DC United fans are of many minds about how the club should go about improving itself, but we all agreed that major moves had to be made. Coming into today, DCU had been the busiest team in MLS outside of the expansion teams in terms of personnel moves (not to mention naming a new head coach). After the flurry of moves, things figured to quiet down a little bit in the month before the MLS
Apparently, DC is just not doing quiet this offseason. United announced today that they had traded Troy Perkins to the Portland Timbers for Steve Cronin and allocation money. Cronin, who has played for DC during a brief loan late in 2009 (brought on by yet another injury crisis for us), was initially treated as Portland's out-and-out #1 when he was signed from the USL edition of the Timbers. In 2009, Cronin made the USL-1 All-League First Team, and was a member of the same vaunted USA u17 side that produced Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Oguchi Onyewu, and Bobby Convey. A further wrinkle in the deal is that United will pay a portion of Perkins' salary in 2011.
Perkins departs after having a disappointing season in his return to the Black-and-Red. Acquired in a trade that cost United a first round draft pick (that became potential future national team forward Jack McInerney) and well-liked midfielder Fred, anything less than a stellar season was going to make the deal a mistake. Perkins missed the high level of expectations by a wide margin, eventually losing his place to Bill Hamid, who at the time was a 19 year old rookie. While Perkins was stronger after winning his job back in the last third of the season, there were only a handful of games where he looked like a keeper worth anything close to his hefty contract.
So, is this surprise move a good one, or have United fans been hit with another tough break?From a salary cap perspective, this was a smart move. Even having to pay some unknown amount of Perkins' salary in 2011, we've freed up a significant amount of space under the cap. We all know DC isn't going to go out signing Designated Players, but there will be players coming in from abroad (as well as further trades). Looking at most of the successful teams in the league right now, stocking your team with quality players that don't come with the premium for being a "name" is the way to go. Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, and of course the MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids are all examples of teams comprised of eleven good starters but no superstars. I would imagine that the goal in clearing this cap space is an effort to find a striker that will be expensive, but not DP expensive.
I was willing to give Perkins another season to show that he could consistently be the guy that earned a $750,000 transfer fee (that's what Valerenga paid to take him to Norway in 2008) and had briefly become Bob Bradley's #4 goalkeeper during the 2010 preseason. However, there is a significant chance that Perkins will never be that keeper again. The bottom really fell out for Perkins when he returned to MLS; whether it was simply a mental thing or a poor response to Mark Simpson's coaching (which would be truly odd, since Simpson was also training our keepers when Perkins first came to DC), it was going to be hard to believe in him as a #1 capable of keeping clean sheets behind a young defense enduring yet another rebuild.
Cronin arrives having left most United fans with a good impression during his games on loan in 2009. In fact, many fans at the time were clamoring for his loan to turn into a permanent move. In fact, I might be the one oddball who was not exactly thrilled with him during his time here. While Cronin shows impressive shotstopping ability and generally gives off a commanding vibe in the box, he was still guilty of numerous poor decisions coming off his line that only went unpunished due to desperate defending or poor finishing. While he's not the guy that struggled mightily for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2008, he's not exactly Peter Schmeichel.
That said, even I have reason to feel some optimism about Cronin. He's clearly grown quite a bit since his Galaxy days; being the first-choice keeper for the USL Timbers was more or less the closest thing to getting MLS minutes that you can get without actually being in MLS. This is a player on the up, and he'll turning 28 early next season. That means he hasn't even hit what is typically a goalkeeper's prime. If (big if) he can continue to improve at the rate that he has in the past 2 seasons, he could grow into a keeper that we can rely on every week. At the moment, I would start Bill Hamid ahead of him, but given the fact that Hamid is on track to miss at least some of the preseason as he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired shoulder, there is the very real possibility that Cronin will be starting in our opening game. Hopefully, the consensus among DCU fans is correct and I'm just being overly negative for no good reason.
From my perspective, we've essentially traded one possibly good or possibly bad goalkeeper for another, cut a lot of salary cap space, and gotten some allocation money to boot. While I am not receiving it with as much positivity as pretty much everyone else, even I think this deal was a clear victory for our oft-mocked front office. The next (and much bigger) step is to use this cap space wisely and find a reliable, sturdy goalscorer that can give our potentially high-powered midfield the sharp edge it needs. As much as today's trade is a big deal, our 2011 season will largely ride on the club finding someone that can produce a healthy number of goals.