MLS Re-Entry Draft: D.C. United Still Has Options In A Depleted Stage Two

Heath Pearce, shoving some player whose name I can't recall. - Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE

Tomorrow's second stage was where most teams - especially United - were expected to make their big splash. Instead, last week's party got out of hand and now the deepest RED pool ever is looking kind of shallow. Nonetheless, there are some nice options for the Black-and-Red's rebuild.

The first stage of the Re-Entry Draft last week was, by far, the most active first stage in the short history of this glorious quasi-free agency mechanism created on a more or less ad hoc basis to avoid a player strike. In fact, the six players taken last week matched the total number of players taken in all previous versions of the RED's opening act.

D.C. United was a huge part of the action, selecting Sean Franklin and Bobby Boswell. The Black-and-Red clearly needed to improve their defensive starters, and will be hoping that these two deliver fair value on what we can confirm are hefty contracts all things considered. Both of those players were slated to appear in this post rather than my stage one write-up due to those contracts; now you just get less to read.

However, United wasn't the only busy party on the day: Three players withdrew to facilitate trades, four more withdrew either for the same reason or (more likely) to renegotiate cheaper deals with their 2013 club, and all the while several other moves happened around the league that didn't really involve the RED at all.

In other words, we're in the midst of one of MLS's crazier offseasons ever. That said, the flurry of activity last week may have thinned the prospects for United in stage two of the RED. With two presumptive starters brought in at luxury prices - not to mention Davy Arnaud also coming in at a high figure and Conor Doyle being signed on a permanent basis - United suddenly has a shorter list of things we're in dire need of just as the list of no-brainer picks has thinned significantly. Tomorrow was the day many of us - I'm certainly in that group - thought would be a very busy one for United. Instead, it may just be the day after we made our huge move (needless to say, this is being written before any EJ trades are done and dusted).

Nonetheless, stage two will still see some pretty good players available. In some cases, we're talking about a likely starter; in others, we're talking about options that would boost our depth to a level where a substitution doesn't cause widespread grumbling in the stands at RFK.

Before we get into it, let's go over the ground rules: In stage two - Wednesday at 3pm, again on a conference call that you and I can't join - teams can negotiate a new deal with their pick rather than signing on to pay them their 2013 salary. Teams are required to make a legit offer within seven days of the RED. If club and player can't come to a deal, the team maintains that player's MLS rights. Like I said, it's not really free agency.

Without further adieu, let's go conference calling:

Fabian Espindola
Age: 28
2013 salary: $150,000/$150,000
Position: Striker, second forward who drifts wide, left winger

We discussed Espindola in last week's piece on stage one. The issue pushing him out with NYRB - and almost certainly leaving him unselected last Thursday - was a contract option that required something the neighborhood of a DP contract (or at least a De Ro-style contract that paid DP money but was not a DP deal for salary cap purposes thanks to allocation money). For a streaky forward who has never had a truly dominant season, that was crazy talk.

However, United should be quite interested in Espindola at his 2013 wage. As I said in the above link, he fits the bill in terms of being able to pressure effectively, he'd add speed that we don't currently have (and badly need), and we have more than enough international spots to sign an Argentine who has actually done the business in MLS.

There's a lot to like about grabbing Espindola here, but it would have an impact on other moves. With Espindola, Doyle, Luis Silva, and Eddie Johnson/new lower-tier DP striker on the books, there would be little reason to select Patrick Mullins with the #1 overall pick in next month's SUPER!!!draft. We don't know the Generation Adidas pool, but those waters have been getting shallower due to so many top players being linked to MLS academies. If there are no truly interesting GA options, we'd be down to drafting Cal center back Steve Birnbaum or having no actual use for the #1 pick beyond trade bait.

That's not necessarily a bad situation to be in, as the #1 pick still commands a big price tag. Or, if we took Birnbaum, we'd for once have four center backs who could be called upon to start a league match right now rather than sometime in the future. They are, however, issues we'd have to solve unless there's some other unforeseen shoe about to drop (e.g. Doyle to Colorado, the team that did all the leg work to get Derby County to loan him out).

In a vacuum, though, I like the idea of picking up Espindola. I think his tendency to drift inside-out could work well with Chris Pontius cutting in from the left wing, and most good MLS teams have a guy that's good for 7-10 goals and 5 or so assists. That's Espindola, and that's something we can't say we definitely have on the roster today unless Nick DeLeon is ready to be consistently "on."

Heath Pearce
Age: 29
2013 salary: $331,236/$340,736
Position: Center back, left back, and in emergencies right back or defensive midfield

Speaking of guys I already wrote about as potential targets for United, Pearce would make a lot more sense if we hadn't just brought Boz Bobwell back. The idea of getting Boswell was to bring in an experienced leader to partner Dejan Jakovic, who has generally proven to be very good alongside that sort of player while being rudderless in all other situations.

So why bring Pearce up again? He's 29, has 35 caps, and is probably the single best player left in the RED. When you're as bad as United was in 2013, this is too talented a player to just shrug off because you already have someone that's OK in his spot. Wouldn't it be nice to have a logjam at a position for once?

The appeal of Pearce is twofold. If he comes here as a center back, he likely pushes Jakovic out of the lineup. That gives United the chance to trade Jakovic if someone's interested enough. There's little point in keeping him and Ethan White if one of them isn't starting, after all, as they're too similar. Maybe there's a team that's satisfied with their defensive leader but has less-than-adequate versions of Jakovic next to him (hint: there is, and they call themselves the New England Revolution).

