As you may have heard already, Adam Cristman has been traded from Kansas City to DC in exchange for a international roster slot (leaving us with seven). Cristman was once a USA u-18 and u-23 national team player, and was a finalist for 2007's rookie of the year award after getting 4 goals and 4 assists for New England. In 2 years of being mostly a sub for the Revs, Cristman managed 10 goals, which is a decent haul. Last year, he was traded to Kansas City but only played 5 games due to a fractured metatarsal and some minor knocks that came as he approached match fitness.
On the face of it, this is a reasonable move. United needed a reliable fourth forward that came at a low price point, and Cristman is that guy. Cristman had acceptable production given his role with New England, and his salary last year was just over $34,000. Cristman will also be the biggest and most aggressive striker on the team; when we're in need of a goal and the game becomes more of a desperate, "get it into the box" affair, Cristman is the kind of battering ram that can cause chaos. If Cristman is indeed our fourth choice forward, we're ahead of most of MLS in that department (go ahead and look at some of the other rosters out there). It might seem minor, but given Moreno's age and the fact that the temptation to use Pontius as a midfielder may at some point become too tempting (for example, if Quaranta gets injured...not a big stretch of the imagination), being deep up front is important.
I'm reading some skepticism about Cristman as a player around the web, and some of it has its merits. Cristman is slow and is not exactly what you'd call graceful. While his technical skills are far from poor, he's not going to be confused with Moreno. However, I think most of these complaints are based on seeing Cristman in terms of being a regular. I'd agree with them if that were the case, but on this United team it seems clear that he won't be getting major minutes (especially since we don't have Champions League or Superliga games to deal with). Most fans would agree that this team needed one more striker to complete a respectable group of four; under the MLS salary cap, a guy like Cristman is an above average option in that role.
Keep reading for a deeper look at some possible long-term implications of the traded international slot.
Obviously, I think getting Cristman is filling a need on the team. However, there are two sides to every coin, and the other side in this case is the traded international slot. With this trade, DC now has one too many international players (we have seven slots and eight players competing for them). Guys like Boyzzz Khumalo, Ty Shipalane, and Milos Kocic should be very concerned about their job security. I already thought that Khumalo and Shipalane might be playing for one roster spot; now, I'm sure of it. As for Kocic, I've already said somewhere on B&RU that I believed he was in a 1v1 battle with Josh Wicks. With this move, it's hard to imagine Kocic being retained. Going one step further, we have Two-Boys Gumede on trial, and he would take a slot. Lyle Adams was born in Jamaica and raised in Florida, so there's some uncertainty about whether he'd be an international or not. Steve Goff has also mentioned the Honduran rumor that CD Platense and Honduras Olympic defender Quiarol Arzu will be coming to camp (a rumor that also came up before last season but ended up never happening).
All that said, the biggest thing that comes to mind for me is that we still have two major holes to fill. This team needs another center back that is at least as good as Julius James (preferably better), and we are in obvious need of a playmaker. Onalfo has put together what looks like a slightly better team than last year's, but let's be honest: No United fan will be particularly thrilled with having MLS's 8th best team. We want a team that is a true contender, and to do so, we need more creativity, vision, and raw skill in central midfield. We will probably also need to improve upon James, though I do still think he will become a starting-quality player with the right guidance.
These are notable facts with regards to this trade because there is, as always, a shortage of American playmakers. It's also highly likely that, if the team is pursuing another center back (after all, Dave Kasper has rarely stocked United with enough competent players at this position), we'd have to look abroad. Now, this doesn't mean we can't sign these two players; we'll just have to cut loose a survivor from the group of Khumalo, Shipalane, Kocic, or perhaps Flo N'Galula, who was only just signed. It's a small problem, I suppose, but an issue nonetheless.
Finally, there is another, more disturbing possibility with this traded international slot. It could well be that our decision-makers like the squad we have and are going to go ahead with few, if any, additions. I've been supportive of the moves we've made thus far, because they're clearly identifying holes in the roster and filling them with guys that can succeed in them. That's all you can ask for. However, if our brain trust is looking around saying "Well, the hard work is done. Let's go win some games!", they're going to be sorely disappointed when we're slugging it out with Toronto on the final day of the season (thank whatever god, goddess, or idol you believe in that we get to be at home for that one instead of away) for a playoff spot. Given that I've been publicly skeptical of Onalfo's ability to lead us out of MLS's middle class and towards the top, I can't shake the idea that we're going to stop short of doing all the work required to be a top team again. Don't read this as a declaration of fact; it's just a possibility that, however unsettling, must be acknowledged.