned it, and the money above the cap is fairly nominal for a Designated Player." But, of course, it would have meant abandoning the opportunity of pursuing another Designated Player, and United judged the opportunity cost as too high. In which case you're thinking "Hey, it's few hundred thousand to stay, why can't he come down, work with us here?"

I am sure there are those in their heart of hearts who will feel betrayed by this. Then they will point to Christian's performance, wonder if he ever really could handle the full MLS Season, wonder aloud about his willingness to learn English, and question if he was ever really part of the culture at D.C. United. These people should, of course, be hit in the head with a two-by-four. Christian Gomez is the player who is single-most responsible for bringing home three trophies: Two Supporter's Shields and one MLS Cup. He's the link among the three successful (as in silverware winning) campaigns between 2004 and 2007. He may not have communicated in the locker-room, but he communicated plenty on the field. As for the English thing, I offer you the following joke:

Q: What's the difference between Christan Gomez and Alexi Lalas speaking English?

A: You can at least translate Christian Gomez sensibly.

So ultimately there was a difference of opinion, and Christian wants to go. Fine. He will be missed. If there is a sadness, it is that Christian will not play enough in a United uniform to truly become one of the great legends of United, a Marco Etcheverry, a Jaime Moreno. Instead he'll be one tier down in that list of great players who spent some time here, but didn't define the organization by their presence (John Harkes, Raul Diaz Arce, Eddie Pope). A Great, not a Legend.

So, no, I can harbor no ill-will with Christian Gomez as for how things ended, no can I get outraged at the front office for not keeping him. There is such a thing as a no-fault divorce, and now both have grown in different directions, apart from each other. It is sad, but short of signing Right Back Hayley Mills and Left Back Hayley Mills, I think reconciliation is unlikely. That's the way it goes sometimes. It's sad, very sad, but it isn't worth outrage. We'll wait for the final word before saying good-bye, but we are waiting.

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24 January 2008

Moreno re-signed, Gomez, not so much...

D asked for it - and now its official, Moreno re-signed with United. Press release is on mlsnet. As usual, MLS doesn't disclose the terms of the deal, but its been reported to be guaranteed for 2 more years at a lower salary. I'm personally glad that Moreno will stick aroudn two more years, he's a sentimental favorite of mine. While he's not the same player he was 12 years ago, and who is, he still made DC a smarter, more composed team.

Goff also has some juicy details on Gomez's contract saga, and its not pretty. Doesn't sound like he is happy at all with the team, and the apparent arrival of Gallardo likely means he's gone. His position is easy to understand, especially if you look around the league and see players like EJ and Ruiz earning more than the cap figure with little impact to show for it. Is an unintended consequence of the DP rule that talented, but unknown players will not stay in MLS long.

One by one: Hello Martinez, Goodbye Nolly

HELLO:...And the parade continues. United has now added Gonzalo Martinez from Millonarios, and Dave Kasper provides us the resume:

Martìnez began his professional career in the Colombian First Division with Deportes Tolima in 1996 before moving to Italian Serie A side Udinese in 2001. Martinez made 24 appearances for Udinese from 2001-03 before joining Napoli on loan, where he spent part of the 2003 and 2004 campaigns. In the 2003-04 season, he moved to Reggina, where he made 14 appearances. The 5'10", 165-pound defender returned to his native Colombia and rejoined Deportes Tolima for the 2005 season, notching three goals in 21 appearances. Martìnez then moved to Olimpia, and later, Libertad, in 2005-2006 in Paraguay, where he started in a combined 27 games and helped Libertad capture the Paraguayan First Division championship. In 2007, Martìnez returned to Colombia and appeared in 36 games for Millonarios.

That's some pretty good teams, even if it was the Napoli Serie B years (I have a soft spot for Napoli that has something to do with Bruce Campbell starring in Army of Darkness (Evil Dead III). Just go with it.) And if you're going to be a defender learning to really craft your trade, I think Italian football is a great place to do it. The one question I have is with his pace as of today. I can't say that I've seen a lot of his recent work that really lets me know how fast he is, the only thing I can see is an age of 32, which is when people are slowing down. But I have no doubt the man understands his craft better than most in MLS, and for that alone I'm happy to have him on the team. If he's as fast as Dave Kasper says, if he has "tremendous pace," then that's a huge bonus for a number of reasons. Not only would it be speed in the middle of our defense (where, for so long, we have been very slow) it also sounds like Soehn could use Martinez on the outside back positions as well, providing at least another option if not actual depth.

What I like about the way this is unfolding is that it is somewhat clear that United have their ducks in a row - there was a plan, and it is being executed. Good. I may not know all the details behind the plan, but an examination of recent events makes it clear that after some frustration, the Front Office is now getting the players they identified.

