You're probably getting used to this. United heads to _______, a couple guys leave camp, and a couple more arrive. It came as no shock, then, to see that DC's trip to Torreon, Mexico brought with it news that the club now has Juan Manuel Peña, Daniel Woolard, and (finally) Jermaine Taylor on trial. It was also announced that Shintaro Harada's trial is now over, and that former University of Kentucky center back Barry Rice's trial has continued south of the border.
Why am I cautiously optimistic about the addition of a 37 year old center back and a Fire reject? You know how to find out:
I'll start with the big name of the group, Juan Manuel Peña. Like Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry, Peña is a product of Bolivia's famed Tahuichi Academy. In terms of experience, Peña is beyond reproach. He's got over 300 league games in La Liga, between his time at Real Valladolid and Villarreal, and most recently was at Celta de Vigo of the Spanish 2nd division. He also has 85 caps with Bolivia (at least some of which were as captain), including 3 starts in the most recent World Cup qualifying cycle. However, he ended his time with Celta by retiring this past November.
There will be plenty of MLS fans who read Peña's age and conclude that he will be washed up. I specifically chose the picture accompanying this post as a counter-argument to that; that's Peña, in a World Cup qualifier last year, defending Leo Messi. 37 is old for a soccer player, no doubt, but let's not judge the man entirely on that. Let's not forget that, at 38, Claudio Suarez joined Chivas USA and did pretty well in his first season. Old players lose some athletic ability, but this hurts attackers much more than defenders.
My point is that, when you have a guy with this kind of experience, who was only months ago still playing at a roughly MLS-equivalent level, you give him an honest look. We've all been crying out for United to find an experienced defensive leader for a long time, and Peña fits the bill. Will he adjust to MLS? Did he stay fit in retirement? I have no idea, but I know we're talking about someone that has faced the best in the world for club and country more recently than most MLS players have. If he's arriving in camp fit and serious about finding success in DC, then I wouldn't bet against him. There is the potential that this is exactly what we need; there's also the potential that Peña will be another Duilio Davino. Let's all hope for the former.
We also have two smaller names on trial. B&RU has already covered Jermaine Taylor, so I'll instead focus on Daniel Woolard. Around these parts, he may best be remembered as Chicago's goalscorer on the night Cuauhtemoc Blanco punched Clyde Simms and headbutted a United staffer. Woolard was taken by the Fire in the 2007 Supplemental draft, and managed 6 starts and 10 substitute appearances in MLS play over 3 seasons before being let go a few weeks ago. That's not a particularly impressive record by itself, but it should be noted that his competition for playing time at left back was Gonzalo Segares, who was among MLS's best left backs during his time here. I also was kind of happy to read that Woolard's lone MLS goal came against New York.
From the times I've seen him play (in person at the aforementioned USOC match and a couple times for the Fire in league play), I always envied Chicago for having a guy like Woolard buried down their bench. He's by no means brilliant, but there are guys starting in MLS at left back that are worse. He's got decent speed and likes to get forward, but he's not reckless about it. I was surprised when Chicago let him go, but it could have something to do with the fact that he's now too old to put on the developmental roster. At the very worst, Woolard will be stern competition for Lyle Adams, who seems to have impressed to at least some degree in this preseason. If he doesn't latch on here (and the possibility of having to trade Chicago something for his rights may hurt), you can expect to see Woolard find work somewhere else in MLS or starting on a 2nd division team.
Moving on to the rest of the news, I can't say I'm surprised about Harada's departure. Once Steve Goff said he'd be looked at as a center back, the writing was on the wall. Harada is 5'8" tall, and the list of MLS center backs of that size that have been successful is a short one (Michael Parkhurst was like 5'9"...and that's the entire list). Harada might have had a better chance going on trial as a defensive midfielder or an outside back, but in any case I don't think we just missed out on a diamond in the USL rough, a la Osvaldo Alonso.
It also doesn't seem like a shock that Rice stuck around. Coming out of college undrafted, he'd probably be looking at a developmental deal anywhere in MLS. DC currently has one such spot open, and the way the roster is shaping up points to it going to a defender. I'm not saying he's a shoo-in, but at this point I think the odds aren't that long.