Less than a month from now, D.C. United will embark on its daunting bid for resurgence in 2011 when the team gathers for preseason training. If all goes as expected in Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft, the Black and Red will be boosted by the presence of a few exciting new prospects, including the third overall pick.
The side set to convene in the nation’s capital is already noticeably different than the defeated squad that limped off the RFK Stadium pitch in October, when a 3-2 loss to Toronto FC ended a 6-20-4 campaign. Among the departed: goalkeeper Troy Perkins; defenders Juan Manuel Pena, Rodney Wallace and Jordan Graye; and strikers Jaime Moreno, Pablo Hernandez and Danny Allsopp.
Coach Ben Olsen has already put his stamp on the club’s personnel overhaul, spearheading the effort to bring in FC Dallas midfielder Dax McCarty, a player firmly built in the gritty Olsen mold. Josh Wolff and Joseph Ngwenya were subsequently acquired during the inaugural Re-Entry Draft to boost an attacking corps that notched just 21 goals in 30 games last year.
Homegrown signing Ethan White and journeyman fullback Daniel Woolard will boost depth along the United back line. And Steve Cronin provides the team with a reliable — but affordable — backup shot-stopper to sit behind 20-year-old Bill Hamid.
With plenty of cap space available (Hernandez, Perkins, Allsopp and Moreno were four of United’s six highest-paid players last year), the front office is striving to sign impact starters at center back and striker.
But D.C. will also have a golden opportunity to add one key piece to the puzzle with that third pick in the SuperDraft. So who will the Black and Red take? Here is an evaluation of United’s options:
Darlington Nagbe, Akron: The Hermann Trophy winner is a can’t-miss talent up front with a knack for finding the net and plenty of playmaking skill. But the likely No. 1 pick is not going to East Capitol Street unless United trades up.
Perry Kitchen, Akron: Perhaps the most complete, MLS-ready player available in the draft, Kitchen offers unrivaled polish, solid technical ability, and the versatility to play across the back line or in holding midfield. And, as his long-distance strike against Michigan in the College Cup semifinals showed, he doesn’t have a bad shot either. Kitchen could probably start for United at fullback right out of the gate, and the front office will certainly nab him if he drops to No. 3.
Omar Salgado, U.S. under-20 national team: Since United is in the market for a proven goal-scorer, the club can afford to pick a raw player with a high ceiling, such as the beguiling 17-year-old Salgado, if it decides to go offensive in the first round. A product of the Chivas de Guadalajara youth system, the 6-foot-4 striker has all the tools to be an attacking force in MLS for years to come. And United already took a good look at Salgado when he trained with the side in November.
Zarek Valentin, Akron: Let’s again assume United does, in fact, fill its gap at striker with a big-name international signing. In that case, Valentin, a college center back who likely projects as a fullback professionally, might be the safest choice if D.C. goes strictly for need. A crucial part of the U.S. U-20 national team, Valentin is the most dependable pure defender available for the picking.
Will Bruin, Indiana: Should United ultimately decide it wants a player who can immediately offer an impact attacking presence, Bruin would be the best candidate. The bruising 6-foot-2 forward with a classy finishing touch is often compared to fellow Indiana and DeSmet Jesuit High School alumnus Pat Noonan.
Kofi Sarkodie, Akron: The Black and Red lost a lot of pace in the back when Wallace and Graye exited, so the fleet-footed Sarkodie would be a good fit in that regard. While he is considered the best attacking right back available, Sarkodie does have to answer some questions about his defensive qualities.