GOODBYE: Jay Nolly, who was not getting a shot at the first string keeper position after the arrival of Mr. Wells, has signed with USL's Vancouver Whitecaps. Good for him. While Nolly may only be remembered for the 1-0 loss against the City Islanders in US Open Cup play, and the loss against Real Salt Lake where he made Robbie Findlay a star, he was a decent chap, having given us an interview when he first arrived in DC. I wish him well in Canada, and knowing the tendency of USL keepers to suddenly pop up again in MLS (Preston Burpo?) it would not surprise me if he got another shot at MLS player somewhere.

MINOR CORRECTION: I wrote yesterday that Jaime Moreno has not yet signed with D.C. United. BDR and Oscar chimed in to say that Goff has reported the Moreno deal is done for two years, overall worth more money but less money per year, and it's guaranteed. That's a good deal, and one I'm happy with. I was (and this falls under the category of perhaps "overly indulged fan") not pleased with Moreno at nearly 300K a year, but the idea of Moreno at half of that works just fine. Keep him in black. That being said, I want to see an official notice at D.C. United before I say it is for real. You'll notice that we don't update the Hello/Goodbye column for the most part until we see a press release on letterhead. Just saying, we all know how the transfer market works.

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23 January 2008

You got your politics in my soccer blog!

No, don't worry. I'm not gonna try to talk politics here. I just want to know if now that Fred Thompson has dropped his bid to be the Republican candidate for president, can we have his campaign's domain?

Fred for Honda MVP in 2008!

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Half Done

With the formal announcement that United now has Franco Niell (Post, Times) on loan for the 2008 campaign, United has a decent sense of what they look like up-top and in front of the nets. Midfield and Defense are now the concerns, and training starts in less than a week. As Haydon says in the Times:

United is expected to make other key signings this week — possibly bringing in Peruvian goalie Jose Carvallo and Colombian defender Gonzalo Martinez — to replace goalie Troy Perkins and defender Bobby Boswell, both of whom recently left the team.

Also not finalized is the status of Jaime Moreno and Christian Gomez. If Moreno doesn't sign (and most rumors say he will), at least United is now looking to be able to field two options at forward with Niell and Emilio. Would I prefer Moreno be part of a triumvirate of strikers? Yes. But at least I don't need to worry about a hole up-top.

The Gomez question is far more interesting. It is clear that United believes they have a Plan B, but there's a well known cliche about plans involving humans and rodents. I am still of the feeling that Gomez will be back, but I haven't moved from a 60% confidence level in that feeling.

Defensively, the signing of Martinez would almost be a one-for-one swap with the still unsigned Greg Vanney. That gets us out of the hole in the defense situation, but it does not address depth, which I know I have gone on far too much about with respect to the backline. But our defenders do get injured (hernias being a specialty), and carded, and games will be missed.

So what do I want to see? Get the rumored signings done, get Gomez or the Plan B option, add a wide threat in midfield, and another quality back. Is that too much to ask? Okay, probably it is. This is MLS, and rare is the team that can address all of its needs. Which is probably why coaching matters more in the this league than in others. In other leagues, you acquire the players and put them out there, and most teams will acquire players to address all levels of their team. With MLS, it seems every team will have one area where they are better than most of the league, and one area where they are far behind (Houston is an exception which proves the rule here). That makes tactical decisions almost as important as strategic decisions, since from week to week your comparative strengths and weaknesses will change.

Let me be clear - I am not worried about putting out a quality side right now. We don't have a dominant side, a side that I would say is the odds-on favorite for another Supporter's Shield run, but I don't think we have to worry much about being the laughing stock we were in 2002. We'll be competitive, and then we can take stock again. The interesting thing is that if we did manage to hit all items on the wish-list, this team could look very intimidating indeed.

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21 January 2008

Bye Bye Stripes

The new DC United uniforms for 2008 have been released. They are available for pre-sale through DCU Merchandise, who is a DC United employee and completely legit. As you can see below the three stripes that were a United tradition are gone. According to reports United officials wanted to work out a way to incorporate the stripes and a jersey sponsor, but Adidas officials would not allow their three stripes to be broken up by another sponsor. So we are left with a very minimalist approach to a United jersey. Especially until a sponsor is signed, which according to Nathan the Merchandise Guru has not yet happened.

I can understand why some people would be underwhelmed by these uniforms. The lack of the three stripes is disappointing to say the least and without anything in the middle they look a little bit like training jerseys rather than game day kits. But I happen to like minimalism, so I like these jerseys even without the stripes. At the very least I think most people can agree that they are better than the 2007 giant thumb jerseys. What do you guys think?

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20 January 2008

Still waiting on Arguez's transfer...

