With trialists Stefan Jerome and Marcelo Saragosa joining D.C. United's preseason roster, head coach and Greatest American (Living Or Dead) Ben Olsen will have some tough choices to make.
The quote was classic Ben Olsen:
"Don't worry guys. We're going to have a team, OK? I know you're all very concerned about this, but we will have a team."
Reporters and fans - especially us fans - had a right to be concerned, though. D.C. United had cut nine players loose at the end of the 2011 season, and only Robbie Russell, Maicon Santos, and 2012 1st round draft pick Nick DeLeon had been brought in. The early set of trialists consisted mostly of local college players, featured no big names, and appeared to be aimed at filling out the last couple spots on the roster. Factoring in the otherwise occupied Bill Hamid and a handful of injured players, and United probably couldn't have had an 11v11 intrasquad scrimmage even if they had wanted to.
Suffice it to say, things have changed. More well-known (and frankly more intriguing) names have started to pop up. Young Jamaican forward Alanzo Adlam was first, followed by Danish defensive midfielder Sebastian Svärd and former FC Dallas keeper Josh Lambo.
Next up, United revealed that promising 19 year old striker Stefan Jerome had arrived for a trial. Jerome, who has featured for the USA u-17s and u-20s, has been making sporadic appearances with Sigma Olomouc in the Czech 1st division (where they finished 4th overall last season) since arriving there on loan from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers a year ago. After spending last season in the reserves, Jerome has started to move up to the fringes of the Olomouc first team, scoring his first goal in a Czech Cup match in October.
This was followed by today's news that MLS journeyman Marcelo Saragosa had joined DC's camp. Saragosa was a regular on the 2005 LA Galaxy side that won both the MLS Cup and US Open Cup. He was later traded to FC Dallas, where he slowly faded from "regular starter" to "regular unused sub" before moving on to Chivas USA, where he was used only somewhat more often. Now 30, Saragosa has played in Azerbaijan for the past two years (with FC Absheron and Ravan Baku).
How should these new trialists fit in?
Jerome is certainly the more fascinating of the two, if only for his undoubted potential and because he's far less of a known quantity. Any MLS club would be interested in a teenage player with Jerome's youth national team experience. Throw in the fact that Jerome is a legitimate speedster - we're talking Dominic Oduro fast - and it's easy to see why United would want to have a good look at the Florida native. The current DC roster doesn't offer much in the way of speed up front, so adding a player like Jerome (or Adlam, who is supposedly quite fast himself) would make a lot of sense.
There is, however, a potential downside. Jerome may be on loan from the Strikers, but that club doesn't actually hold his playing rights. Instead, teams pursuing Jerome will have to deal with Traffic Sports, a Brazilian marketing agency that owns several clubs (including the Fort Lauderdale Strikers) and the rights to a horde of players. Traffic appears to be working in soccer's legal gray areas, owning player rights as a third party and seeking loans for those players in an effort to showcase them and eventually profit from a transfer.
While Traffic doesn't always make things difficult for players and teams, they don't exactly have the best track record in the United States. The full story is best fleshed out in this Leander Schaerlaeckens piece on highly touted American center back Gale Agbossoumonde. The short version: Traffic isn't really worried about helping players out so much as they are making money.
To sign Jerome, United will probably have to accept some kind of loan from Traffic - that's their standard practice - and then, if we want to keep him, purchase his rights after the loan ends. Everyone knows that things like transfer fees aren't happening right now until, at the very least, some new faces join Will Chang as co-owners. As such, Jerome may be a temporary signing if he proves to have enough quality to earn an offer of some kind.
Saragosa, on the other hand, is a far more known quantity. The Brazilian was the first player the Galaxy acquired on loan from Sao Paulo, now arguably the key provider of non-DP talent for Bruce Arena's team. However, as MLS has rapidly improved over the last 5 years, one could argue that Saragosa plateaued at the wrong time and was passed by as a starter.
However, Saragosa is far from a slouch, and has provided adequate play in multiple roles. While his preferred position is defensive midfield, Saragosa has also seen time in a linking midfield role, at right back, and at right midfield. Furthermore, as a Green Card holder, Saragosa would not take up an international roster spot. If I may engage in pure speculation for a moment, I'm also guessing he'd be willing to play for a pretty low salary given where he stands as an MLS player and the fact that he's trying to return to these shores from the Azerbaijani league.
At this point, I'd say both players have a reasonable chance at earning a deal. Jerome offers the kind of speed up front we don't currently have, and his potential is sky-high. It would appear that he and Adlam are essentially vying for one spot on the team, and Jerome has played at a higher level than Adlam at this point.
Saragosa, meanwhile, has more competition. In addition to the experienced Svärd, longtime United trialist Seth C'deBaca and supplemental draft pick Lance Rozeboom are all battling for a spot on the team, and I also doubt the club would carry three specialist defensive midfielders (Perry Kitchen and Kurt Morsink being the others) when we already have Brandon McDonald and Stephen King able to play that role in a pinch. In other words, the aforementioned trialists may all be competing for the right to then compete with Morsink for an actual roster spot. Still, out of those names, Saragosa is probably the best option to back up Kitchen, though Svärd is clearly the wild card.