Or maybe Pearce becomes the new Daniel Woolard, spending time at left back just as often as he's in the middle. I have no problem with that. Chris Korb is a good player, but if he were on a playoff team he'd be the third fullback more often than not, and a playoff team is what we're trying to build here. Plus, when Franklin inevitably bombs forward, you're left with three at the back that could actually function as a reasonable back three if things go wrong.

The downsides: Even at a reduced salary, Pearce will be expensive. We just spent a lot of money on defenders, and I have my doubts that we'll be bringing in another defensive player on $200,000 or so. Another problem: Pearce's 2013 was ended by hip surgery that will likely leave him a couple weeks behind in preseason and possibly not ready to start games until April.

Chris Rolfe
Age: 30 (31 on January 17th)
2013 salary: $225,000/$248,333
Position: Withdrawn forward, right wing, attacking midfield

There are enough attacks in MLS that lacked ideas in 2013 that you can more or less guarantee that someone rolls the dice on the gifted but erratic Rolfe, late of the Chicago Fire. They will do this despite his tendency to get injured easily, and they will do this despite the fact that he's coming off of a season where he managed just four goals and one assist in 2,135 minutes (31 appearances, 26 starts).

United is one of those teams that lacked ideas, and that's why we have to consider Rolfe. United could use a versatile, creative attacker blessed with creativity and the skill to make those ideas come to life. Rolfe sometimes fits that bill. It's one thing to have a guy like that on your roster as an option, and that's how I'd like to see him used if Dave Kasper says his name on tomorrow's conference call. Rolfe would be a pretty formidable reason for DeLeon and Silva to bring their A game every day and prove that they deserve to start over him. It would also be nice to play CCL matches and not be counting on Kyle Porter to have his one-in-five good game that day.

There are some red flags with him though. Rolfe's injury history is littered with strained muscles and sprained ankles, and that's not going to go away at 31 (take it from a 31 year old who invested in a foam roller not because I work out hard enough to need it, but instead to just lower the odds of back spasms forcing me to spend on a masseuse). Just as troubling is the fact that Rolfe can be maddening to have on your side. He's got rare skill with the ball for an American player and is genuinely creative, but he's just as likely to go completely missing from a game at the first sign of physicality. When the going gets tough, Rolfe has a tendency to give up on any attacking invention or even forward passes; generally what follows is clean and tidy two-touch play that ends with a back pass.

Honestly, I'd rather have Ramon Nunez, who can play more positions (the same ones as Rolfe plus left midfield) and will cost a lot less. However, United already passed on Nunez at $65,000, and I don't see the Black-and-Red taking Nunez and haggling over ten grand or so. We still need another creative attacker, though, and Rolfe is the best of the rest.

Justin Braun
Age: 26 (27 on March 31st)
2013 salary: $112,200/$114,700
Position: Striker, right midfield

Like I said, the pool got shallow. "Braunaldo" was just rejected by, of all teams, Toronto FC. Just as a hypothetical, United probably needs to aim a little higher than adding 2013 TFC players.

However, Braun had a deceptively productive season. Two goals and two assists doesn't sound like much, but his 779 total minutes don't even add up to nine full games. Of his twenty-one appearances, only eight were starts. More meaningful: Nine of his substitute appearances came in the 73rd minute or later. That's not a lot of time to make an impact, and in that context the 2g/2a line looks...well, not "good" per se, but at least "not so bad."

If Braun is ready to take a significant paycut - he might be more willing when he compares the $60,000 or so an MLS team will offer to the $45,000 or less to play Friday-Sunday games and travel the country by bus in the NASL or USL-Pro - he starts to make more sense on an MLS roster. He's never going to be accused of a lack of effort, and at 6'3" and 195 lbs he'd provide a physical element that United currently lacks.

That said, one does wonder where he'd fit in on a team with Doyle also playing both striker and wide midfield, and potentially Eddie Johnson, and potentially Patrick Mullins. However, if United is going to do something else with the #1 pick, Braun would still be an improvement over last year's dregs. I'd rather see him coming in off the bench over Sainey Nyassi, at the very least, and no one ever said the RED is full of moves for fans to get excited about.

Clyde Simms
Age: 31
2013 salary: $87,500/$90,833
Position: Defensive midfield

We're bringing Boswell back, so why not get the gang back together? Simms found himself involved in an unpredictable rotation with the Revs, where he had to compete for time with Scott Caldwell (the more attacking option), Kalifa Cisse (the physical option), and Andy Dorman (the other physical option) in the late stages of the season. Throw in a problematic case of turf toe, and Simms only made ten appearances - nine starts - in 2013.

The presence of Jared Jeffrey has given Ben Olsen an actual defensive midfielder to use if Perry Kitchen is somehow unavailable, which might make it hard to find room for Simms. Still, Jeffrey's passing range and long range shot might be better deployed in the shuttling role next to Kitchen, and with the other central options (Arnaud, LEWIS NEAL!) also able to play wide, we might need a second holding midfielder. It's not just that Simms would only play when Kitchen is being rested or is injured; he'd also be a handy player to clog up the midfield when - hopefully not if - United is in the lead. Economically speaking, we'd be hard pressed to find a better value than Simms in that sort of role.

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