I'm hearing that Arguez's transfer is gummed up in MLS Headquarters because their attention through this week was on the draft in Baltimore. Hertha wants him ASAP and expect him to be challenging for first team minutes immediately. Did DCU let him languish on the field, or was he really motivated to impress and jump overseas?

In totally unrelated news, Benny Feilhaber's future club has been open to speculation but MLS is not on the radar screen. Derby would like to recoup most of their investment in him, which likely prices him out of a side over here. Derby payed $1 Million for his transfer and turned down a $275K offer from Maccabi Tel Avi.

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18 January 2008

DCU's #24 Selection Is...Andrew Jacobson, Ryan Cordeiro was the 33rd pick, Tony Schmitz was the 52nd pick

Andrew Jacobson
With the 24th pick in the 2008 Superdraft, DC United picked Andrew Jacobson from California. Buzz had him ranked 8th out of the midfielders. Most mock drafts had him going much earlier. This is a guy that fell into United's lap. It looks like he will slot in behind Simms, which basically ensures that Arguez really is going to Berlin. Here is his bio from California. I think it is interesting that United rated Jacobson ahead of Lowry who was still on the board, hopefully we won't regretting that this time next year.

Ryan Cordeiro
With the 33rd pick in the 2008 Superdraft, DC United picked Ryan Cordeiro from UConn. He is ranked 10th in the forward group by Buzz, but will probably play a winger role for United. UConn was ranked number 1 in Soccer America's NCAA rankings for most of the year, here is Ryan's UConn bio.

Tony Schmitz
With the 52nd pick in the 2008 Superdraft, DC United picked Tony Schmitz from Creighton. Here is is Creighton bio. Buzz has him ranked all the way down as the 50th best midfielder. I don't know what United was thinking with this, I can only hope they did some extra scouting and found a player flying under the radar, not unlike Dyachenko. That of course is the best case scenario, it will probably play out more like Brad North, but drafts are all about hope so I will have some now.

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1-2-3 What are we drafting for?

I can't really must much enthusiasm for the MLS Superdraft this year. Maybe it is the lack of a first round draft pick, our analysis which has indicated (though not conclusively proven) that DC is not particularly performing well in the draft the last few years. Although, here we may be confusing causes and effects. Is the issue that DC isn't finding talent? Given United's decent performance in finding overlooked players who have made it to first team time, I don't think that's the scenario. The issue is, I think, one of developing players. If we find a player with a reasonable amount of talent, we can find a place for them. If someone's talent is marginal to begin with, I'm not sure we're as good as other team at developing and honing those skills to make them better than they are. This is, by the way, an area I think other teams do much better than United in.

Now, the counter-argument is that with a strong first team (back-to-back Supporter's Shields and all that) it is more difficult for new players to break in. And I understand that, but that only holds for the Best XI, and given the large number of fixtures we look to have, we can't always play the Best XI. Tom Soehn gave the US Open Cup to the reserves, a position I agreed with (and continue to agree with), but that was only one game (which they disappointed in). Quite simply, is the problem not the players, but the training? It is a question I don't have an answer to, but it is a question that should be asked.

To some degree, I also think United is a bit cavalier about its draft picks. I think you should get a decent first team player with a first round pick, someone who can give you several years. The others are all a bit hit or miss, but the first round pick should be good for something. And yet, United has valued a first round draft pick as equivalent to Rod Dyachenko, a player I am not sold on to this date. Of course, one might think we were, shall we say, coerced into overpaying to get Rod back (given that his passport issues could have prevented him from playing any games in Toronto, I can see why Mo Johnston might have felt swindled in the Expansion Draft and complained to someone). So, in short, I don't think the draft will provide you with much reassurance about our upcoming 2008 roster. And look at the comments coming from the Front Office:

"If we can add a wide midfielder, that would be useful," United general manager Dave Kasper said. "We always need more cover in the back, but we are really just looking for the best talent available."

Sure, it would be useful to add a startling level wide midfielder from the draft, but I wouldn't count on it. United could draft another striker for defensive midfielder with their first pick. If I had a guess, I could see United picking a defender, but the last three words are the important ones - "Best talent available." Drafting for need with our situation is naive, and could create more problems than it solves. Consider what Kasper said to the Express:

"We want to come away each year with one or two young guys who can contribute at around minimum salary," Kasper said.

In other words, maybe we can find some value, but we're not looking for superstars. Seems about right.

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17 January 2008

Case Studies in Cutting Off One's Nose

Before I get into the main point of this post, I recommend that you check out Kinney's draft thoughts below, as well as the comments from Nick. Good Stuff. Also, a quick note that I am having technical problems at the moment, so my posting may be decreased until we fix it... Okay.

