New D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Saragosa will improve the club's depth at defensive midfield while offering some positional flexibility to boot.
In an unsurprising development, Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Saragosa has been signed by D.C. United after a brief trial. At 30 years old, Saragosa has 7 years of MLS experience (with the LA Galaxy, Chivas USA, and FC Dallas) but joins United after a couple of seasons playing in Azerbaijan.
While hardly a big name, Saragosa can at least brag about having friends in the right places; the best man at his wedding was some dude named Kaká. It's also worth noting that Saragosa acquired a green card during his previous stint in MLS, so he will not take up an international roster spot.
Saragosa's primary position is defensive midfield, a position DC happened to be thin at. Regular readers of this blog know how most of us feel about Kurt Morsink and his habit of making huge, game-changing mistakes. With Perry Kitchen a probable member of the US Olympic squad, there is a real chance that United will need 7-10 starts out of whoever ends up as his back-up.
Supplemental draft pick Lance Rozeboom is getting rave reviews from his fellow players, but the percentage of supplemental picks who emerged from college ready for that many starts (especially playing arguably the most complex and critical role in the modern game) is virtually nil. Other options include Stephen King - who has little experience at the position - and Brandon McDonald, who is more comfortable at center back.
Saragosa is not strictly a holding midfielder, however. With the Galaxy, Saragosa played both defensive midfield and also a box-to-box role, though it should be noted that he will never be mistaken for a potential source of goals (he has just 2 goals in 116 MLS appearances). At Chivas USA and FC Dallas, he made rather more than a handful of appearances at right back and even played a few games at right midfield. While he probably won't see too much time in those roles here, it's awfully nice to have that on your bench (particularly if we're trying to protect a lead).
While not a major signing, Saragosa brings numerous positives to the table. He was a member of the 2005 MLS Cup-winning Galaxy side, which fits in with Ben Olsen's desire to fill his roster with players that can be safely described as "winners." That type of player is the guy that will find reserves of energy to make that last sprint to prevent a cross in stoppage time; it's also the guy that will train hard every day even if he doesn't get a minute of first-team action for a long spell. Saragosa's history is one of being a very team-first player, so we can be reasonably certain that he won't get frustrated or stop working hard when Kitchen isn't with the Olympic team.
In terms of what he offers on the field, Saragosa is the kind of player you don't notice too much. His first touch is reliable enough that he avoids costly giveaways, and his passing skills are sharp enough that he doesn't often misplace the ball. Those things are augmented by his understanding that he's not out there to be a star player. Saragosa will rarely attempt anything risky with the ball; he knows very well to leave that sort of thing to guys like Dwayne De Rosario, Andy Najar, and Branko Boskovic.
Defensively, Saragosa is a better-than-average tackler and is strong enough to win shoulder-to-shoulder battles regularly. He also brings a rather rugged - but not dirty - approach to the job. When Saragosa replaces Kitchen, we aren't going to lose too much in the "hard-nosed" category, in other words. In terms of positioning, Saragosa is steady but not exactly the new Claude Makelele.
All in all, Saragosa is reasonable depth for an MLS team. I argued long and loud that United would regret moving on without Clyde Simms, but most of the argument hinged on the fact that we lacked precisely this kind of reliable player as depth at a position that can't be ignored. Signing Saragosa eliminates that concern.
We've talked fairly often about the King Standard here at B&RU, and I think Saragosa can serve a similar purpose for us at the defensive midfield position. If so Rozeboom can blossom into a quality MLS player and surpasses Saragosa, then we've improved as a team. If not, the bar is still higher than it was last year, and that's how you build a championship team.