Reading The Tea Leaves: Could DC United Be Angling For The #1 Pick?

Could DC United be tempted to trade top players like Chris Pontius or Clyde Simms to move up in the first round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft?

Every MLS offseason sees a dormant period that ends about two weeks before the SuperDraft. As we're smack dab in the middle of the period where the rumors start flying, I think it's high time we start looking at some of the rumors and how they pertain to us. The chances of DC United making a trade or three in the very near future seems high to me, as Ben Olsen appears to be taking a very proactive approach to constructing his squad. Playing it safe does not appear to be fashionable at RFK these days; could you imagine former coach Curt Onalfo engineering the trade that brought us Dax McCarty in exchange for Rodney Wallace?

With that in mind, it's time to try to guess our next move. Given my Joseph Ngwenya premonition in the Re-Entry Draft, I've been feeling awfully full of myself this offseason. I suppose repeatedly testing my luck will eventually make me look silly, but until then it's time to live it up. Currently, there are four recent articles that have me thinking:

1. Ben Olsen believes that any player taken in the first few picks overall should be able to step in and play immediately.

2. After the Perkins trade, Steve Goff said there was a chance that we'd trade other big names as well.

3. Goff also quoted Kevin Payne as saying DC was likely to draft an attacking player with the #3 pick.

4. The Vancouver Whitecaps think Darlington Nagbe will be taken with the #1 pick, but they have not ruled out trading that pick away.

Bear with me here as I attempt to parse these rumors and quotes into one coherent sequence of moves that probably won't happen, but isn't out of the question.

The various statements coming from Olsen and Payne leave me thinking that the most likely scenario in the first round of the draft is that we take Indiana striker Will Bruin with the third pick. He fits Olsen's description of someone that would be ready to contribute real minutes right away, and obviously a target forward would fulfill Payne's prediction of our pick being offense-first. The reason I say Bruin here is that someone like Omar Salgado, at 17, is seen by pretty much everyone as a project that could be a big star down the road rather than a guy we call on regularly throughout 2011. Unless Salgado is further along as a player than anyone expects, statements like Olsen's point to United thinking of ability today rather than tomorrow (though if we do take Salgado, and he is ready to start immediately, we will have something truly special on our hands).

That's the boring prediction. A far more interesting (though much less likely) possibility would see DCU make an aggressive play for either Nagbe or his fellow Akron Zip, defensive midfielder Perry Kitchen. These two appear to be the players getting the most "can't miss" talk out of this year's draft pool. They're also the only players we probably won't have access to at our current position; the standard logic is that Nagbe will go to the Vancouver Whitecaps and that Kitchen will be selected by the Portland Timbers. However, when you have Vancouver, a team with another pick in the first half of the first round, not publicly saying that they will take a specific player this close to the draft, it means they are very much open to making a deal. As "out of left field" as it sounds, I think the door is at least slightly open.

Here's how it would go down: On the day before the draft, United and Vancouver announce a trade. Vancouver sends the #1 pick to DC, in exchange for one of the following:

1. Clyde Simms and our #3 pick (Vancouver would likely have to sweeten the deal with another draft pick or some cash here; otherwise, it could be a straight up Simms-for-#1 pick deal, giving us two of the first three picks in the draft).
2. Our #3 pick and either allocation money or some combination of our other, later picks
3. Chris Pontius (here again, we might see the our first rounder and something else from Vancouver involved).

In the first scenario, DC would then take Kitchen (a player we're rumored to really like) with the #1 pick. Kitchen would become the likely starter at defensive midfield straight away. One strike against this move would be that Kitchen is not an attacking player, but if we trade Simms we obviously need to get someone that can start ahead of Kurt Morsink. From Vancouver's end, Simms would fill a need because their current midfield is full of two-way guys like John Thorrington and Terry Dunfield and lacks a full-on defensive midfielder (as versatile youngster Philippe Davies may find himself in a wide role or in the back four). Tom Soehn, now in their front office, was always quite fond of Simms to boot.

The other two scenarios would see us take Nagbe at #1, which makes all of the rumors tie together. There is also the outside chance that we'd take Nagbe in the first scenario, provided we've already spotted a new defensive midfielder abroad and are in the process of signing him up. Nagbe would come in and be expected to have an impact similar to that of Danny Mwanga in Philadelphia this past season.

The second scenario seems the most unlikely, since Vancouver has plenty of allocation money and draft picks. I doubt they'd have much interest in trading down to get something they already have enough of. However, perhaps the Whitecaps covet someone other than Nagbe and are sure he'll still be on the board after Portland goes second. Like I said, it's unlikely, but it's not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

The "trade Pontius" scenario would mean taking Nagbe becomes a stone-cold lock. While there aren't many United fans that would relish trading away a player like Pontius, there is also the fact that he might not fit into any particular spot in the starting lineup. As a forward, he's not the sharpest finisher; as a winger, he'd run into competition from Najar and club captain Santino Quaranta (the handful of DC fans that dislike Quaranta are vocal,but there's no chance Tino is riding the pine if he's healthy). I think Pontius is a good player with the potential to be spectacular, but the rumor of us shopping him around means we have to at least consider why United would be willing to move him. The Whitecaps, for their trouble, would get a player that would undoubtedly start somewhere for them and, like Simms, a guy that Soehn is very familiar with.

So, faithful readers...what do you think? Am I crazy, or drunk (I'm not, but I'm also only about three hours away from enjoying a delicious Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout)? Do any of these potential deals work for you as a fan of either club?

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