Jose Salvatierra, seen here shutting down Chicharito Hernandez during the 2011 Gold Cup, is one of several players from this year's CCL that D.C. United would do well to pursue this offseason.
The big move for D.C. United going into the 2007 season was to sign a relatively obscure Brazilian striker named Luciano Emilio. Emilio had been something of a journeyman, but made his name in the Honduran league, where he had scored 74 goals in 104 matches for Real Espana and CD Olimpia. Few (if any) United fans knew anything about the guy, though the club's front office indicated that they'd been monitoring him for a year or two.
The payoff was immediate: Emilio was the 2007 MVP, scored 20 goals on the way to the Golden Boot, he sang songs after practice, DC won the Supporters Shield, and the fans were happy.
Since then, United's good moves have almost all come via the Academy, the draft, or trades within MLS. Our foreign signings, on the other hand, have either been poor (Danny Allsopp, Christian Castillo, and Gonzalo Peralta), too old (Carlos Varela), stopped caring about being here (Marcelo Gallardo and Gonzalo Martinez), or were flat-out bizarre (Franco Niell). Take away picking up Charlie Davies on loan, and our most successful signing from abroad is probably Dejan Jakovic. Over the same period of time, MLS clubs have signed guys like Mauro Rosales, Teemu Tainio, Juninho, and Javier Morales without offering Designated Player salaries.
This year's CONCACAF Champions League offers United the chance to put an end to all that. The 2011 CCL has seen numerous players capable of coming to MLS and contributing right away. These are guys that have had success against the best of MLS as well as the best of the Mexican league and Central America. Players like that aren't a slam dunk, but MLS history is littered with successful players fitting that profile.
Read on for a list of CCL stars that would look pretty good wearing black:
I should start by making it absolutely clear that I have no knowledge of United being interested in these players. This isn't about existing rumors; it's about players United should be pursuing, rather than players they already are pursuing. For all I know, the coaches have looked at these players and made their conclusions. We could be on the verge of signing them all, for what I know.
These players are also being considered on the basis of United's own needs. There are some high-quality players that I won't be mentioning (e.g. Pablo Antonio Gabbas of LD Alajuelense or Edder Delgado of Real Espana) because, at this juncture, they would be redundant here. However, we could always circle back to the topic if the DC offseason throws us some curveballs along the way.
Without further ado:
Brayan Beckeles (CD Olimpia)
Beckeles only made 2 appearances in this year's CCL - Olimpia fell 4-3 to Santos Laguna in the qualifying stage - but the right back ended up scoring twice with headers on set pieces. The rangy defender was also a member of the Honduran Gold Cup squad, and already has 12 caps for the Catratchos despite being just 23 years old. Beckeles is an attack-minded right back with good (though not amazing) speed and an instinct to overlap. Fortunately, he also has the work rate and high level of fitness that such a role requires. While not necessarily as skilled at crossing as Jan Gunnar Solli, Beckeles could be effective in the same way that Sean Franklin or Chance Myers are (i.e. by putting opponents on their heels and running them into the ground). In a pinch, Beckeles might also be able to play as a right midfielder or as a center back, though that is admittedly speculation on my part based on having seen him a handful of times now.
Johnny Calderon (Real Espana) *Note: His Wikipedia page is out of date*
Calderon has been a bright spot in the CCL for an Espana team that otherwise struggled throughout. The 28 year old left back is not quite as attacking as Beckeles, but still gets forward often enough. One player that comes to mind when watching Calderon is Chicago's Gonzalo Segares, a player who is no slouch pushing up the flank but who tends to be more remembered for his ability to shut down opposing players. Kevin Payne may think we are good at left back, but even if that is true, Calderon - who made the 2009 Gold Cup squad for Honduras - would be an upgrade to a defense that needs one.
Juan Carlos Garcia (CD Olimpia)
He's not the Garcia I normally talk about when I discuss the CCL - that would be Oscar Boniek Garcia - but he's no slouch. Garcia is a left back with experience playing on the right as well as in the midfield. At 23, Garcia seems to improve every time I see him, and was called into the Honduran Gold Cup squad this summer after normal starter Emilio Izaguirre had to drop out with an injury. Garcia is not necessarily a force going forward, but his defending is usually solid and dependable at a position that has been a problem for United for what seems like an eternity.
Johnny Leveron (CD Motagua)
Motagua's CCL was more or less a disaster, but perhaps their lone bright spot was this 21 year old center back. Leveron is young, but is already first-choice for Honduras despite there being more experienced options available. Leveron has some experience in midfield as well, and has the passing skills out of a center back spot that teams prize in the modern game. He also has a knack for scoring headed goals on set pieces and corner kicks (3 goals in 15 caps for Honduras, 5 goals in 2 years with Motagua). Given Jakovic's injury history and inconsistency, there's no reason to shy away from pursuing a player that, at worst, would provide intense competition for playing time.
Jonathan McDonald (LD Alajuelense)
This dreadlocked 23 year old Costa Rican may have come of age in this year's CCL. Playing as a target forward (often isolated in a 4411), McDonald used an aggressive, physical style to be a pest to every defense he faced while notching 3 goals in 6 games. McDonald is not the most imposing player in terms of size (Wikipedia lists him at 5'8", which is probably a mistake; still, he's probably no taller than 5'10"), but is powerfully built and has the kind of attitude Premier League fans would associate with Kevin Davies.
He can struggle with containing his temper, but he's also an extraordinarily unpleasant player to defend against. Oddly, McDonald was a Vancouver Whitecap during their final 2nd division season, but was released. Given that Tom Soehn was probably already looking to sign Hassli at that point, it makes sense, but that shouldn't be mistaken as a sign that McDonald couldn't make it in MLS. McDonald would be a fine replacement for Joseph Ngwenya in the "hard-working substitute forward" role, but unlike Ngwenya he actually scores goals.
Jose Salvatierra (LD Alajuelense)
Other than the goalscoring threat and nationality, everything I said earlier about Beckeles applies to Salvatierra, who is one of Costa Rica's most promising youngsters at any position. The right back looked like the best at his position for any team in Group A, which just happened to be the strongest CCL group this year and included the LA Galaxy. Salvatierra is just 22 but is already good enough to be first choice for the Ticos (he started every game in this past summer's Gold Cup and played every minute for Costa Rica in the Copa America as well). Everything you want in a right back - speed, size, positional sense, the ability to get forward (and actually contribute while he's up there) - are all in place with Salvatierra. The problem United might run into if they pursue him is that he's so good that richer clubs from Mexico or CONMEBOL might offer a bigger salary.