Soccer

MLS Analysis: D.C. United’s Offseason

| by World Soccer Reader

Less than a month has passed since the 2010 MLS campaign concluded in Toronto, but D.C. United’s daunting offseason reconstruction project is already well underway.

First came the acquisition of vibrant box-to-box midfielder Dax McCarty. The hiring of interim coach Ben Olsen to the full-time job followed soon after.

The club then made striker Joseph Ngwenya the first player ever selected MLS Re-Entry Draft. When the draft’s second stage arrived Wednesday, United secured the services of veteran forward Josh Wolff.

And the Black and Red signed highly regarded University of Maryland center back Ethan White to a homegrown contract.

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The moves have garnered mixed reactions from United’s fan base. Trading promising but raw left back Rodney Wallace for McCarty, who is established as one of the league’s best players at his position, was a steal.

The 29-year-old Ngwenya, meanwhile, offers United a dynamic change-of-pace forward off the bench with the speed to stretch opposing defenses. And adding White to the roster instead of losing him to the SuperDraft essentially gave United a second first-round pick to go with its third overall selection in January.

The Wolff move, though, seems somewhat odd considering the team’s more pertinent gaps. Instead of drafting a proven defender or striker, the front office added another withdrawn forward to go along with Pablo Hernandez, Chris Pontius and Santino Quaranta. (It should be noted Pontius and Quaranta can also play in midfield.)

That in mind, it’s probably safe to assume the front office has some foreign signings in the works. Among the items that should be on the team’s shopping list:

A veteran center back

United has been looking for an experienced presence to partner with Dejan Jakovic and stabilize the back line since the 2009 season ended. The team added Juan Manuel Pena and Carey Talley last preseason in an attempt to fill that void, but both players turned out to be mere shells of their former selves.

United passed on the opportunity to add a proven commodity in Jimmy Conrad, Cory Gibbs or Ryan Cochrane during the Re-Entry Draft, so a signing from abroad is likely on the way.

Defensive depth

Since United’s current roster only features six defenders, one can bet on the Black and Red looking to bolster its depth across the back line.

D.C. could use its third overall pick in January’s SuperDraft to add one of two standout defenders from Caleb Porter’s Akron program: attack-minded right back Kofi Sarkodie or the versatile Zarek Valentin, both of whom are projected by Soccer By Ives to be first-round picks.

After United shipped Wallace to Portland in the McCarty deal, Marc Burch, who is recovering from a twice-broken foot, was left as the only natural left back at Olsen’s disposal. Such circumstances could make UC Santa Barbara’s Michael Tetteh – the highest left back on the Soccer By Ives board – a reasonable second-round selection.

A goal-scoring striker

Many had speculated United would make a play at Juan Pablo Angel during the Re-Entry Draft. As it turns out, United had no interest in the 35-year-old Colombian whose production declined steeply during the second half of last season.

Again, United is sure to be considering its options overseas. Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz has been rumored, but D.C. is unlikely to sign a second designated player.

If United does manage to add an experienced striker, the team could end up using its high SuperDraft pick on a forward to groom as his understudy. U.S. U-20 international Omar Salgado, who trained with United last month, would be an ideal selection, while Akron’s Darren Mattocks and Indiana’s Will Bruin are also candidates.