There has been a lot of talk this season about D.C. United having plenty of depth. This is mostly true: Ben Olsen's bench on Saturday will likely include Maicon Santos, Hamdi Salihi, one from Danny Cruz or Andy Najar, an MLS Cup winner in Marcelo Saragosa, and Joe Willis, who on most teams would start based on beard alone.
You're probably noticing one type of player not listed above: Defenders. I'm a huge fan of Emiliano Dudar, but he's struggled to regain his imperious best after a hamstring strain (that came soon after a previous hamstring strain). Chris Korb has likely been pushing Robbie Russell for time at right back, but at the same time he hasn't made an overwhelming case for more starts. Ethan White is a promising young center back, but has been unable to get games following offseason knee surgery and is on his second short-term loan with the Richmond Kickers. At left back, Daniel Woolard doesn't even have a specialist back-up.
That's why we should be interested in Soccer Insider Steve Goff's piece today, which mentions two defenders who are on trial. The players in question are Gienir Garcia - a Mexican left back waived by the Montreal Impact last month - and Xavier Tomas, a 6'4" French center back whose last two seasons were in the Greek 1st division.
Want to know more about these dudes? Do it:
We'll start with Garcia. Rather generously listed at 6' or 6'1" (more likely 5'11"), Garcia saw plenty of time at center back for the Impact during the preseason along with his more natural left side. A product of Mexican giant Cruz Azul's youth academy, Garcia got just one game in league play but did get a few games in the 2010-2011 CONCACAF Champions League (Cruz Azul's youth team is strong enough that they got through their group despite playing a line-up that is similar to some of our reserve league squads).
Despite that, there was no way through to a starting job with Los Cementeros, and Garcia ended up becoming one of the handful of MLS Combine attendees that have professional experience abroad (likely due to that CCL play, which came in a group with Real Salt Lake). We figured he would get drafted at some point, and sure enough he was taken with the 2nd overall pick in the Supplemental Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Garcia was then traded within a week to the Impact, who eventually ended up with more left backs than is reasonable. Tyson Wahl figured to be the starter, and Josh Gardner was seen as a potential contender there and as a defensive option at left midfield. As the season has gone on, Zarek Valentin pushed Jeb Brovsky out of the right back job, and head coach Jesse Marsch has of late opted to play Brovsky on the left. While all this was going on, Garcia missed some time with a knee contusion, making the job even more difficult.
Obviously the big question for United is "Can the guy play?" While he probably won't displace Woolard, he's also not a bad prospect at just 22 years old. He already has more pro games and more time in high-level training sessions than a college senior would. From what I saw in the CCL, Garcia plays left back a bit conservatively by Mexican standards, which roughly translates to the average MLS left back's mindset. His crossing ability is average, and he has acceptable speed.
The top quality I recall Garcia having was toughness. He's a gritty player who tries to get near the line without going over it in terms of physical play. In other words, he has at least one quality that is a must for Olsen's Army.
Tomas, meanwhile, is a towering center back with some bad luck: He has two separate former clubs who both folded. His first professional club, FC Gueugnon, may or may not have survived liquidation (I don't speak French, so if you do and want to flex your Google muscles, let us know in the comments what happened there). Before going up to the senior team, Tomas apparently captained the Gueugnon youth team and played for the French u-17 national team, but was told he was unwanted.
Following a season loan to 4th division club Rodez AF, he moved to Tours FC (a mid-table Ligue 2 side) in 2007. If his Wikipedia page is accurate, he played well in his first season and earned a contract extension. In any case, in 2010 he transferred to Olympiacos Volou, a Greek club that had just been promoted to the top division (not to be confused with Greek giants Olympiacos Piraeus).
This was a big step up, and Tomas scored 2 goals as a starter. Volou finished a surprising 5th place, which gave Tomas the chance to play in Europa League qualifying. That didn't last long, though, because Volou was thrown out and banned from UEFA competitions for three more years after a match-fixing scandal. That wasn't the end of their troubles: Just two weeks later, they were stripped of their professional license and demoted to the Greek 4th division. Rather than soldiering on from the bottom of the Greek pyramid, Volou simply ceased to exist, making Tomas a free agent.
Tomas must have done well enough at Volou, because he was snapped up by Levadiakos FC, who finished 7th last season in the Greek Super League (translation: top division). It appears he was first-choice in central defense there, too (listed as playing 25 games).
Of the two, Garcia would seem to have the easier path to a roster spot while Tomas has the better resume. However, both would require something we don't have: An extra international roster spot. With Branko Boskovic looking more likely to sign an extension than leave, and no other foreign player doing particularly badly, it seems likely that these players would both have to earn their roster spot and also convince Olsen that they're more valuable to the team than Lewis Neal, who would appear to be the most vulnerable international player on the roster.
And now, some baseless speculation! It could be that Tomas is only a possibility because we're looking to trade a center back. Dudar and Dejan Jakovic both take up an international slot, and we know that Toronto FC has made offers for our Canadian #5. I'm not saying I want him to go, but if Tomas is roughly equal to Jakovic in ability and we can fleece TFC (they are, as always, extraordinarily desperate for a competent defender)? That's a deal we'd have to consider. Obviously that requires Tomas to be a pretty good player, which none of us have any idea about.
Speculation about Garcia is less exciting. My guess is that Olsen will have to make a straight-up choice between him and Neal. Is Neal's crossing ability and reasonable possession play as a left midfielder (who can also play as an emergency left back) worth more than having a defense-first specialist at left back at the expense of losing an option at wide midfield?
Much like the old boxing truism that you'll always lose a decision to the champ, Garcia will probably have to be decisively better than Neal to force his way onto the roster. It's either that, or United will have to make a trade to someone for an international roster spot, which is always a possibility.
Thoughts? Crazier speculation than mine? Let's get talking in the comments.