There are several interesting forces at work, but first, two key paragraphs from Soccer America that mirror my thoughts:

One can sympathize with Twellman, to a point, especially in the light of New England's obstructionist history regarding players going overseas. The Revs turned down inquiries from foreign clubs regarding ex-Rev keeper Adin Brown, midfielder Shalrie Joseph and Dempsey - refused permission by the team to train with Everton prior to his move abroad - prior to the Preston offer for Twellman. But that history should also have sounded a warning.

The question arises: is there a "trigger" price in Twellman's contract. If so, what is it, and if not, why not? Twellman, and a lot of other people, are surprised Preston has upped its bid to $2.5 million. But did he and his agent Dan Segal insist on such a clause in his contract?

It is clear by now that there is no such trigger, and that Twellman and his agent miscalculated on that score during their contract negotiations. Still, I can imagine that pretty much anyone who's planning on dealing with MLS in the future is going to insist on such a contract clause, especially if they think they may end up in New England. And New England's earlier denials that they were stopping Twellman from leaving were ludicrous. Sure, MLS may have been the formal entity blocking the transfer, but they damn well had New England's request before they did so.

If I am Michael Parkhurst, or Adam Christman, or any of the other promising young Revolution players, I imagine I am disturbed by New England's past and current obstructionism in letting players go where they want. And that will have two impacts - It will make putting a buyout trigger in place more important for the player during renegotiations, or it will place a downward pressure in terms of the length of deals. If New England is standing between me and a comfortable retirement, then I want to minimize the amount of time I have to deal with them.

I would naturally draw a contrast between New England and United here. With the sale of Troy Perkins, and the impending sale of Bryan Arguez, as well as a decent history of placing players abroad (Convey, Olsen, and at least tangentially, Nielsen, although he was out of contract), a young player can see that United will not stand in the way of a lucrative move elsewhere to further his career. That's not to say that United won't fight to keep talent on occasion, but from a player's perspective, he need not worry that a move to MLS and United means forgoing a big payday in the future if things work out for him. And that, especially on the non-superstar level, can be huge in the next five years.

Yes, United will lose some talented mid-tier role players.
And these players are going to be more important over the next five years, and expansion (San Jose, Seattle, and who else?) dilutes the talent pool. Strong role players are going to be harder to find as the median talent level decreases. Which means it may be easier to attract them to Washington, D.C., since they know we'll let them move on if it comes to that. We have a record. The Revolution, with their white-knuckle grip on talent, may ultimately lose more opportunities than that talent they save now. It's a gamble either way, but I think we have the better option. The next five years will provide a good case study to examine it all.

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16 January 2008

Draft Thoughts and Combine Day 3

The MLS Combine is over with the 3rd and last day on Tuesday. According to reports, most players showed as expected, a few impressed beyond expectations while some failed to meet their expectations. Unlike 2007 there were no amazing standouts or surprises, but more moderate moves up and down. Below are links to the best free college scouting in US Soccer.

Buzz of 3rd Degree ranked the top ten forwards, midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers for ESPN before the combine and before most of the Generation Adidas players were signed. 3rd Degree's 2008 Combine Wrap-up finished after the combine is probably more helpful for figuring out who will be left by the 24th pick. The same is true for Joe's overall rankings at Pro Player Pipeline, which as of this post, was last updated just before the combine.

But before you click away from our site (if you haven't already) lets talk about DC United for a second. The 2008 draft's deepest position is defenders, which helps DC who will probably be looking for a defender and a speedy winger with three relatively late draft picks. Like I said yesterday it will be hard to figure out who exactly will be left by the time DC United has its first pick. There should be a solid group of defenders still on the board, players that are expected to become quality role players in MLS but not stars. Hopefully, the trend of not picking outside backs will early in draft will continue into 2008, but I haven't heard as many rumblings about switching players into that role as I did last year.

After United's 2nd round pick, they have the 33rd and then the 52nd. I think that they take a flyer with the 33rd pick on somebody whose stock has dropped a bit. They could do this with the 24th pick if there is a deep run on defenders early or if they know they are getting Gonzalo Martinez and are comfortable with Jeff Carroll as their sixth defender. The 52nd pick is a complete toss-up. Knowing United they either have somebody they have been scouting that wasn't even invited to the combine or will just take somebody local and hope for the best.

3rd Degree
Combine Day 3

Pro Player Pipeline
Combine Day 3 (Game 1)
Combine Day 3 (Game 2)

Soccer By Ives
Combine Day 3

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15 January 2008

MLS Combine Update

I haven't been as fastidious in following the upcoming MLS prospects this year. Mainly that is because United only has three draft picks, the 24th, 33rd, 52nd. These high picks means DC won't be getting any of the combine standouts. That doesn't mean we should ignore the combine, good finds can be unearthed, but from a fan's perspective it is really hard to know who will be available when United picks.

All that being said, I am starting to get excited about the "Super" draft. For those of you interested below are a couple of links to quality combine analysis for you to read.

