After today's stinker in Toronto that was supposed to give us a chance to assess the second-stringers, I think we have arrived at a point where we can make some fair assessments of the players we have and sound off about what the team should do in constructing next year's roster.
Speaking briefly about today -- Jared Jeffrey certainly cemented his place on the team and probably did enough to merit a starting spot on a team that is starved for players that can score from distance. Sainey Nyassi showed unfamiliarity with the defensive responsibilities of the RB position, but looked pretty good going forward. He's never going to feature for a winning side, but he might have done enough to get an invite to next year's camp. Casey Townsend turned in his usual invisible minutes. Conor Shanosky didn't look especially good, but at least he's got another year I believe on a Homegrown contract that keeps him off-budget for cap purposes. I doubt that he's played himself off the team, so he will have another year to mature in the DC United fold. Dennis Iapichino, on the other hand, comes with a 6-figure contract and an international player status. Based on his showing today, I think the team could do better with his salary slot and the international player slot. I think he probably was playing for his job, and I don't think he did enough to earn an invite to next year's camp. Conor Doyle was pretty invisible today, but he's shown enough before to probably interest the front office in picking up his purchase option and completing the transfer.
So, what follows is my take on what should happen in the off-season -- who should stay and who should go:
Defenders: Ethan White and Chris Korb are players who should be a part of next year's team; Conor Shanosky -- because of his homegrown deal, is a safe bet to return. I'd say only these 3 are sure-fire "keepers".
Midfielder/Forward: Luis Silva. He will be United's best domestic player for years to come.
Strikers: Michael Seaton and Conor Doyle should both be invited back. Both are young, but there is good reason to think both will be good performers in years to come.
Basically, that's just over 40% of the roster. (40% + Shanosky) They're all keepers that I think could help the team win, either next year, or down the road (Seaton and Martin, and maybe Shanosky). It's unrealistic to think the team will pare down the roster this much, so, we're forced to consider who else will return.
The next level includes players who aren't likely part of the team's long-term plans, but who will probably be back, or at least asked back:
Goalie -- Andrew Dykstra -- as insurance for when Hamid moves on, if Dykstra is willing to be patient. I think Dykstra's pretty good and I'd hate to see him go. I'd keep him, but he might not want to return.
Defenders -- Daniel Woolard and Taylor Kemp. Woolard is no great shakes, and I think he is a tad overpaid compared to his value to the team, but he's very versatile and good for another year, at least. I haven't seen much there with Kemp, but it's very early in his pro career and he comes with a low salary cap hit.
Midfielder -- Lewis Neal and Kyle Porter. Neal, like Woolard, is a versatile, fairly savvy veteran. Every team should have guys like that -- preferably one at each level on the pitch. Neal will be that guy in our midfield next year. Porter, like Kemp, is very young. He's shown enough to keep around and see how he progresses.
That gets us to 18 players -- coincidentally, I think that's where United was after the great purge a couple of years ago.
The next level of players fall into a category I will call "financial maybes." These are veteran players who could be useful in either starting or reserve roles, but whose contracts come with salaries that are way above what they are worth to he team. Keeping them at current levels would be like huge anchors weighing the team down, limiting what the team could do in signing strong, foreign talent. In this category:
Financial maybes -- John Thorrington, Dwayne De Rosario and Dejan Jakovic. If they will take significant pay cuts, they could still help United next year. James Riley might also be in the 'invite back' category -- if he took a major pay cut. DeRo is probably a special case. If the team is going to sign some DPs, they will need to cut him loose or talk him into a pay cut. I think he's still one of the better players in the league and would like to see him return for one more go-around. Thorrington would offer some useful veteran talent and experience, but given his health, I'd like to see him get a pay cut. Jakovic could also offer a veteran presence in the starting defense, but his performance is not in line with his exorbitant salary. Something has to give there.
