D.C. United made yet another addition to their roster today, bringing Brazilian midfielder Fred back to RFK Stadium. To make the deal, United traded their natural 2013 2nd round SuperDraft pick to the New England Revolution. The Revs had acquired Fred's rights in the second round of this year's Re-Entry Draft, but were unable to come to an agreement on a contract.
Fred's first run with D.C. started off with a bang. Despite starring in Australia's A-League as a traditional #10, former United boss Tom Soehn deployed him on either flank in the club's aggressive 3412 at the time. Despite having to learn a new league, new teammates, and a new, more defensive position, Fred managed 7 goals and 8 assists in 26 appearances. However, his form in 2008 dropped a bit, due at least in part to a chaotic, injury-plagued season for the team as a whole. Making 37 appearances across all competitions in a marathon of a season, Fred managed 4 goals and 7 assists (including the game-winner in the 2008 U.S. Open Cup Final). In 2009, Fred's form continued to decline, and between that and injuries he was limited to just 17 starts.
Traded to the Philadelphia Union in the deal that brought Troy Perkins back to D.C., Fred rebounded slightly, scoring 4 goals in 25 appearances (good enough to be Philly's third-leading scorer) while being used on both flanks for the Union.
Fred became a polarizing player in the stands at RFK during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Some loved the fact that he had superb control of the ball on the dribble, added a truly unpredictable element to the midfield, and was a real character off the field. Others became frustrated with his tendency to put himself in excellent scoring positions only to shoot straight at the keeper as well as the number of turnovers he was often guilty for. In a lot of cases, his return has been greeted by either real happiness or grumbling about wasting a roster spot (side note: Fred has a green card, so he does not take up an international player slot).
The reality of the situation is somewhere in the middle, especially if Fred has returned to D.C. at a lower salary than he used to make. Looking over the current roster and noting coach Ben Olsen's apparent preference for a 442 formation, it would appear that Fred will have a hard time finding minutes on either flank. Andy Najar and Branko Boskovic seem to be the likely starters, with Santino Quaranta and Chris Pontius (assuming he doesn't force his way into a starting role up front) also battling for minutes. Wide midfield was arguably our deepest position already.
However, don't expect to only see Fred at reserve matches. Boskovic is the captain of Montenegro's national team, and he will certainly miss games as they attempt to continue their Cinderella run at qualifying for Euro 2012. Boskovic could also see time centrally if Dax McCarty makes the U.S. Gold Cup roster. Meanwhile, Pontius may end up being looked at as a forward more often than he is played on the wing, and both he and Quaranta have picked up injuries here and there over the years.
I doubt Fred is seen as a likely starter by Olsen. Rather, he's an experienced attacking option that can come off the bench and change a game, or is capable of starting when/if another player is unavailable. As I said before, he's a very tricky dribbler that opposing defenders often struggle with. Despite being an attacking player, he covers a ton of ground and has no qualms about getting his tackles in (even if his tackling itself is not very good, which in turn leads to a high number of fouls committed). While D.C. fans grouse at his lack of finishing ability (he could have easily gotten to 12 or more goals in 2007), it should be noted that his off-the-ball play to get into those spots is perhaps his most underrated quality. Even if Fred botches a 1v1 in every game he appears in, opposing coaches and defenses have to pay attention to the fact that he routinely creates those chances for himself by ghosting away from his marker. If nothing else, it's a fairly significant distraction, which could in turn open up chances for the rest of the team.