In a move that could end up benefiting all involved, D.C. United has traded center back Brandon McDonald to Real Salt Lake for a 2014 3rd round draft pick and a conditional 2015 pick.
Fans had every right to have very high expectations for McDonald in 2013, after his high-quality play in 2012 helped United to 58 points - good for 3rd in the overall MLS table - and a place in the Eastern Conference Final. Unfortunately, McDonald's adequate start to the season began to trend downward as pressure piled up on the defense thanks to the Black-and-Red's inability to create goals, or even goalscoring chances. The low point for McDonald was a nightmarish first half against the Columbus Crew in which he was directly culpable on three first-half goals. McDonald was (rightly) hauled off at halftime, and has never been the same since.
For DC, the trade was one that had to be made. McDonald's 2013 base salary is $235,000. At that price, United is essentially counting on McDonald to be among the top 15 or so center backs in MLS. Throw in the step up in quality we've seen from young players like Ethan White and Conor Shanosky, as well as Daniel Woolard's move to center back, and the writing was on the wall for a move like this to occur. A team in need of a major rebuild simply can't afford to give up that much cap space without getting a top contribution on the field.
In McDonald's case, the move is likely to be beneficial. He is a very talented player who has simply lost all self-belief. He never recovered from the mistakes he made in Columbus (and elsewhere...spring was bad for United). A change of scenery usually helps such players out tremendously, regardless of the respective quality of the organizations involved. Plus, RSL has turned numerous unwanted or slightly damaged players into better versions of themselves, so if there was a club in MLS that could restore McDonald's confidence, it's probably that well-oiled machine out in Utah.
RSL may end up being the biggest winner of all here. United couldn't take the risk of keeping McDonald around, but RSL is in a position where there isn't much that can go wrong for them with this move. If McDonald remains mentally broken, they'll likely renegotiate his deal down to something more sensible and see if he can compete for time. If Jason Kreis can restore his belief in himself faster than that, they'll have a high-quality center back acquired for virtually nothing (even if they will have to sort out that salary come the end of the season).
UPDATE: Steve Goff of the Washington Post says United will be carrying a portion of McDonald's salary for 2013:
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