In yesterday's gamethread for D.C. United's 1-1 preseason draw with the Charleston Battery, some hints began to show of a question that may have been festering in the recesses of D.C. fans for a little while now: Is Fabian Espindola the most important attacking acquisition of this offseason? We all know that Eddie Johnson is going to be on the bigger contract and got more of the headlines - and certainly cost a lot more to bring in than Espindola (shipping truckloads of funny money to Seattle vs. using a re-entry draft selection). But yesterday it was Espindola who was the more dynamic player, working the left side to great effect along with Christian and Nick DeLeon.
So, could the Argentine lefty actually be more important to the 2014 campaign then the Grown Ass Man?
Personally, I'm not sure I buy it. It's true that Espindola gives United an element we haven't seen in too long, a forward who never stops running, can score goals in bunches and who doesn't necessarily mind playing second fiddle in a productive attack (see, Saborio, Alvaro and Henry, Thierry). I can't deny that he's famously awkward to defend as he drifts to the defense's right side to combine with teammates and/or get in behind the back line. And it should be pointed out that Espindola won't be leaving the team for two months this summer to play in the World Cup. But I still think Johnson is going to be more important to the Black-and-Red this year.
Espindola, like so many other pieces Ben Olsen has at his disposal, is best used as a second forward. He can play the classic #9 role, but it minimizes the strengths of his game. If there's one thing we've learned with Benny at the helm, it's that he covets somebody to play that target man role, to act as an outlet for the midfield and defense, to occupy the center backs and - here's where we've fallen short so often - to score goals. That need is why we paid so much to bring in EJ.
He can play with his back to goal, facilitating possession and build-up. He has the pace to get behind the defense on the break. He has the size and strength to battle MLS center backs. He has the skill and finishing ability (yesterday's sitter notwithstanding) to punish teams who don't prioritize containing him. He frees up space for guys like Espindola and DeLeon and Luis Silva and others to exploit.
To my mind it's Johnson who will be the more important player, but Espindola is also going to be a very big piece of whatever the team can build this season. That's my take, anyway - let us hear yours in the comments.