We all know the old saying: "Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me...you can't get fooled again."
It goes something like that, anyway. Last year's Re-Entry Draft was the first time MLS clubs had ever used such a mechanism, and it didn't exactly turn any club from an also-ran into a contender. While success was not an impossibility - Josh Wolff was a big factor on and off the field for DC United, while Cory Gibbs ended up being one of the most important players for the Chicago Fire - it was rather rare. For every good pick, there were about three that either struggled to make an impact, got injured, or played poorly.
In other words, the teams that show prudence in the Re-Entry Draft are the ones that are better off for the most part. Selecting a guy that won't make much of a difference is a little silly, since you can find a roughly similar player with pro experience out of the NASL/USL ranks or via the draft.
That said, succeeding without depth in MLS is virtually impossible. The savvier teams in the league should be able to use every mechanism to add useful players, even if they aren't likely to be the club's leading scorer next season. DC's late swoon was a perfect example of what happens to a team that doesn't have adequate replacements available. Once Chris Pontius and Dejan Jakovic became unavailable, we had problems at both ends of the field. Having a "Pontius Lite" or a veteran center back to compete with Ethan White would have done us a lot of good.
After the jump is a short list of players United should consider selecting today (note: "should consider" doesn't mean "definitely pick;" it means we should at least be touching base with these players to find out what their salary expectations are, since all would be taking a pay cut to suit up for United).
Using salaries from the MLS Players Union (PDF), here are the names I'd be interested in:
Baggio Husidic (2011 salary: $124,500)
The former Chicago Fire midfielder and Generation Adidas grad was one of a long line of NCAA #10s that either never became a full-time starter or were forced into a positional change. However, Husidic is no slouch; often, the problem for him was that Chicago had gone out and signed an expensive player (e.g. Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Sebastian Grazzini) to play that role instead. Husidic also played a linking role in a 4231 numerous times with reasonable results, so his work ethic is within an acceptable range for a playmaker.
Where would he fit in?: We can't be 100% sure that Branko Boskovic will succeed here, and Dwayne De Rosario seemed to score most of his goals playing in a withdrawn forward role that came with lots of positional freedom. That leaves us potentially short on attacking midfielders through the middle (or forced to move De Ro and disrupt things that way). Husidic would be a better fit for our group at that position than Stephen King, who doesn't share the Bosnian-born Husidic's vision or first touch (side note: King really should be devoting himself to becoming a full-time defensive midfielder; he has the tools, we're going to need someone there with Clyde Simms gone, and he'll never put up the goals or assists to play further forward consistently).
What kind of offer would make sense for both sides?: This part is purely speculative since these players could have offers from elsewhere that we don't know about, and I also don't know exactly where United is against the salary cap. However, I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to imagine Husidic agreeing to something in the $80-90,000 range.
Jason Garey (2011 salary: $81,250)
Garey has been solid depth for the Columbus Crew and the Houston Dynamo for several years. While the former Maryland Terrapin never did manage to score at the rate his college play might have indicated (under Sasho Cirovski, Garey often looked like Louisiana's answer to Luciano Emilio), he would still provide average or better depth at forward, a position we badly need capable players at.
Where would he fit in?: Garey would essentially take Joseph Ngwenya's role within the roster, and he'd be a substantial upgrade. Where Ngwenya might be a bit more athletic and harder-working, Garey is indisputably the better finisher, and what do you want out of a forward coming off your bench?
Garey would also offer us something different from what we have currently. Blake Brettschneider gives us a target option, and Josh Wolff will give us trickery in the withdrawn role, but neither of them is really a goal-poaching striker. Garey will get himself into the box and look to score however possible; sure, that probably means a lot of tap-ins and scrappy stuff inside the 6, but goals are goals.
What kind of offer would make it work for both sides?: Considering the fact that we paid Ngwenya almost double what Garey made last year, any offer we make will actually be better value for the money. $65,000 - maybe with some production-based bonuses available - would probably work for him, and it would be good business for United.
Nate Jaqua (2011 salary: $211,000)
As MLS has improved over the last few years, Jaqua has moved from being a regular starter (when healthy) for the Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo to an oft-used sub for the Seattle Sounders. While he was hardly an impact player for the inventors of MLS, Jaqua could still be quite useful elsewhere. At 6'3" and blessed with a battling mentality, Jaqua usually makes life very difficult for opposing defenders as a target man.
He also has a long history of playing particularly well against United, so it'd be nice to not have to deal with that.
Where would he fit in?: Given the offensive talent we would have underneath him, Jaqua could actually succeed as a starter for United as an out-and-out striker. No, he's not the world's best finisher, and sometimes his desire to go to the wing and run at people (what is with big male American forwards and that? You don't see Abby Wambach trying to be Garrincha, and for good reason) is problematic.
However, Jaqua would give United a rough-and-tumble look up front that we haven't had. Where most of our players are fast and elusive, Jaqua could be the contrast we need to get even more out of a promising group. Plus, that drifting wide could drag players out of position, which would fit right in with the hard-to-track movements of the rest of our first-choice attackers.
Even if Jaqua didn't come here and slot into the starting lineup - most indications this offseason are that the club is shopping abroad, and my guess is that a starting striker is top of the list - he could easily be a guy that makes an appearance in every game over the course of the season. If we're behind, he would change the complexion of our attack. If we're up and trying to protect the lead, he could be the outlet up front that allows us to hold the ball and kill the game.
What kind of offer would make sense for both sides?: Jaqua is leaving Seattle primarily because he made a starter's salary but had a sub's role. However, given that we'd probably rely on him more than the Sounders did, the pay cut wouldn't have to be an enormous one. I would have no problem at all if Jaqua came to United on the same salary as Ngwenya made last year ($156,000). With us probably looking elsewhere for a starting striker, however, the offer would probably make more sense for DC if it were in the $100-120,000 range.
Hunter Freeman (2011 salary: $160,833)
Freeman was once considered a potential national team player at right back, and made numerous youth national team appearances (including the 2005 u20 World Cup and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics). He never did live up to that lofty potential, but that's not to say Freeman can't hack it as a starter in MLS. The biggest problem for Freeman in Houston this season was the Dynamo's decision to move Geoff Cameron to center back, which in turn meant Andre Hainault taking Freeman's right back spot.
Where would he fit in?: We just went out and got a right back in Robbie Russell, so why would I think about picking up Freeman? Simple: He can also play left back. It might not be his natural position, but to me, Freeman would still be an upgrade on the left over Daniel Woolard. I also think Russell will play a few games at center back over the course of the season, so Freeman would play his natural role at least a handful of times.
Finally, with Russell in his 30s, it would be nice to have someone ready to take his starting role once he transitions from "starter" to "reliable veteran back up."
What kind of offer would make sense for both sides?: Freeman should still see himself as an MLS starter, and not merely for the bad teams either. United would probably have to offer him something around $90-110,000 to make it an appealing offer.