3rd Degree
Combine Day 1
Combine Day 2

Pro Player Pipeline
Combine Day 1 (Game 1)
Combine Day 1 (Game 2)
Combine Day 2 (Game 1)
Combine Day 2 (Game 2)

Soccer By Ives
Combine Day 1
Combine Day 2

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14 January 2008

Breaking Even

So, here's what we know of. United is looking at an Argentinean forward with Franco Niell, a potential Peruvian keeper with Jose Carvallo (with a green card, which short circuits one planned rant), and a Columbian defender with Gonzalo Martinez. If all three deals go forward (and let's assume that they will, since we all know the caveats that come with anticipating international transfers) then we'll have a new center back to replace Bobby Boswell, a speedy forward to supplement the attack up top, and a keeper to pair with Mr. Wells. Where does that leave us?

On the whole, about even. The big remaining question is the status of Christian Gomez. If I had to take a guess, I'd lean toward the feeling that he is re-signing with United right now. But that's only a 60-40 feeling, not a 90-10 feeling. And if he re-signs, is United better off than we were a year ago? Let's break it down:

KEEPERS: The story so far is Perkins out, Wells in, Crowe and Nolly invited to camp, but a distinct lack of confidence vote with the story surrounding the pursuit of Carvallo for that second keeper slot. While I'm not ready to say that Wells is as good as or better than Perkins, we have the potential at least for better depth at keeper with Carvallo + 1. Throw in some salary cap room, and I think the transactions can be values as no worse than a draw. We're not better, but the play between the pipes wasn't what cost us many points last year, so I'm fairly pleased by what I see.

DEFENDERS: The story so far is Boswell out, Vanney uncertain, and potentially adding Martinez. Ultimately, we still have little defensive depth. On the outside are Burch and Namoff, and inside is Martinez (if the transfer happens), Vanney (if he renegotiates at a lower salary), and McTavish. In terms of depth, the only other player to have seen minutes at the back is Mediate. Last year I felt that the defensive depth was a constant convern. Namoff is a decent defender on the outside, but can be prone to injury. Burch was very good for being a player off the radar screen, but the end of season shows other teams were starting to figure out his game. Vanney will some day be a great coaching staff addition, but I can never say that his play really impressed me. McTavish is serviceable, but hardly intimidating. Even if Martinez is a good to great center back, I still feel that this is an area that United could do more to upgrade. Also, while I'm concerned about Martinez at age 32, it's more that I look at him doing what Vanney couldn't deliver: strong positioning, dependable and solid marking, and smart passing out of the back. We need better speed in the middle, and at least one decent option on the bench for the outside positions. Even reverting back to the 3-5-2 doesn't really gain us much.

MIDFIELD: The story here is the departure of Brian Carroll, who was beaten out for the holding midfield spot by Clyde Simms. Additionally, we have Josh Gros taking the year off. Ben Olsen had a terrific year on the wing, but I can see him joining Clyde in the middle of the park if United mixes the 3-5-2 in with the 4-4-2 it adopted at the beginning of last season. United needs a #10, as the 2004 B.C. (before Christian) season showed, and while Dyanchenko seems to be the second option in terms of substitute depth, I think the departure of Christan Gomez would more likely feature Fred moving into that role than Dyachenko inheriting it. As for Fred, he's decent (but frustrating at times) on the wing. I would love a fast and dangerous winger, someone who could fulfill the promise of Casal or Moose. We may also need someone to step up in the marking and annoyance role. Josh Gros filled that function a bit after the departure of Dema Kovalenko, and perhaps a return of Ben Olsen to defensive midfield would mitigate that deficit. All in all, I'd say we're slightly diminished right now in defense, and the departure of Christian Gomez could reveal significant planning challenges.

FORWARDS: I'm really not worried here. Emilio is around for another year, and while I think his goal scoring is likely to be closer to 12 than 20, I think the second forward will show well. Kpene couldn't find the net, but I think that's a factor of circumstance rather than talent. Moreno is still an option, and the addition of Niell (fast, quick, could probably earn fouls before he develops a Ruiz reputation) could nicely complement the toughness that Kpene and Emilio have shown. We're fine here.

So, all in all, I think we're about even on the transfer front right now. There could be issues, but I feel overall better about this time now than I did about last year's team at the same time. What's more, this team even if it makes the signings that are planned will probably have money to spend still. The failure of Veron coming to town may have felt like a defeat, but it frees up at least $400K under the cap in addition to the space that was already added with the departure of Perkins and Carroll (and to a lesser extent, Boswell). There are options. This team could be very different next year, but it could be different in a good way.