The last category includes two players who haven't impressed in MLS -- not with their original team, and not with United. Still, they may provide depth, at least as the team looks to build a stronger roster in years to come. In this category:
Nyassi and Townsend -- They are both young guys who can still run around some. They won't score, but defenses have to at least pay them some attention. They could also be useful in giving other players a night off if the team finds itself in non-league competition next year.
Under no circumstances should United bring back any of the following five players:
Pajoy, Ruiz, Syamsir, Saragosa or Iapichino.
They're all pretty useless, taking up space that could go to better players. With the exception of Ruiz, they're also eating up valuable international roster slots. Moreover, with the possible exception of Ruiz, they are all seriously overpaid (even Syamsir is overpaid at the MLS minimum). Still, I would not bring back any of them, at any price -- unless that price is the money to finance a stadium and some DP deals (for which, we might be forced once again to waste a valuable international roster slot on a player who is even less ready for MLS than high-school aged kids like Martin and Seaton.
As I wrote above, I think DeRo, Jakovic, Thorrington and Riley could play roles but are grossly overpaid compared to their skills at this point. Here's the thing. I don't think United does major pay cuts. In fact, Kasper tends to overpay returning players. So, if Kasper sees the players as I do, we'll have to replace DeRo, Pajoy, Ruiz, Jakovic, Riley, Thorrington, Syamsir, Iapichino and Saragosa -- and, possibly Nyassi and/or Townsend. So, the team would create anywhere from 5, and up to 11 open roster slots.
That would leave us with at least 4, and up to 6 international roster slots that could be filled with a DP or two, a Re-entry draft player or two, and several discovery signings.
United would also have room for the first pick in the upcoming Superdraft (I make Maryland's Schillo Tshuma my early odds-on favorite). and, hopefully, an allocation signing (Onyewu? Cherundolo? Jones? Diskerud? Parkhurst?), along with maybe a lottery player sometime during the season, and, of course, the annual USL/NASL preseason trialist that earns a spot.
The team might also have plans to sign a Homegrown player or two next year. So, between the summer window, possible Homegrown signings, allocation draft and lottery possibilities, we should not look for a full roster when the season begins. Undoubtedly, 2014 will be a rebuilding year, so patience is in order. Still, we should expect to see some significant moves this offseason, both by subtraction and addition.
[***Update*** -- It seems that United might also benefit from an unspecified fund to assist the lowest team in attracting foreign talent...what Ryan Nelsen apparently mischaracterized as a "league DP." There's an article today (Tues., Oct. 1) that quotes new TFC GM Bezbatchenko, describing how the league assisted TFC in getting Urutti (and maybe also in prodding them to move him to Portland, where he'd get more playing time):
"Toronto had the worst record in the league last season. This year it’s D.C. United, with Bezbatchenko saying Ben Olsen’s team was probably next in line to get help from the fund — which has no name.
...This league help is "based on what the team needs and it’s based on how they performed in the years prior."
....Essentially the fund helps select MLS clubs get their man, with the league throwing its weight behind the hunt."
From what Bezbatchenko suggests, the league is actually helping teams identify players who might have an impact . It seems MLS might also throw some money in the pot to help sign the player, though this isn't entirely clear. Whatever the details are -- and they are murky -- this is another indication of why the timing will be right for DCU to make a strong effort at recruiting several top internationals.
As disappointing as the scouting/recruitment piece has been for United fans in recent years, I am hopeful that the team will actually use the offseason (and probably the next summer transfer window, as well) to spend what is probably the league's largest allocation dollars reserve account -- one that will get bigger this offseason, especially if the team can win at Salt Lake in the USOC final. As improbable as that result would be, the resulting automatic qualification for CONCACAF Champions League might be, at long last, the incentive the front office needs to use that allocation money and to spend the new owners' money to add a DP or two.
Even without a win on Tuesday, the team has to open up the pocketbook over the next 11 months. Waiting for the new stadium to open is no longer a tenable position. As bad as the team has become, they need to make significant improvements this offseason. Otherwise, the team may not have much of a fan base left.