Allsopp, Boskovic, Brasesco, Castillo, Carvallo, Gallardo, Habarugira, Hernandez, Martinez, N'Galula, Niell, N'Silu, Pena, Peralta, Varela.
Hardly a Hall of Fame, but this is my stab at providing a comprehensive list of foreign signings by the D.C. United front office since they last tasted any measure of success in MLS. Four years without a playoff spot, and you can point to the names on this list as the main reason why.
Is there a pattern we can find here? Absolutely. One overarching pattern that can be seen by breaking these players out into 2 categories.
First -- Gallardo, Allsopp, Pena, Martinez and Varela fall into one category -- players who carved out decent careers for themselves as international journeymen at various levels of club play. None of them were high achievers, though. They represent efforts by the front office to find established players they hoped might produce better in MLS than they had recently in more competitive leagues. Also, these players seemed pretty fragile. Perhaps, this was due in part to their ages, but maybe the team didn't really do the homework on their physical condition. Either that, or the team was too willing to gamble because these players came much cheaper than better and healthier players. Also, none of these players had much interest in sticking around. Were they ever excited about coming to MLS, or did their experience with D.C. United chill any enthusiasm they might have had?
Second -- Brasesco, Castillo, Carvallo, Habarugira, Hernandez, N'Galula, Niell, N'Silu, and, Peralta represent a very different group of players, but all have something in common. These are guys who were not even playing at the top level of leagues in the country where DC United found them. Either they were with second-division teams, or they were riding the bench. In a few cases. they were from second-division clubs and still not getting regular playing time.
Gonzalo Peralta and Jose Carvallo were the ultimate examples of a troubling path. These guys were handed to D.C. United because family members wanted them in D.C. and lobbied the team to sign them. Floribert N'Galula was a once bright star in the Manchester United universe -- when he was fifteen. In the four years since, his star had completely faded and he wasn't even wanted at Anderlecht. The others were guys that were "discovered" by United while toiling for lesser teams south of the border. They were players that weren't highly coveted anywhere, but the United front office believed these players could succeed at the MLS level. Even the teams that owned these players were all too willing to let them go. The DCU management team seems to believe they are smarter than everyone else and able to find gems when the players' own coaches saw guys that weren't living up to their hopes for them.
In recruiting foreign players, D.C. United seems too willing to scour the benches of Latin American sides or lower-rung teams in lower divisions in lesser European leagues-- seeking bargains in unrealized talent or faded journeymen. A motley assortment of also-rans, never was and never will be players.
I haven't even discussed Branko Boskovic, who could easily be classified among this bunch -- a middling talent in a lesser league, who United brought in because he came more cheaply than more deserving DPs. I still have hopes for Boskovic, but if he doesn't deliver this year, he would go down as the worst signing of them all.
Since they lost out on Juan Sebastian Veron, they've flailed to find any internationals who came to camp in shape and were able to contribute to the ultimate success of the team. The reason is obvious. They haven't aimed high enough in any case. Marcelo Gallardo was the only effort at finding a real talent, but really this was another case of a player who never lived up to his potential anywhere. The team is trying to find players who they hope will be able to succeed in MLS even if they weren't having success with their foreign club. These are players hoping to relaunch their careers by getting playing time in a less competitive league.
Until and unless the team is willing to go after players who are genuinely coveted by even their current team, players who have enjoyed real club success and are looking for another challenge, they will go nowhere fast. Even an old star who is trying to extend his career would be a huge improvement over this cast of players who weren't enjoying any real success (and often weren't even getting playing time) with their recent clubs.
Despite what they think, the front office are not the smartest, best judges of talent in the room. They are not going to find diamonds or gold in dry veins. They've got to start looking where everyone else is looking. There's a reason why the other teams are going after good players at top teams in Honduras, Costa Rica, etc. L.A. showed there's also good talent to be found chafing to play at top clubs in Brazil, but Brazilians are an exception because of there is no dearth of talent there. Luciano Emilio is a prime example of this -- but he didn't wind up on D.C.'s radar until he dominated in the Honduran league.
Yes, D.C. found an amazing talent in the Argentina second division when they plucked Christian Gomez., but that seems now like a one-in-a-million success that is not likely to be repeated (not to mention that Gomito had success before that with Independiente, one of Argentina's top clubs). Trying to find the next Gomito toiling away at a lower level, or wasting away on a bench somewhere -- this is not a high percentage way to build a winning team.
When I read that Olsen has come back from a trip to Europe and found some good prospects, I fear more players like Ange N'Silu.
D.C. United has struggled in recent years in part because they've traded away draft picks or selected players who left for Europe. That isn't going to get better in the near future -- they only have one pick in the upcoming Superdraft, and only a second round pick in the Supplemental draft. It's the same deal in 2013, as they've traded away their second round Superdraft pick, and their next pick, too (right now, that's a 3rd round Superdraft pick, but I suspect there won't be a third round, so this will be converted to a first-round pick in the Supplemental).
What makes these trades look so much worse is that United have virtually nothing to show for them -- they gave away last year's 2nd rounder for Stephen King; the 2012 second rounder for Jed Zayner and a Supplemental pick that was used for Blake Brettschneider; the 2013 2nd round pick for Fred, and the 2013 3rd round pick for Robbie Russell, who is not likely to still be playing in 2013.
Without these draft picks, United are already starting at a handicap. Academy players hold promise for the future, but the team can't count on finding players like Bill Hamid and Andy Najar, so ready to compete on the MLS level, even at such a young age. Even with 2 years of starting at the University of Maryland, Ethan White was overmatched in the MLS, playing mainly because the team had no other options.
Since United can't count on a deep stream of young American talent to step in and replenish the ranks, the guys in the front office have to do MUCH better with their international recruiting, To do that, they have to employ a different strategy -- to get proven talents who still have a little gas left in the tank and a still-burning fire in the belly. The team has not signed players like that in the past four years, and that is why the team has missed the playoffs in each of those years.