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09 January 2008

The Subtle Admissions of Mortality

In general, I'm trying to wait on player announcements until there is something formal said by the club. That's why we kept Troy Perkins out of the Goodbye list for so long. And, sadly, my knowledge of the Argentine first division is not extensive, so other than the links to Clarin that have been posted in the comments (and my thanks for those) and today's story in the Post, there's not much insight I can add other than saying "how do you pronounce his name properly? Surely it's not Frank O'Niell?"

No, wait, I take that back (actually, I always intended to take it back, but there's a certain narrative tension I get from seeming to reverse myself, even though it's the way I always planned on writing this post.) If we can't offer insight on Mr. Frano Niell, perhaps we can divine something from what is being said or not said by DC? I think so. There's a stand alone paragraph that is either based on statements on background from the DC Staff, or is Steve Goff's own speculation. If it is Goff's speculation, then there is nothing more to be gleamed, but given his own objectivity protestations, I think it is more likely that this is based at least in part of comments from front office or coaches. And that paragraph says:

The pursuit of Niell stemmed in part from the club becoming too reliant on Emilio (20 goals) and Gomez for scoring and Moreno's diminishing influence after 12 seasons.

Why is this interesting? To begin with, it marks the first time I can recall that a United Front Office may be acknowledging the unrelenting passage of time with respect to Jaime Moreno. In the past, most speculation has been brushed aside and left for obsessed bloggers or fanatical message board posters, but now we may be hearing the same concerns from the Front Office. Good, I say. However, the idea of being too reliant on Emilio is, in part I think, because we're too reliant on making plays down the middle, and if the [sole] solution to that is to get a forward, that could be upsetting. The problem, as has been stated many times, is that United doesn't use its width. As a coworker of mine put it "Why take on two defenders when you can take on four?" United must add some wing play and preferably pick up a decent, speedy winger (and convince Christian Gomez to use those wings). But the indications may be that's not how they're looking (yes, this is overreading based on a one paragraph sentence. But c'mon people, isn't that what you want me to do?) Instead they are looking to distribute the scoring balance by adding another forward. Hmmmmm.

In any case, the acquisition looks, based on the numbers from the Argentine media (a $60K loan is not a problem) like a decent and low-risk move. I look forward to getting this deal done (and it's not done until you see the name in the official press release, as Messrs Palermo, Neto, and Veron will testify to) and moving on to the other needs we must address.

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Bisnow on Victor and Poplar Point

I recently received two e-mails from Bisnow on Business that may be of interest to DC United fans. Bisnow is in its own words, a "People's Magazine for various professional sets in the area." Its commercial real estate e-newsletter recently profiled Victor MacFarlane and his DC real estate ventures. The newsletter had a bunch of interesting factoids about Mr. MacFarlane and if anyone has keener eyes than I they might find the last picture very interesting. The next day Bisnow followed up with an overview of the four Poplar Point proposals. Nothing shockingly new, but it is good overview of the current Poplar Point situation for anyone not paying too much attention to DC United's stadium woes, and extra fodder for those of us following every move.

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08 January 2008

Flirting with Flirting

It's hard for me to get excited about any transfer news. Part of this is because after the Veron drama, anything is anti-climactic. Part of it is also a sense that the vaunted Argentine connection just may not be all-that. Yes, we have gotten several excellent players from South America, but from Argentina only Christian Gomez remains. Erpen has been traded, Donnet and Filomeno did not pan out, and neither of our two major signings from last year were based on the Argentinean pipeline (Fred from Brazil via Australia, and Emilio from Brazil via everywhere and Honduras). So while a signing wouldn't surprise me from Argentina, I don't believe that this is the end. There are other places to go, other people to see. We have more than one place to fill in the roster... we have many. And while I would like to have names and faces, I can't really think that Argentina, soccer power that it is, is some panacea to all our needs. We are not Real Salt Lake. Our needs are diverse, the bar is higher, we will need to look farther afield. This is but one stop. Or, at least, it should be.

The other odd thing is that part of me wants a player simply because United is linked with that player. Put on the black kit and you're one of mine, a tribal impulse of passion through fashion. And right now, I don't want to give into that feeling. Let's see what these players have to offer, then make decisions.

Finally, one final point. We've heard the analysis on how the Argentinean currency collapse made it more attractive for foreign players to come to the United States, but what now that the dollar is so weakened? Yes, there are more SI slots, but if the dollar doesn't go as far, then can we really get the same bargains as before? Outside of Designated Player acquisitions, I believe the next two years will see a decreased impact for International signings, and a devaluation of their expected impact. The quality of life may still be an attraction, but the power and stability of the dollar may not.

As you can see, my thoughts in the offseason are diffuse... how I long for a game to focus on.


07 January 2008

Measure the Rope

How long can you wait until you make a change at the coaching position? In United's case, Tom Soehn started his tenure with a pair of decent results in the Champion's Cup, then went on a three game losing streak that even prompted don't panic assertions from this blog and "Fire Soehn" threads on message boards that were in jest for some, but quite serious from others. At some point, though, even if I still believed in Tom Soehn, he could have lost enough games that a change would be warranted regardless of my feelings. Let us theorize a number representing the quantity of consecutive losses a team could endure before the coach is fired. This limit would be different for each coach, depending on reputation and results to date. Accordingly, below is my estimation of the number of games each coach can lose, consecutively, until they are fired. Now, I've also amended that with the number of games they should be allowed to lose in a row before being replaced, since Calvijo could probably murder a puppy in the Technical Area and eat its still-beating heart and somehow not get fired. Accordingly, here's what I think...

Consecutive Losses Ideal
Team Coach Before Replacement Limit Notes
Chicago TBD 5 5 [1]
Chivas USA Preki 7 5 [2]
Colorado Clavijo 6 1 [3]
Columbus Schmid 4 4
D.C. United Soehn 6 6 [4]
Dallas Morrow 5 5
Houston Kinnear 8 7 [5]
Kansas City Onalfo 4 4 [6]
L.A. Gullit 8 4 [7]
New England Nicol 7 7
New York Osorio 4 6
Salt Lake Kreis 5 4 [8]
San Jose Yallop 8 8 [9]
Toronto Johnston 5 5

[1] Of course, this depends on who the coach eventually is, and what kind of acquisitions they make, but in general I think, given what we saw with both Houston and DC last year, teams in general will give at least five games to start the season with losses to any coach.
[2] Probably has more slack than he deserves, but I could be wrong. If Chivas gets off to a hot start, then the ideal number I had was wrong, but I think if they start slowly, the front office will wait too long to make a change.
[3] Should be fired already, and should be fired at earliest opportunity.
[4] I think Tom has some slack, but depending on what players fill in on the off-season, if things don't go well I think he could be in line for the axe sooner than people think. Of course, I hope we never find out, but that's my feeling about these things.
[5] Pretty much has earned the cult of personality in Houston.
[6] I know it is far too early for such things, but my guess is that KC might be the first team to make a move next year.
[7] Note: I'm assuming that Alexi stays on as GM, in which case Gullit gets fired only when Alexi determines that his job might be in danger.
[8] Reading RSL Coverage, it is interesting to see how much Jason makes that job about him and his personality. If the team continues like they always have, Jason has invited everyone to view it as a failure of him personally, and they should. He has almost dared the world to give him less rope than other coached might have.
[9] It's an expansion team, so patience will be in order. However, even expansion teams will make changes at some point.

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03 January 2008


JOSH GROS, AU REVOIR: We start with the news of a qualified good-bye to Josh Gros, who is taking a year off and will then re-evaluate his health. We're going to put Josh in the good-bye column on the right, and note that we may say "hello" to him next year. I honestly have no basis to speculate, but we're all agreed that Josh's health must come first, and I would rather he retire permanently than come back in 2009 and put himself at risk for a more permanent injury. I can well imagine that he'll feel the pull of the game over the next season, but he's doing the right thing, and I know most of you feel the same. I also applaud him for the decision he's made in this respect - It would be cheap to retire and then unretire, so this strikes me as an honest decision. It could be permanent, it could be temporary, he simply doesn't know right now. So he has done the honorable thing and made his intentions clear. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Josh Gros.

CHANGE OF VENUES: Dan Loney has some new digs, and they're pretty nice. It's like when you go to your college friend's first apartment house-warming party when he gets his own place - it isn't quite a polished bachelor pad yet, but the potential is there. A few coats of paint, and perhaps the gift of a new toaster-oven, and that place will be swinging. Also, you may recall our discussions of gay athletes and sports, and Dan belatedly has filed his thoughts on the matter. It's a fairly restrained piece, but I find this argument rather simultaneously compelling and wrong (and I'm about to go political here, so feel free to skip it):

There’s no way in hell there’s only one professional gay athlete playing today. There shouldn’t be a gay Jackie Robinson - there should be five or ten, ideally twenty or thirty, crossing every pro sport in America.

Since we’re talking about prejudice, there’s a reason you, closeted gay soccer player, want players from other sports to come out with you. They still think soccer is a gay sport. And not gay in the cool way, where you’re all buffed out and have sex all the time. Gay in the insulting way**.

Now, that may not be a good reason. Taken to its logical conclusion, that turns into “Stay closeted for the good of the sport, and continue to give in to homophobia.” Thus defeating the whole purpose of coming out. I feel like a cretin for bringing this up, as if “the good of the sport” is any kind of valid stance. The game will survive. And the sport has no moral claim on you living your life how you see fit.

While it would be ideal for several gay players to simultaneously admit what we all know to be true, I can't help but be reminded of Eddie Izzard's discussion of the European Union, with a bunch of countries looking at each other unwilling to commit to anything until the other countries do something. And I understand Loney's reluctance for the first player to come out in MLS, but for a different reason. Not that it will reinforce some "only homosexuals play soccer" stereotype, but rather that it wouldn't be major enough to allow players in other sports to feel comfortable coming out. If an active baseball, or basketball, or NFL player came out of the closet, I think pretty much everyone would admit it was a mainstream sports player, and make it easier for everyone else to come out with them. But if tennis star, or NHL player, or MLS player came out, I think people would just note it as something that reinforces the fringe nature of those sports. "Sure, gay hockey players, why not? But that's not a major sport anyway."

So my concern isn't with the health of the sport, per se, but rather that MLS, at this time, isn't really a big enough platform. If, as Loney were to dream it, a bunch of players in all sports were to come out simultaneously, I would hope MLS would be represented. I also hope that no MLS player feels compelled to stay in the closet for the reasons Loney describes, or for that matter, the concerns I have. There's a word my wife likes to use: "heteronormality" which is a close cousin of the word "heteronormativity". It's probably the reason why I feel the way I do, the sort of uncritical acceptance that asking about a player's girlfriend of googling for pictures of their wife is a completely normal and natural thing to do, and that the default position for us to take is that a player is heterosexual. In truth, the default position is that we should have no default position, because until a player tells us otherwise we simply don't know. The TV cameras find Jessica Simpson, or Eva Longoria Parker in the stands, simply because it is expected that male athletes will naturally have female companionship (we'll ignore the issue of women commodified into arm candy for the moment, since that's an entirely different issue). And I simply am tired of it. It's the baseless assumption that annoys me. Pah. I sense that this rant has gone on long enough, so I shall move to something else...

IVES CAMPS OUT ANEW: I briefly met Ives Galarcep during the viewing party for USA-South Africa. He seems like a decent chap, a bit brusque perhaps, but nicer than I expected. Anyways, he's going independent, and writes that he thinks his new venture:

"...may sound like a risky one to some, but the growth of the original SBI, and the support of its readers, gave me the confidence and desire to give this a chance. There is a strong and growing army of soccer fans in this country who are hungry for information and analysis about the sport they love, but who struggle to find that in the mainstream American media. My goal is to have SBI help fill that void."

I wish him all the best, and would offer only this small counter: The need for information is, I think, if not met overwhelmingly at least met stronger and stronger every day by the traditional media. The need for quality analysis, however, remains a relative wasteland. I hope that freed from the constraints of phantom objectivity, Ives can truly provide an independent, in-depth analytical perspective on the game. I always got the sense (such as in his articles about the NYRB front office) that he had to reign himself in a bit as a caveat to the conventions of the newspaper medium. So I look with interest to see what he'll be writing in the future.

YES, IT DOES SUCK: On the United side, the kids at United Mania have an article that accurately sums up where we are to date:

I have no idea what's going on at RFK and can't seem to get anything out of the team right about now. With that being said, there still are about two months until any of us can officially hit any kind of panic buttons in regards to the holes in United's roster at the moment.

It's true, it's damn true. United's roster for 2007 hadn't come together until March (or, perhaps, until the trade of Facundo Erpen and the promotion of Marc Burch). So while I think it is worthwhile to catalog what we need (and we do need to do that here at some point) I think that I'm not worried about us filling those needs... yet. But here's the thing, by the time I would worry, it would probably be when the season has already started, and that could be a fascinating situation.

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02 January 2008

Return and Farewell

Obviously, everyone took the Christmas break off around here, but now we're back, and we're about three months from the start of United competitive soccer action. First things first, a belated farewell to Troy Perkins. When Nick Rimando injured his ankle, I wasn't sure what we'd get with Perkins. We knew that Rimando gave us some great reflex saves, but was plagued by odd positioning, especially on corners. Troy Perkins quickly took the starting job for himself, and by the time Rimando was healthy there was no question of any controversy, Perkins was our top keeper.

Now Troy is leaving to go abroad. I have no problem with this. United can not afford to spend almost 10% of its salary cap on a starting keeper, no matter how good. But Troy shouldn't be asked to take less money to stay here. He's leaving on his own terms, friendly terms, and at the right time. I wish him well abroad, and perhaps they'll even improve one his few weaknesses (trusting his wall on free kicks, consistent distribution to his own team.) In the mean time, I will remember that Perkins was truly remarkable when it came to controlling the box, deftly picking out crosses and corners before they became a larger threat. I'll also remember that he became capable of quick saves that were just as good as any from Nick Rimando.

Troy gave us good service, and I'm glad that if we can't reward him with a pay raise, at least someone can. Good luck Troy, and thanks.

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